Exchange Matters / March 22, 2024

Empowering Women Worldwide Through Citizen Diplomacy

Compiled by Layla Melendez, Communications Intern

In recognition of Women’s History Month this March, we’re celebrating the transformative impact of citizen diplomacy in empowering women worldwide. Through initiatives like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), women from diverse backgrounds engage in enriching people-to-people exchanges, gaining invaluable skills, forging connections with emerging leaders, and sharing their expertise. From discussions on women’s political participation in South Carolina to exploring peace and conflict strategies with 70 women leaders in Chicago, to the differences between women’s entrepreneurship in Buffalo, NY and beyond, join us as we reflect on the remarkable women leaders hosted by the Global Ties Network.

Columbia Council for Internationals 

IVLP: Women Leaders-Promoting Equality in the Justice System
NPA: FHI 360 

By Sewell Gelberd, Program Director for International Visitors 

In November 2023, the Columbia Council for Internationals hosted the “Women Leaders-Promoting Equality in the Justice System” project, welcoming four women from Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia to Columbia, South Carolina. Administered by FHI 360, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) aimed to empower women in the justice system. 

The group participated in many substantive professional meetings and cultural activities. The first day included a visit to the Rule of Law Collaborative at the University of South Carolina where they discussed women’s rights and institutional change. Later, the visitors met with Mayor Elise Partin of Cayce who delivered a motivational presentation on women’s success in politics and judiciary. 

IVLP participants are all smiles while meeting with Elise Partin, Mayor of Cayce, SC. All photos provided by Columbia Council for Internationals.

The program continued with visits to local attractions including the ‘Soda City’ Market and the South Carolina State House. A trip to Charleston for a historic harbor tour provided cultural enrichment and shopping opportunities.

The IVLP leaders also meet with organizations such as Women in Leadership and Sister Care, both of which focus on women’s empowerment and assistance for domestic violence victims; and gained insights into legacy advocacy during a visit to the Domestic Law Clinic at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. 

A highlight of the trip was an observation of a public defender in court, followed by discussions on women’s experiences in the legal profession. The visit concluded with an informal discussion led by State Senator Katrina Shealy, which had a profound impact on the participants.

IVLP group ends their visit by meeting with State Senator Katrina Shealy. 

Home hospitality is a memorable part of many IVLP exchanges. The international visitors came to my home where they tried lots of Southern delicacies and we enjoyed lively discussions. They also got to meet my dog Zelda who performed a few tricks for the group. 

Departing with fond memories and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, the group left Columbia on Wednesday morning with hopes of maintaining connections and implementing lessons learned in their respective countries. 

International Institute of Buffalo  

IVLP: Women in Entrepreneurship in U.S. Markets 

NPA: Meridian International Center 

By Gabriella Cilento, International Exchanges and Education Coordinator 

As Buffalo, NY continues to shift its job market into new fields and away from its industrial past, many new business ventures have begun to establish themselves in the region. This is further catalyzed by university partnerships and opportunities aimed at assisting entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, with a specific focus on women’s empowerment in entrepreneurship. 

In December 2023, the International Institute of Buffalo welcomed 10 women entrepreneurs from Gabon for an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on “Women in Entrepreneurship in U.S. Markets” project through Meridian International Center. Their program focused on marketing and strategic communication for small businesses, mentorship, and empowerment; how to scale up a small business; as well as a facility tour of a relatively new artisanal seed cracker business.   

IVLP participants engaging in the City of Light Consulting workshop, featuring fidget toys. Photos provided by International Institute of Buffalo.

heir visit to Buffalo began bright and early with a three-hour workshop provided by City of Light Consulting that no one wanted to end because of the valuable information being shared and fidget toy fun. Through this workshop, the participants were able to apply new marketing strategies for their businesses and emerged from the session as more confident and capable communicators.  


IVLP participants listen to the history of Stitch Buffalo and explore the workshop.  

Another meeting that showed an interesting cultural comparison was held at
Stitch Buffalo, a textile art center committed to empowering refugee and immigrant women through the sale of handcrafted goods. The participants enjoyed learning about how this organization empowers women and the direct impact this financial independence has on each woman, her family, and her community. This meeting also highlighted an unexpected comparison between Gabon and the United States – the difference in value of handcrafted goods in each country. One participant made a comment that in Gabon, a woman would not be able to support herself solely from the production of this type of embroidery, as a comparable piece would be sold for at most $5 in Gabon, whereas at Stitch Buffalo it was sold for $20-$50.   

IVLP participants enjoy lunch at the West Side Bazaar.

After Stitch Buffalo, the women had an informal meeting and lunch at
WEDI’s newly opened West Side Bazaar – a space where aspiring entrepreneurs incubate business concepts and learn the fundamentals of running their own business. The participants were able to enjoy a meal while also supporting fellow entrepreneurs.  

It was an honor to be the last city stop for this amazing group of women. It was clear that they were already buzzing with new ideas for collaborations and would have loved more time to interact with both the resources they met with and us at the International Institute of Buffalo. Exchange matters because it brings new ideas and perspectives to light that you never would have considered had you stayed at home. 


IVLP: WorldChicago
NPA: Women Leaders – Promoting Peace and Security 

By Megan Spillman, Program Manager

WorldChicago was pleased to be the closing city for Women Leaders – Promoting Peace and Security last October, a global initiative that brought over 70 women leaders (and one man) together to explore the role that women play in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.  

One session highlight included a storytelling workshop, facilitated by Kevin Lampe, a consultant who specializes in political consulting, crisis management, and communications. Participants also visited several local organizations including the Institute for Nonviolence, Apna Ghar, and New Life Center, and attended several sessions at Impact House, a co-working space that brings together nonprofits and foundations in Chicago. 


IVLP group visits New Life Community Center and learns about their work supporting those in need in the Chicago area. Photo provided by WorldChicago.

One of our local stops, New Life Center, works to connect new migrants to Chicago to the services that they need when they first arrive. While visiting Chicago, one of the IVLP participants met a woman in need of support services and was able to connect her with a person she had met at New Life Center. It was encouraging to learn how this connection came about thanks to people-to-people exchange.   

Global Ties Iowa 

IVLP: Women in Business
NPA: Mississippi Consortium for International Development  

By Bailey Shafer, Program Coordinator

In February 2024, Global Ties Iowa had the pleasure to welcome four visitors and two liaisons from Egypt to engage with local businesswomen and economic leaders for a project titled “Women in Business.” Global Ties Iowa was excited to work with the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) to provide this group with resources and opportunities to support the goal of increasing female participation in the Egyptian and global economy.  

To start off their visit to eastern Iowa, the group headed an hour east to Davenport to learn about social entrepreneurship with Kit Ford, Ph.D. Her organization, Argrow’s House, offers services for domestic violence survivors and encourages them to participate in their bath and body business where women can work to provide a living wage for themselves. “We had such a great time,” said Kit of her experience with the delegation. “We had such informative conversations around social entrepreneurship, business, women, special needs, and resources.”  

Women in Business delegation meets with Kit Ford, Ph.D. in Davenport, Iowa. Photo provided by Global Ties Iowa.

The following day, the group engaged in a panel discussion with local female business leaders and small business owners Phoebe Martin and Robyn Hepker who work as a realtor and as a designer, respectively. Discussion included the real estate environment in the United States, the role of women in male-dominated fields, and overcoming gender discrimination. “Phoebe and Robyn were the perfect choice for this meeting,” said Global Ties Iowa volunteer Jeanne Stoakes. “The
visitors were so engaged and had many questions. What struck me was when they said out of all the meetings in the cities so far—this area was indeed their favorite as they were gaining so much from this part of their trip!”   

Global Ties Iowa was proud to host the Egypt delegation and engage with the community of women in business. The international leaders made a lasting impact on all those they interacted with, painting a beautiful picture of reciprocal exchange and positivity. We thank this delegation for their visit to Iowa City and look forward to more exchanges throughout the year!