Each year, Global Ties U.S. recognizes an alumnus or alumna of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for high achievements in driving social change through innovation in their communities.
Nominees must demonstrate a significant difference they are making in their local or national community by addressing one of four areas derived directly from their IVLP participation: fostering economic prosperity and entrepreneurship; advancing civil society and human rights; working to promote alternatives to violent extremism; or combating climate change.
With innovative initiatives ranging from natural disaster response to start-up incubators, the 2020 slate of nominees featured IVLP alumni working across diverse fields. Runcie Chidebe received the 2020 IVLP Alumni Award for his work on making cancer control a national health priority in Nigeria.
Read on to learn about the nine other finalists and the incredible ways they are impacting their communities.
LIWEN CHEN – 2013 IVLP ALUMNA, CHINA
- Liwen Chen has been fighting against pollution caused by landfills and waste incineration in China since 2009.
During her “NGOs and Civic Activism” IVLP in 2013, Liwen was influenced by how U.S. community organizations directly engaged and empowered their residents to solve local problems. Those visits inspired her understand how she could work to solve a big social issue in her community: fighting pollution caused by mixed waste landfill and incineration through bottom-up approaches to social change.
Since 2017, Liwen has worked to implement waste-sorting programs in rural China with local governments and farmers. With her team at Zero Waste Villages, an environmental NGO, the waste-sorting program has reached 24 villages, removing biodegradable waste from trash of more than 60,000 people and composting it for farming.
Local governments have reached out to Liwen to implement their own waste-sorting programs. In 2019, she helped the town of Dongyang build a waste-sorting system and continues monitor it for sustainability. Since its inception, more than 80 percent of families in the town changed their behavior to sorting waste, preventing three tons of biodegradable waste from ending up in landfills every day.
SAAD HAMID – 2016 IVLP ALUMNUS, PAKISTAN
Saad Hamid is a powerful force for advancing innovation and entrepreneurship among young people in Pakistan.
Saad’s participation in the “Managing Start-Up Incubators for Growth” IVLP in 2016 gave him the opportunity to make connections throughout the U.S. and apply those ideas to create entrepreneurship opportunities for Pakistani youth.
For Saad, one of the key meetings on his IVLP was with Tracey Vickery, founder of GetReadyU and former board member at Global Austin, who became and continues to be a great supporter of his work. After returning to Pakistan, Saad launched DEMO Ideas for Impact, which creates opportunities for youth through capacity-building programs. One program, SkillsFirst, has trained more than 500 people in digital skills linking them to online jobs, while another program, She Means Business, was launched in partnership with Facebook to train upwards of 1,000 women in digital entrepreneurship. Another program, SDG Bootcamp, was launched in partnership with UNDP and Citi Bank to train 50 social entrepreneurs with skills and to build a network to scale.
Saad has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the Davos Innovators in 2018, and in 2019 he was appointed to the prime minister’s National Youth Council to advise on efforts for innovation, entrepreneurship and digital skills.
PRADIP KHATIWADA – 2017 IVLP ALUMNUS, NEPAL
Pradip Khatiwada’s participation in a 2017 IVLP on youth leadership and civic participation gave him the confidence to found the Youth Innovation Lab (YI-Lab), a nonprofit social enterprise. His meeting with Peace Corps volunteers helped him redefine volunteerism to recruit talent to the YI-Lab and develop innovative digital initiatives. Attending a session with Ashoka Changemakers inspired Pradip to launch SDG:Co Lab and learning about Boston’s BOS:311 app inspired him to launch civic utilities mapping initiatives.
In February 2019, YI-Lab signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs to develop a comprehensive and integrated Disaster Information Management System, the Building Information Platform Against Disaster (BIPAD), which was inspired by a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) Pradip received while traveling from Portland to Florida on his IVLP.
The BIPAD has the potential to enhance early warning, preparedness, strengthen disaster communication, response, and decision-making in a country particularly susceptible to natural disasters.
The BIPAD won the 2019 Global Resilience Partnership Award and is considered one of the top low tech innovations in disaster risk reduction and climate change in the world. Pradip’s platform was also recognized in 2019 Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR 2019) in Geneva and various other national and international platforms.
THI LIN – 2015 IVLP ALUMNA, MYANMAR
As an IVLP alumna, Thi Lin has made a remarkable difference in fostering economic prosperity for rural women in Myanmar.
During her 2015 IVLP on “Public Health Issues in the U.S.,” Thi was inspired to apply the Human Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) community health center model to her projects with Pact Myanmar to improve access to health care services for people who are poor and vulnerable. After visiting with Peace Corps volunteers who had piloted a program aimed at reducing newborn death, Thi adopted the practice of community volunteer home visits within 48 hours of delivery to the newborn in her local community-based new born care project.
Since her IVLP experience, Thi has continued to advocate for women’s economic empowerment. She has advocated to scale up Pact WORTH program for women in rural Myanmar, which provides technical assistance to strengthen women’s ability to financially support themselves and their families through savings-based groups and entrepreneurial support. The women are trained to develop a household safety-net through the accumulation of savings, dividends from the group fund, and business profits. The project resulted in increasing access to finance, empowering women socially and financially, and benefiting their family and community.
BERNADETTE MUYOMI – 2017 IVLP ALUMNA, KENYA
Bernadette Muyomi is the founder and director of Green Agri Ventures, an organization that gives credit and offers financial literacy training and business support to rural women entrepreneurs.
Bernadette credits her participation in the multi-regional “Education and Activism for Young Women” IVLP with giving her the skills to grow her organization and become more vocal about issues facing women in her community. She recalled how a public speaking session in Seattle, WA, helped her improve her business pitch and learn how to attract different partners to help her to achieve her work, and how a meeting with the League of Women Voters in Pensacola, FL, showed her the power of women’s agency. Bernadette learned about the power of women in numbers and applied it to her work in Kenya, empowering women to discuss issues pertaining to their dignity and how they can work with the local government to improve their lives. Meeting and interacting with other IVLP participants expanded Bernadette’s networks and opportunities to share her work, including being inspired to speak at on sexual harassment from an angle of women’s leadership at a TEDx event in Kenya.
Since founding Green Agri Ventures, Bernadette has enabled 2,176 women in rural Busia, Kenya to access decent self-employment, create jobs for others, and avoid exploitation as a result of financial vulnerability.
NGUYEN TRAN VU – 2016 IVLP ALUMNUS, VIETNAM
Nguyen Tran Vu is co-founder and CEO of Danang Startup Incubator (DNES), a startup ecosystem in the poorest region of Vietnam’s central coast.
In 2016, Vu participated in the IVLP “Entrepreneurship and Start UP Development- a Project for Vietnam,” allowing him to examine startup development, accelerators, funding, and investing in the U.S. His meeting at Techstars, a business accelerator in Boulder, CO, was particularly influential.
“I learned that a strong startup ecosystem is key to job growth and economic development. Boulder is not Silicon Valley, it’s only a small and peaceful town, just like my small town Danang. I started to believe that this type of entrepreneurial ecosystems is driving innovation and small business energy. [If] TechStars can be one of the best business incubators in the world by the mountain, Danang can be the best innovation hub by the sea for South East Asia,” Vu said.
Out of Vu’s IVLP experience, Danang’s city’s five-year action framework to support entrepreneurship was born and the concept of the very first public-private partnership business incubator in Vietnam was formed. He spent the next two years implementing those concepts and DNES was named as Top 3 Best Incubator in Vietnam.
EVA TRUUVERK -2010 IVLP ALUMNA, ESTONIA
Since launching the “Let’s Do It!” environmental clean-up campaign in 2008, Eva Truuverk has become a leading advocate for environmental awareness. The inaugural campaign engaged more than 55,000 people in Estonia to clean up 10,000 tons of waste in just one day and received widespread media coverage. The success of her initiative caught the attention of the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, which nominated Eva for the 2010 “Volunteerism: United We Serve” IVLP.
Eva’s IVLP experience encouraged her to dream bigger. She began to spread her message and to expand the vision globally. In 2011, she launched “Let’s Do It, World!” with the goal of spurring a day of citizen activism on each continent to cleanup illegal dumps in each country. By 2018, Eva’s team coordinated the largest ever World Cleanup Day, with approximately 17 million people gathered across 169 countries cleaning the planet for over 36 hours. Her project has helped strengthen civil societies not only in Estonia, but across the entire world, encouraging volunteerism and our collective responsibility to preserve the environment.
Eva received Estonia’s Citizen of the Year Award in 2018 from the Minister of Culture; and Estonian Woman of the Year 2018, an annual award provided by Estonian Federation of Business and Professional Women.
MOHAMED YUNUS MOHAMED YASIN – 2013 IVLP ALUMNUS, MALAYSIA
Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin is the founding president of the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI), a Malaysian nonprofit organization that empowers young people interested in science, innovation, and entrepreneurship through “doing.”
In March 2013, Mohamed participated in the “American Youth: Inspiring Leadership and Civic Participation” IVLP. While on program he saw how individuals and civil societies can play a positive role in shaping their own lives and become agents for change in their communities. Mohamed remembers one youth in New Orleans who shared his experience rebuilding communities after Hurricane Katrina, and took away two lessons from that interaction: “Firstly, nothing starts big, hence start small whilst keeping the dream alive. Secondly, never give up no matter how long it takes – patiently persevere.”
Upon returning from his IVLP, Mohamed was able to start the Young Inventors Challenge (YIC) thanks to a grant from the U.S. Government for programs combating radicalization among youth. The YIC encourages teams of young people to use critical thinking skills to be effective change agents in their communities by producing an invention or innovation that solves a problem identified by the team.
Mohamed’s experiences taught him that effective long-term change can only come from within– change agents have to be cultivated locally to understand the needs and aspiration of their own community.
NICHOLAS ZYLBERGLAJT – 2014 IVLP ALUMNUS, BELGIUM
Nicholas Zylberglajt is the director of The European Young Innovators Forum (EYIF), an independent, nonprofit association that supports young entrepreneurs and innovators across Europe. Through EYIF, Nicolas spearheaded the Women’s Entrepreneurship Roadshow, a project sponsored by the U.S. Mission to the European Union, Amazon, and Startup Europe, to support and empower women entrepreneurs across Europe. EYIF hosted eight Roadshows (Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Madrid, and Sofia) in 2019, connecting more than 220 women small business founders with leading U.S. and European venture capital firms to provide them with mentoring, training, and access to funding.
Nicholas participated in a 2014 IVLP on innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S. During this program, he acquired a deep level of understanding of the policy and regulatory features influencing innovation and entrepreneurship. He also had the opportunity to discover and analyze global trends such as smart cities and digital social innovation. Nicholas applied the knowledge received during this exchange to his organization in Europe, leading EYIF to become the leading foundation for youth innovation in Europe. The project has reached more than 500,000 participants, giving voice to a community of young innovators and experts who believe in taking risks, changing mindsets, and sharing ideas and professional mentorship.