Exchange Matters / July 25, 2023

Civic Engagement Through Global Outreach

This July, the Global Ties Network is looking back on the importance of civic engagement and its connection to exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). These exchanges bring world citizens together, and cultivate a sense of civic duty, community pride, and an enterprising volunteering spirit that benefit U.S. and international participants alike. In the snapshots below, Global Ties Alabama reflects on introducing South American visitors to the U.S. culture of volunteerism, WorldChicago discusses education and study abroad in the post-pandemic environment, and Iowa International Center looks back on a project to empower Pakistani women by opening avenues of entrepreneurship. 

Global Ties Alabama 

IVLP: The Role of NGOs and Volunteerism in Civil Society
NPA: CRDF Global 

By Annette Philpo’t, Program Consultant

Global Ties Alabama welcomed a group of 10 South American visitors to Huntsville in May as part of an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)  on the role of NGOs and volunteerism in civil society. These visitors embodied a cross-section of important causes, including empowering women and children, LGBTQ+ rights, civic engagement, conflict resolution, and creating economic opportunities for at-risk youth. During their time in Huntsville, group members had the opportunity to engage with their counterparts in the United States working in the nonprofit sector, and to discuss the extensive and integral role volunteers play in   U.S. society. In developing this IVLP, one of our major goals was to showcase the diversity of volunteer efforts. With this in mind, we organized IVLP member interactions with a wide variety of groups, including nonprofits and volunteer groups that provide services more commonly offered by government agencies.  

The delegation began by meeting with staff from the Huntsville Botanical Garden, a nonprofit public garden that engages in conservation and public education with a volunteer force of more than 1,000 people. This was followed by visits to other organizations, including Court Appointed Juvenile Advocates (CAJA) and the volunteer organization SARTEC, highlighting unique aspects of volunteerism in the United Sates. CAJA provides advanced training to volunteers who serve as independent advocates for at-risk children in the juvenile justice system. SARTEC is an accredited regional K-9 Search and Rescue unit staffed entirely by volunteers. These civilian volunteers deploy at the request of law enforcement or government agencies and have advanced training in the use of K-9s to search for missing people and conduct rescue operations in hazardous terrain. Several visitors were surprised that anyone could receive professional training to become a volunteer at these organizations, given that both groups deal with sensitive issues that, in their home countries, would be considered a responsibility of the state or federal government.  

The IVLP is an incredible platform for professional development, but no program would be complete without an equal measure of fun. Our visitors enthusiastically took every opportunity to explore Huntsville’s cultural offerings and rich history. They were captivated by activities such as tours of the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and Harrison Brothers Hardware, the oldest continuously operating hardware store in the state. The group’s stay wrapped up with a visit to Alabama’s most popular tourist attraction, the U.S Space and Rocket Center, the welcome center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the root of Huntsville’s nickname, Rocket City. One visitor described their visit to the Rocket Center as the “icing on the cake” of their time in Huntsville!  While it is always wonderful to see IVLP delegations leave with knowledge they can use to improve their communities, these delegations also enrich our communities in equal measure. Their international insights, shared in group collaboration and deep discussion, enrich our community well. 


IVLP: Adapting French University Post-COVID Study Abroad Programming to U.S. Demand and Shaping Sustainable Partnerships
NPA: American Councils for International Education 

By Anna Donko, Program Assistant

In June 2023, WorldChicago hosted seven French delegates through an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project titled “Adapting French University Post-COVID Study Abroad Programming to U.S. Demand and Shaping Sustainable Partnerships.” The Chicago portion of the project focused heavily on opportunities in virtual exchange, also referred to as collaborative online international learning (COIL). The delegation met with various university study abroad offices including those at DePaul, Northwestern, Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois Chicago. Additionally, the delegation was invited to speak with Axelle Moleur, Cultural Attaché and Director of the Villa Albertine at the Consulate General of France in Chicago.  

In the meeting with Rositsa León, DePaul University’s Director of Virtual Exchange and Online Learning, the delegation engaged in an enriching conversation centered around the innovative nature of the University’s virtual exchange program, the Global Learning Experience (GLE). Established in 2013, GLE is a technology-enabled learning experience that is embedded in existing courses. In these courses, DePaul students interact with and learn from other students at an international partner institution. This program, as well as Northwestern University’s Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), recently earned the prestigious National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award for its efforts in virtual exchange. Ruth Weinfeld, U.S. Department of State Liaison, referred to the mutual exchange between the delegation and DePaul faculty hosts as “harmonious,” stating, “how they addressed each other, looked at each other, and praised each other was almost a sublime experience.”  

Six adults pose for picture in a classroom.

The delegation for virtual exchange poses for a photo. Photo provide by WorldChicago

Through the implementation of this program, the delegates arrived at a profound understanding of how various Chicago universities strategically approach education abroad in our new post-pandemic environment. Both the French delegation and the Chicago hosts were deeply encouraged by the conversations and successfully built a foundation to grow fruitful partnerships and expand future collaboration.  

Iowa International Center

IVLP: Strengthening Women Entrepreneurs
NPA: Meridian International Center  

By Kate Murphy, Marketing and Communications Intern

Last month, Iowa International Center (IIC) had the opportunity to host an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focused on strengthening women entrepreneurs. For four days, the IIC brought five women from Pakistan to Iowa for them to meet with different groups in Des Moines and Iowa City, and foster discussions about strengthening women’s engagement in business. Throughout the week, the IVLP participants met with the National Association of Women Business Owners, Iowa Small Business Development Center, American Business Women’s Association from West Des Moines, Greater Des Moines Partnership, and Iowa Environmental Council. Through these meetings, our guests were able to see how a number of individual organizations offer varied entrepreneurship opportunities and support for the women of Des Moines.  

Six women pose for photo in front of wood paneling.

IVLP participants attend a seminar on “Strengthening Women Entrepreneurs” in Des Moines. Photo provided by Iowa International Center

Our goal for these meetings was to have participants return home as voices for change and advocates of female empowerment in their communities. Through these connections and skill sharing, not only will women’s businesses grow, so will the economy of their nation. Presenting our guests with an assortment of Des Moines entrepreneurship groups that showcase female leadership provided more than information and best practices, it highlighted what it means to be an empowered female entrepreneur.

One of our visitors, Saira Ishtiaq, described her time in Iowa as an exhilarating experience with invaluable lessons. “Every person I had the pleasure of meeting was an extraordinary force in their respective domains,” Ishtiaq said,. “I was left in awe.”  

Ishtiaq was impressed by all the organizations she was introduced to and the work they do for those in need. But one organization really stood out to her. “The most breathtaking encounter of all was with the phenomenal duo, Angie Jordan and Marlen Mendoza, at South of 6 IOWA. These remarkable individuals have poured their hearts and souls into uplifting their communities, and their passion radiates from every pore,” Ishtiaq said.  

The South of 6 Business District (So.6) is located on the south side of Iowa City bordering Highway six and is a Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District. 

Ishtiaq was inspired by meeting Angie and said that she has rarely met someone with such an unwavering commitment to philanthropy. “Her words carry weight because she lives and breathes the ethos of dreaming big to forge a future that we all share,” Ishtiaq said.  

Ishtiaq’s time in Iowa City has left an indelible mark on her, reminding her of the potential within each of us to make a meaningful difference. “Through encounters like these, we find the fuel to ignite our passions and strive for greatness.”