We are pleased to announce the recipient of the 2023 Global Ties U.S. IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change: Anass Hanafi of Turin, Italy, and as an honorable mention, Jona Rizvanolli of Tirana, Albania. Both young European leaders are bringing new perspectives, resources, and opportunities to their communities to support the advancement and integration of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, immigrants, and other underserved populations.
Anass Hanafi is a social activist, immigrant youth advocate, and Founder and President of NILI (Italian Inclusion Leaders Network), where he works to increase access to opportunities for those who are otherwise excluded or underserved. Employed by a law firm in Turin, Anass is currently completing a Master of Legal Studies at the University of Turin with a specialization in space law and serves as a mentor in space accelerator programs. In 2021, Anass participated in a virtual International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project focused on “Current U.S. Social, Political, and Economic Issues for Young European Leaders.” His IVLP was programmed by World Learning (Washington, DC) in coordination with Global Ties Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo, MI), San Antonio Council for International Visitors (San Antonio, TX), and WorldOrlando (Orlando, FL).
According to Anass, participating in the IVLP was deeply beneficial and inspired him to “enlarge the impact we [the Italian Inclusion Leaders Network] were having as an organization across Italy.” Anass shared how a meeting with a Global Ties Kalamazoo community resource led him to create a mentorship program for youth leaders with immigrant backgrounds. To date, the program has engaged 60 youth and created partnerships with law firms and banks to connect the next generation of Italian civil servants and political leaders with professionals from the best law firms and banks in Italy. Anass is determined to build a more inclusive and equitable society and is actively working to build leadership opportunities and skills among minorities and create networks to strengthen immigrants’ sense of community.
The focus of much of his social activism has been in support of first- and second-generation immigrant youth. Anass actively partnered with the NGO Nuove Radici on leadership workshops for immigrant youth, a project funded through a grant from the U.S. Consulate General in Milan. Shared the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Consulate General in Milan about Anass, “Anass has demonstrated a powerful commitment to facilitating positive social change and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for young people in Italy.”
Anass also worked on different task forces to help refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine, which he described as a life-changing experience that opened his eyes to the power of democratic engagement and civic participation. Explained Anass, “I have seen firsthand how citizens can come together to create meaningful change and make a difference in their community. This experience has strengthened my belief that democracy isn’t something we should take for granted, but rather something that needs to be actively fought for and nurtured. I’m ready to work actively protecting our democratic values and doing my part closing the gaps by creating bridges and working toward a more inclusive society.”
Jona Rizvanolli is a software engineer, educator, and 2019 IVLP alumna working to promote the advancement of women in STEM (science, technology, mathematics, and engineering). She visited five U.S cities during her IVLP, thanks to programing organized by Graduate School USA (Washington, DC), Global New Orleans (New Orleans, LA), Global Ties KC (Kansas City, MO), the World Affairs Council of Seattle (Seattle, WA), and WorldBoston (Boston, MA).
Jona is one of the founders and mentors of the Technovation Club at the American Corner at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, an international platform that brings young girls together to develop innovative solutions addressing concerns in their communities. She led the 2019 team of Albanian girls in the international Technovation World Pitch Summit in Silicon Valley, CA, where they competed against teams from all over the world and won first prize with their ”GjejZá” app to stop domestic violence.
Jona also contributed to the Embassy’s efforts to welcome and engage Afghan refugees in Albania. She and her twin sister created the Together for Inclusion Program, which guided 40 Afghan youth through interactive robotics modules using Microbits, tiny pocket-sized computers. By combining technology with games, the outreach program helped foster community-building and offered the participants marketable skills in coding. The program was so successful that Jona is now working on a second interaction for youth from Pakistan in Albania.
Jona credits her IVLP experience for advancing her work in Albania. “Being an IVLP alumni has helped me grow my network and learn the best practices in mentoring and empowering youth, especially girls and young women, through technology and leadership,” said Jona. Since returning home, she was elected to be a member of the Albania-United States Alumni Board, created by the U.S. Embassy in Tirana to bring together Albanian alumni from different U.S. government-funded exchange programs like the IVLP and Fulbright. The Board had its first democratic elections in December last year and applies one fundamental rule, the freedom to express your opinion throughout the vote and elect the chairman of the Board and its members.
For their commitment to create more inclusive communities, their application of their IVLP experiences to break barriers and implement change, and their demonstrated impact to inspire civic engagement, we are honored to recognize Anass Hanafi and Jona Rizvanolli at the Global Ties U.S. 2023 National Meeting. They will deliver remarks during the plenary session, (Re)Building Community with Global Alumni, on Wednesday, March 29.
About the Award
The Global Ties U.S. IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change recognizes alumni of the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program for high achievements driving social change through innovation in their home communities. Thanks to the contributions of Vicente López-Ibor Mayor, an IVLP alumnus and Honorary President of Via-Circulo Jefferson in Spain, the award is generously granted annually at the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting.