Stevens Initiative Will Award up to $10 Million for Virtual Exchange Programs that Connect Youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa

Through its largest grant competition ever, the Stevens Initiative will give tens of thousands more young people access to global education opportunities.

For Immediate Release

Primary Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Associate
The Aspen Institute

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Washington, DC, July 27, 2020 –The Stevens Initiative today announced its 2020 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition, which will award up to $10 million in funding to schools, higher education institutions, and non-profit organizations to design and implement virtual exchange programs that connect young people in the U.S. and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

There is a pressing need for young people to develop empathy, resiliency, self-awareness, and other skills that prepare them to thrive as global citizens and professionals. Virtual exchange fills this gap by providing young people relationship-building and skill development opportunities. There is an inextricable link between technology and human connection, and virtual exchange is a critical way to empower young people to work together to address common challenges. With international travel sharply restricted by the coronavirus pandemic, virtual exchange is even more necessary for providing global education opportunities.

“We recognize there is increasing global demand for virtual exchange guidance, platforms, and curriculum right now,” said Assistant Secretary Marie Royce, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “As leaders in this space since 2015, the U.S. Department of State is ready to ramp up our Stevens Initiative virtual exchange partnerships with new schools, teachers, and students across the United States and the Middle East and North Africa.”

The Initiative is interested in seeding new virtual exchange models as well as scaling proven models, through proposals focused on technology and computing, world affairs and global studies, business and entrepreneurship, language learning and practice, and public health. Proposals must demonstrate that young people participating in the program will build practical skills and global competencies through collaborative activities. The Initiative will fund the following grant types:

  • Scaling Grants: Funds long-standing, proven programs that reach large groups of young people. These programs show promise for sustainability and continued impact on the virtual exchange field.
  • Efficiency Grants: Prioritizes programs that experiment with new efficiencies to increase reach and impact. These grants present opportunities to learn about best practices for virtual exchange implementation.
  • Seeding Grants: Supports new, promising virtual exchange models. These programs are likely to scale over time and diversify the virtual exchange field.

Interested organizations can apply for these grants and learn more about the application process here.

“Through this grant competition, the Stevens Initiative continues to expand access to virtual exchange, making remarkable strides toward their vision of giving every young person the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to prosper in an increasingly interconnected world,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, Clinical Professor, Seattle Children’s Hospital, University of Washington;  Immunology R&D, Janssen Pharmaceuticals; and Sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens. “Global learning experiences played a vital role in my late brother’s life and career as a diplomat. I’m confident he would be proud to know that, through these grants, the same will be possible for many more young people.”

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. By summer 2021, the Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 40,000 young people in 16 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, three tribal communities, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC. Through these grants, the Initiative aims to reach an additional 40,000 young people.

“The work of the Stevens Initiative is a powerful manifestation of the mission of the Aspen Institute. Through virtual exchange, young people engage in dialogue and collaboration across the supposed divides of difference and address the greatest challenges of our time. At the same time, they develop mutual respect and understanding—critical in this moment of profound societal change. We’re proud that this program dedicated to creating the next generation of leaders calls the Institute home,” said Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

Virtual exchange uses technology to connect people for education and exchange. Virtual exchange programs typically serve young people. Many virtual exchange programs are international, connecting participants in different countries to help them gain global competencies, among other knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many practitioners believe that facilitation by prepared, responsible adults — often but not always educators — is an important component of successful virtual exchange.

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.

More Information

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs.  These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States, support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us.  Visit

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society.  Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.  For more information, visit

The Bezos Family Foundation supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action.  Through investments in research, public awareness, systems building and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children.

The Kingdom of Morocco has held a longstanding commitment to the promotion of peace, mutual understanding and respect across all fora.  In line with this commitment, the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco is a strong supporter of the Stevens Initiative and is proud to be included in its programs, which foster opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges between youth.

The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Washington, D.C. is committed to promoting and increasing cross-cultural understanding and educational exchanges.  In line with the UAE Government’s values, the Embassy supports educational programming at schools and universities across the U.S.  The Embassy works with U.S. institutions to provide unique opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges and help broaden student’s horizons.

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