The Stevens Initiative Funds Five Virtual Exchange Programs That Connect Young People in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa

These new programs make global learning accessible to more young people, providing essential opportunities to engage with peers

For Immediate Release

Jon Purves
Associate Director, Media Relations
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, June 21, 2022  Today, the Stevens Initiative announced its newest grantees, which will bring together young people in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, the Palestinian Territories, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States for collaboration and cross-cultural dialogue that sharpen crucial workforce development and 21st century skills. Through these new virtual exchange programs, young people connect across lines of difference, fostering critical thinking, resilience, empathy, curiosity, and an appreciation of diversity.

“Since the Stevens Initiative was founded at the Aspen Institute in 2015, it has empowered thousands of young people by elevating the work of virtual exchange programs. We’re proud to add these new grantees to our community of schools, higher education institutions, and nonprofit organizations committed to using these platforms to help ensure that the next generation of leaders is prepared to take on the world’s greatest challenges and help build a more free, just, and equitable society,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

Through exciting international discussions and activities, these programs engage young people in joyful learning experiences while exposing them to interests and perspectives they may not have considered without participating in a virtual exchange. Young people from the middle school through the undergraduate level will gain knowledge, skills, and experiences that prepare them to give back to their local and international communities in their lives and careers. Four of the programs were selected through the Initiative’s first grant competition launched in the United Arab Emirates, and North America Scholastic Esports Federation’s (NASEF) MENAcraft is funded with support from the U.S. Department of State.

The 2022 Stevens Initiative Grantees will reach nearly 1,900 young people, expanding the Initiative’s total reach by summer 2023 to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 49 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, five tribal communities, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Overall, 91 grantees have partnered with the Initiative between 2016 and today. The 2022 grantees include:

    • Ajman University’s AYM: Actualizing Youth Mobility to Lead and Innovate in the 21st Century is a collaborative virtual exchange program that fosters intercultural understanding, creative collaborations, and meaningful communication among students.
    • American University of Sharjah’s Transformative Sustainability Project (TSP) gives undergraduate college students in the United Arab Emirates and the United States the tools to transform their local and global contexts into more sustainable communities in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
    • American University of Sharjah’s Virtual Language Exchange provides participants in the United Arab Emirates and the United States a unique cross-cultural experience by examining diverse worldviews, languages, and cultures while critically thinking about media representations that shape their world knowledge.
    • NASEF’s MENAcraft gathers young people from the United States and the Middle East and North Africa region in a safe, neutral, and inspiring online community, blending play and learning for a cultural and language exchange.
    • RAK American Academy’s Scheherazade Project brings together 10th and 11th grade girls from the United Arab Emirates and the United States to explore the role their female ancestors played in their lives.

“My brother’s experiences in the Middle East and North Africa contributed to a passion for understanding and delighting in what makes us different. It is my hope that virtual exchange turns faraway places and people into familiar global communities for the young people participating in these new programs. As we honor his legacy during the ten-year anniversary of his death, the Stevens Initiative and its grantees embody much of what he devoted his life and career to,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, Sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Stevens Initiative is an international leader in virtual exchange, which brings young people from diverse places together to collaborate and connect through everyday technology. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative invests in virtual exchange programs between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa; shares research, resources, and promising practices to improve impact; and advocates for broader adoption.

The 2022 Stevens Initiative grantees are funded by the Stevens Initiative with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the government of the United Arab Emirates and with additional funding from the Bezos Family Foundation. Learn more about the Stevens Initiative, which receives support from additional funders and is administered by the Aspen Institute, at

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 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.

This press release is available in Arabic here and French here.

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