Exchange Matters / January 25, 2022

Bridge Building: Impressions from the Global Moment in Time Special Initiative

By Bonnie Beard and Brittany Lynk, Bridge Builders for “A Global Moment in Time: Photojournalists Document Challenges and Opportunities in the COVID Era” 

All images provided by the authors.

Reflection and Innovation 

The beginning of every new year offers a moment to reflect. Looking back at the 2021 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) virtual programming reveals a surprisingly full and successful year with 4,488 participants from 177 countries on 334 projects, interacting with 93 U.S. communities. Hidden in these statistics is the innovation and creativity that enhanced these exchanges, and the forthcoming concepts yet to be tried or even imagined. At every level, IVLP partners—within the U.S. Department of State (including Embassies, the Office of International Visitors, and the Office of Language Services), National Program Agencies, Community-Based Members, Interpreters, and Liaisons—are working together, testing, and sharing new ideas and promising practices. It has been a refreshing time of asking, “How might we do this,” where none of us can fall back on the adage, “That’s how it’s always been done.” 

What Is a Bridge Program? 

New to the IVLP toolbox is the hybrid project, consisting of three components—a virtual program, an in-person program, and a “Bridge” program that connects the two in time and space. The Bridge is designed to maintain continuity between the formal programs by offering interactive leadership opportunities to strengthen a sense of community for our international participants. The Bridge opens additional possibilities for deepening their connections to the United States, and U.S. culture and people through innovative and creative activities and programming. 

Photojournalists participate in a five-city virtual Holiday Road Trip Race with Santa as part of the December third Saturday casual cultural event. Each person brought a squishy item to toss for joy, which you can see exhibited by Mankica from Slovenia in the upper left under Santa.

What Are Bridge Builders? 

As Bridge Builders, our role is to build that metaphorical bridge for our participants—a program and an infrastructure that connects them to each other and to the United States. Technically, our title is “long-term engagement subject matter experts,” but we have rebranded as “Bridge Builders.” We work in pairs with three different National Program Agencies (NPAs) on one of the three “Global Moment in Time” projects spanning the next ten months, until our participants come in person. 

What Is The Global Moment in Time Special Initiative? 

“A Global Moment in Time” is a special IVLP initiative that addresses significant societal conditions affecting all corners of the world. It launched in October 2021, when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed nearly 240 international participants with a pre-recorded message. (Video remarks available here.) The initiative includes three hybrid projects, each with a virtual program in the fall of 2021, an in-person program in the United States in the fall of 2022, and a Bridge program spanning the two. The three projects are:   

  • Photojournalists Document Challenges and Opportunities in the COVID Era 
    • 73 participants from 55 countries 
    • NPA: World Learning | Bridge Builders: Bonnie Beard and Brittany Lynk 
  • Peace and Justice  
    • 77 participants from 54 countries 
    • NPA: IIE | Bridge Builders: Minnie Battle Mayes and Leesa Fields 

As a unique add-on to the experience, all participants are welcomed and encouraged to share photos and stories of life in their community during this global moment in time. Submissions will be produced into a special digital and print photobook to commemorate the initiative. The photobooks will reflect challenges and accomplishments, reminding us that the world is one community with many common interests—and together, we can tackle shared challenges and learn from one another. 

How Are We Bridge Building?  

With a focus on continuity and community building, Bridge Builders wear several hats—as programmers, cheerleaders, advocates, and citizen diplomats. Each month, we host two interactive sessions designed around participants’ specific ideas and interests.  

Photojournalist Panumas Sanguanwong from Thailand shares one of his images during a January 6 Global Moment Gallery Exhibition. He shared how taxi drivers no longer had any customers so all their cars were just parked, unable to earn them any money. Several of the cab owners decided to repurpose the taxis and make vegetable gardens, which they could eat or sell.

Photojournalist Ernesto Benavides from Peru shares one of his images during a January 6 Global Moment Gallery Exhibition. He said, “When I started to do this [work], I thought the camera was a mask… During the pandemic, [the emotional experience] was too much. [While taking this picture], the pain in that house really got to me in a way that I didn’t know I could get so compromised with the feelings of other people. But then [I realized the value of] catalyzing these feelings… into the image so it can really have a charge… and a way to portray [what you are trying to say] because you are really feeling.”

For the photojournalists, the first Thursday of every month is a Global Moment Gallery, giving four participants an opportunity to showcase and discuss their work in a virtual exhibition with an audience of their choosing (public, private, or semi-private). Check out and RSVP for our public events here, or watch the January 6 Global Moment Gallery here. These Galleries are expertly moderated by a fellow IVLP participant whom we work with and support.  

The third or fourth Saturday of each month broadens the focus to highlight culture and diversity through the sharing of families, communities, traditions, skill-building, and the arts. Some examples of these events include a “Continuing Conversations series” with speakers from the virtual program; a “World Tour series” where participants and Community-Based Member home hospitality hosts welcome one another into their homes and kitchens; and conversations with experts about jazz, women in photography, and even the founding of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Photojournalists meet with Jim Ketterer, Dean of the American University in Cairo, Egypt, to learn about “Jazz Diplomacy: America’s Musical Conversation with the World” during a January 22 event. Participants asked questions about jazz around the world, and shared stories of how music diplomacy has opened doors for politics, progress, and connections in their country.

As Bridge Builders, we are also supporting participant-led initiatives, panels, and projects. We are sharing grant opportunities, celebrating birthdays, and amplifying information.  Each session provides an opportunity for participants to spend time together, and get to know one another and the United States better, all while forging tighter bonds and more meaningful relationships. 

What Participants Are Saying  

Though barely through the bridge’s toll booth, the preliminary enthusiasm for and the benefits of the Bridge experience is very promising. Even with voluntary attendance, sessions are running around 30-50% participation and growing. Engagement with program websites, tools,  and messaging apps is lively and collaborative. 

A self-initiated committee of photojournalists, spearheading an independent photo project, “Homes of Hope,” is finding value in the Bridge, which Margie of Australia says is “fostering ideas, topics, and support in helping the program carry on beyond two weeks of virtual workshops and establishing community.” 

Participants have reconnected with speakers from their virtual component through a “Continuing Conversations series,” which Emmanuel from Kenya described as “a perfect opportunity for cultural exchange with lots of learning, networking, and growing.” 

Socheata from Cambodia noted that the Bridge is “activating our brain energy and keeping amazing and talented photojournalists engaged prior to the in-person program.” 

As we embark on this new IVLP experience, we are encouraged to remember when Liaisons were called “escorts,” when there were no cell phones, and programs ended abruptly with a departing flight. Now, technology and the internet have opened far-reaching possibilities for building global community, and COVID has granted space to re-envision and innovate. To sum it up, Marta from Paraguay said“[This new Bridge component] is the human arm, reaching across the world in this Global Moment in Time journey.”

Join Us on the Bridge at, Follow the Action on social media at #IVLPGlobalMoment, and Learn More about a Global Moment in Time.