Exchange Matters / March 16, 2020

A Return to IVLP

By James Horsman, IVLP Program Officer, World Learning

Group photo of the 1992 IVLP exchange on State and Local Government. Herod Sibanda is in the back row, second from left.


The word “exchange” has several different meanings, like trading goods for value or describing the rate of currency conversion between monetary systems. For the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), exchange refers to the sharing of knowledge and experiences across cultures, languages, and geographies.

My IVLP experience started in 2018 when I accepted a job as an IVLP Program Officer with World Learning after completing a master’s in applied international studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. As my wife and I were planning our move to Washington, DC, I described my new position to my father-in-law, Herod Benjamin Sibanda, who lives in Zimbabwe. He recounted a program in which he had been chosen to travel throughout the U.S. to learn about election and government systems.

After investigating, I learned to my great surprise that he was a participant on a “State and Local Government” multiregional IVLP project hosted by the Meridian International Center while he was a deputy provincial administrator for the Matabeleland north region in Zimbabwe in 1992.

Recognizing the unique IVLP story, I set out to talk to my father-in-law about his experiences. Using WhatsApp from his home in Harare, he spoke warmly about his program, the knowledge and insights he gained, and the people he met. It was an especially pivotal time in his career, as Zimbabwe had gained independence only 12 years earlier and was still in the early stages of setting up a government.

As he built a public service career, Herod’s call to participate in the IVLP came at the perfect time. “For countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe, [they] were only coming into life post-independence and were very keen to know how some countries had experienced running local government. Local government is really the basis upon which you can link up communities. You want government to function effectively and efficiently at that level.”

During his time in Washington, DC, Herod visited the U.S. Department of State, Capitol Hill, and met with officials in Maryland where they briefed the participants on how elections are conducted in the U.S. His group then traveled to Colorado, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Arkansas was especially interesting to him, as President Bill Clinton had just been elected and was preparing to move from Little Rock to the White House.

Aside from the professional meetings, he learned from others in his program. His IVLP group included participants from Egypt, India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and South Africa. “We were different people with different experiences, coming from different countries, with different perspectives and anticipations. Yet during and at the end of the program, we seemed to be talking from the same platform, discussing issues on the themes of the program using more or less the same language.”

Herod also learned from the American families he met through home hospitality. They “wanted to know more about how we were experiencing our visit to the United States, where we are from, what they could learn from my home experience, and compare it with what we were seeing in the United States.”

Herod’s IVLP experience had a profound impact on his career. “It wasn’t long after my return that I got a promotion at work, exchanged work stations for higher responsibilities, and got assigned to leading delegations to different countries precisely because I had an opportunity to go on this program and it would be easier for me to handle new situations.” Following his program, he was assigned to chair and coordinate the Water and Sanitation Program in Zimbabwe and lead staff programs to Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa.

My father-in-law’s experiences came full circle when he and his family visited my wife and me. It was his first time back in Washington, DC since his IVLP experience and he was able to visit many of the same sites. While here, he met with Henry Collins, Vice President and Deputy, Professional Exchanges Division with Meridian to reflect on his program.

Realizing the improbable IVLP connection across decades and the Atlantic Ocean intersecting my family cemented the meaning of exchange in my mind. In the 28 years since Herod’s IVLP experience, the impact of his IVLP program leaves many warm memories. “I won’t forget it.”

Herod Sibanda (left) chatted recently with Henry Collins (right) from the Meridian International Center chat about his IVLP experience.