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Request for Proposals: Access, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Virtual Exchange

RFP Issue Date: March 5, 2021

Proposal Timeline:

  • Proposal Submission Deadline: April 18, 2021
  • Notification of Status: May 3, 2021
  • Expected Project Start: June 3, 2021

Stevens Initiative Background

The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative is committed to helping to expand the virtual exchange field through three pillars of work: investing in promising programs, sharing knowledge and resources, and advocating for virtual exchange adoption. The Stevens Initiative has awarded 60 grants and, by summer 2022, will expand its reach to over 43,000 young people in 16 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. The Stevens Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

The Initiative helps lead the virtual exchange field in research and knowledge sharing, serving as a central place for collecting and sharing promising practices and other resources. With this call for proposals, the Initiative seeks to analyze and share findings on issues of access, inclusion, diversity, equity (AIDE) and associated challenges and practices in the field of virtual exchange. This effort will also create resources to support virtual exchange practitioners to navigate these challenges and implement good practices in their programming.

More information about the Stevens Initiative can be found here: www.stevensinitiative.org

Project Description

Project Goals and Overview

We invite individuals, teams, and/or organizations to submit proposals to research, develop, and share a set of outputs that will contextualize issues related to AIDE in international virtual exchange programs and provide practical guidance to educators or other facilitators who conduct these programs. The Initiative plans to work with the selected consultant(s) to identify and analyze current issues and develop materials and other outputs that will be shared with the larger virtual exchange field. The Initiative will collaborate with the consultants through the planning and development, field analysis, writing, output design, and publication phases. Applicants should demonstrate how their, or their teams’, experience and expertise will ensure outputs that meet the considerations outlined below. To achieve the robust set of deliverables below, the Initiative requires applicants to demonstrate their, or their teams’, expertise in international education and virtual exchange, including within non-U.S. contexts. The Initiative prefers applicants to demonstrate their experience and expertise in both higher education (HE) and K-12 education; those with expertise in just one of these education levels are welcome to apply and should limit the scope of their proposal to include only the deliverables for that education level (for example, produce just one toolkit as described below and limit the report and the training manual to the relevant education level). However, we do encourage applicants to submit a proposal that includes all the deliverables outlined above; this may require involving external partners or consultants as subcontractors.

Access, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Considerations in International Virtual Exchanges

The following are descriptions of some considerations for AIDE issues that should be taken into account when developing this proposal. Proposals should not limit their scope to these topics only but should also include other considerations that might not be enumerated here, based on the consultant’s experience and expertise.

  • Power dynamics and imbalances in virtual exchange implementation, including neocolonialism, U.S./Western-centricity and other power conceptualizations.
  • Addressing issues of anti-Blackness, societal inequities, and educational justice that occur in virtual exchange.
  • Access and inclusion of underrepresented populations in program content and implementation.
  • The “digital divide” and how virtual exchange programs address or exacerbate larger societal inequities.
  • Addressing sensitive or taboo subjects across different communities and values.
  • Supporting participants with disabilities in digital learning and virtual exchange environments.
  • Culturally responsive education practices and culturally inclusive curriculums in virtual exchange programs.
  • Effective recruitment of participants from communities underrepresented in international education, both in the U.S. and international contexts.


The Initiative will draw on the final products provided by the consultant or team to release a publication for the Initiative’s stakeholders, including funders, awardees, partners, teachers, as well as other practitioners in the fields of education, technology, and international relations. Specifically, the final products should provide a framing of common AIDE issues and considerations contextualized for the larger field of virtual exchange. These products will include implications for program implementation, guidance, and resources for practitioners to improve their virtual exchanges from an AIDE perspective. The results will also give insight to the Initiative, our funders, and other stakeholders as they seek to make strategic investments.


Based on the proposed outputs, the Initiative expects this project to require 200-230 hours of effort and anticipates entering into a project for a total amount of $25,000 to $45,000 depending on the scope of work, timeline, and final deliverables arrived at through the proposal review and contracting processes. Proposals that suggest amounts outside of these ranges (either in hours of effort or total amounts of funding) will be considered, and differences should be justified in the proposal. The consultant who submits the selected proposal will enter into a fixed amount contract with the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute, and will receive 50% of the total requested budget upon a signed agreement and the remainder following a mutually agreed upon payment schedule that is aligned with the approval of the final deliverables, listed below.

Suggested Project Timeline

The Initiative has proposed the timeline below for the development of this project and the submission of final deliverables:

  • Early summer 2021: Project development, field analysis, data and information gathering.
  • Late summer 2021: First draft for written deliverables submitted to the Initiative.
  • Fall 2021: Rounds of revisions and edits.
  • October 29, 2021: Final written deliverables completed.
  • Early 2022 (tentative): Other deliverables (webinar and trainings) to be delivered on mutually agreed upon date.

In the proposal, applicants should provide a detailed timeline that describes all major project activities and milestones. We acknowledge that some consultants would suggest a different timeline to accommodate their process so applicants can propose new timelines for their specific projects and justify the suggested changes in their proposals.


The selected consultant/team will commit to providing the following deliverables:

  • Written Deliverables:
    • A Report that contextualizes and analyzes access, inclusion, diversity and equity (AIDE) issues in international virtual exchange programing that includes:
        • No more than 15 pages describing current AIDE issues, general challenges, common promising practices to address challenges and existing resources for the broader field of virtual exchange.
        • An abstract and/or introductory and concluding remarks that contextualize this effort, limited to one additional page.
        • An executive summary that summarizes the longer analysis and provides easily digestible highlights, limited to one additional page.
    • HE Practitioner Toolkit: A practitioner-focused resource that describes effective practices for AIDE approaches in virtual exchanges at the HE level for faculty/facilitators, limited to 8 pages.
    • K-12 Practitioner Toolkit: A practitioner-focused resource that describes effective practices for AIDE approaches in virtual exchanges at the K-12 level for teachers/facilitators/school or program administrators, limited to 8 pages.
    • Training Resource Manual: A manual for Initiative staff that can be used to conduct trainings for a variety of international educator audiences that explores common AIDE issues, challenges, and practices. The manual should include training activity plans, activities, and resources that can be customized and repurposed, limited to 15 pages total. Final scope of this deliverable can be discussed during the contracting phase.
    • Notes:
        • Final written deliverables should be professionally formatted (including figures, tables, charts, graphs, etc.) to allow for easy design changes and publication.
        • The consultant/team will submit at least two drafts and will receive feedback from the Initiative for each deliverable according to an agreed-upon schedule.
    • Other Deliverables:
        • Regular Check-ins with Stevens Initiative Staff: The consultant or team will be involved in monthly planning and monitoring calls with Initiative staff to discuss the project, development, data, and report drafts, and to provide regular updates and receive feedback.
        • Webinar: The consultant or team will contribute to the content development and facilitation of a webinar to share the highlights and analysis from the report, outline the toolkit resources, and answer audience questions about the content and use of these resources. The planning period and dates of this webinar will be determined collaboratively with Initiative staff but is tentatively set for early 2022.
        • Grantee Training: The consultant or team will work with the Initiative to develop and facilitate a series of virtual trainings (no more than three total hours of learning time) to be provided to Initiative grantees who implement virtual exchange programs in both the U.S and Middle East and North Africa that will help them understand common AIDE issues and then develop practices or ways to address challenges in their work. The consultant will be responsible for developing and facilitating the content in collaboration with Initiative staff, including a feedback on structure and themes. The final timeline of this deliverable will be arrived at collaboratively during the contracting phase.
        • Financial Report: A report detailing expenses and the activities or efforts associated with those costs.

Eligibility and Proposal Scope

  • The Initiative plans to work with a consultant or team whose experience and expertise will ensure quality outputs that meet the considerations outlined above. The configuration of the team (an individual, and established team, a newly constituted team, etc.) should be described in the submitted proposal.
  • The Initiative encourages collaboration between individuals to form a team that includes experiences and expertise in the higher education, K-12, and virtual exchange fields in the areas of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Teams should also have a demonstrated experience developing practical resources and training materials as well as facilitating public webinars and virtual trainings.
  • While the Initiative hopes to work with a consultant/team that can develop all the deliverables listed above, proposals will still be considered if the consultant proposes a different scope of work (i.e., eliminating one or more deliverables, or suggesting changes). These differences should be clearly enumerated in the proposal with an accompanying rationale for the changes. We encourage applicants to submit a proposal that includes all of the deliverables outlined above; this may require involving external partners or consultants as subcontractors.
  • Consultants or teams based in any location are encouraged to apply. No restriction is placed on the geographic location of consultants/teams for a proposal to be eligible for review. Consultants should have demonstrated expertise in U.S. and international education contexts from the perspective of international exchange.
  • We are particularly interested in working with individuals or teams that include racial, ethnic, gender, disability, sexuality, and other diverse identities and strongly encourage applications from consultants who are traditionally underrepresented in the education and training field.

Proposal Process and Selection Criteria


  • Proposals will be accepted until Sunday, April 18, 2021 at 11:59pm US Eastern Time. Questions can be directed to Kyle Kastler at stevensintiative@aspeninstitute.org.
  • Notification of Acceptance: All applicants will be notified by about the status of their proposal on or around May 3, 2021. After this notification, a few applicants will be asked to an interview to discuss their proposal. Applicants should plan their timelines to accommodate a contracting and negotiation period.

Proposal Submission Requirements

Interested applicants should submit a proposal through email to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org with a subject line including “AIDE in Virtual Exchange RFP”. The proposal should be comprised of the requirements listed below. Applicants can choose how they would like to format their proposals, but each requirement below should be included for a proposal to be considered complete. Individuals or teams are limited to one submission. Major components of the proposal should include:

  • A brief narrative, no longer than 1000 words, describing the proposed approach to analyze and report on access, inclusion, diversity, equity (AIDE) challenges and practices in the field of virtual exchange including:
      • A description of the consultant/team’s understanding of AIDE issues in the virtual exchange field.
      • A summary of the proposed methodology/process for examining how or if these issues and practices occur in the field of virtual exchange and to discover other AIDE issues of concern to practitioners.
      • The proposed process to create the resources outlined above to support practitioners to navigate these challenges and implement good practices in their programming to analyze.
  • A detailed timeline, listing the amount of time to be spent on each project component, including at least:
      • Project development and administration.
      • Planning and check in calls with the Stevens Initiative team (at least monthly).
      • Data gathering and analysis: Some of this data gathering time should be reserved for key stakeholder interviews at the direction of the Initiative, approximately 10 hours of interviews.
      • Written deliverables: Writing, editing, designing, and any other components, with time for revisions.
      • Other deliverables: The development of content, plan for collaboration with Initiative staff, and required effort for implementation.
  • A budget detailing all costs including the hourly rate of the consultant or consultant team member that corresponds to project deliverables/activities and any additional anticipated costs (licenses, fees, overhead costs, etc.). Notes for developing a budget:
      • Do not request support for work that will be conducted prior to June 3, 2021.
      • Awards will be disbursed as fixed-amount contracts with the individual consultant or consultant team that apply for the contract and follow a schedule that will be determined during the contracting phase.
      • If, due to an institutional affiliation, a contract would need to be made between the Initiative and another institution (for example a university) rather than with an individual or team, you should detail this in your application.
      • As stated above, some proposals can include budget requests outside of the proposed ranges listed above, but these requests should be reasonable, associated with additional effort or costs, and justified in the proposal.
      • Overhead or Indirect costs: The maximum allowable rate for overhead or indirect costs is 18% of direct costs. Applicants should include any requested overhead/indirect costs in their budgets submitted as a part of the application.
  • Examples/samples of prior work on similar projects, specifically including work with AIDE efforts at both the higher education level, the K-12 level, and in international education, in both U.S. and international contexts.
  • Key team members and their qualifications, including CVs or resumes.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Statement: Applicants may include a statement that describes their individual/team background and how their inclusion in this effort would further the inclusion and representation of traditionally marginalized communities.
  • At least two external references familiar with this individual or team’s work on similar projects.

Criteria for Selection

When selecting a consultant or team, the Initiative will pay particular attention to:

  • Alignment with the Initiative’s approach to AIDE issues in the virtual exchange field: The Initiative is committed to expanding our understanding of AIDE issues in virtual exchange and to supporting our grantees and other practitioners to confront these challenges and improve their programs. The considerations listed in this call for proposals represent areas that have been identified where support is needed. Proposals that demonstrate a clear understanding of these considerations and enumerate others that might not be included here will be preferred over other proposals.
  • Cost effectiveness: The Initiative seeks to engage a consultant that demonstrates an appropriate cost and use of funds and are likely to deliver high quality deliverables.
  • Feasibility: Proposals should be well planned, logical, and should attempt to accomplish realistic goals. Applicants should indicate how their proposal is feasible and realistic within the parameters of this call for proposals.
  • Applicant’s experience: Through this effort, the Initiative will prioritize our need to work with an applicant with a proven track record in creating AIDE resources similar to those outlined above. Recognizing that experience can be varied or diverse, the Initiative will take into consideration an applicant’s experience with AIDE, higher education and K-12 levels, and international education and/or virtual exchange.
  • Applicant diversity and inclusion: Following our commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we invite proposals from individuals, teams, and firms that are led or include significant contributions from individuals who represent communities traditionally underrepresented in similar publications, including women, racial minorities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities, among other traditionally marginalized communities.

Applying and More Information

For more information about the Stevens Initiative or this call for proposals, please see stevensinitiative.org or email stevensinitative@aspeninstitute.org. The Stevens Initiative will not be able to provide feedback on proposals that are not selected.

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