Exchange Matters / June 14, 2021

Global Ties Network Reflects on DEI-Focused Exchanges

International exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program uplift diverse voices around the world to advance dialogue, foster inclusion, and pave the way for equitable solutions. We asked our Community-Based Members to share IVLP projects focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and reflect on why people-to-people dialogues on these topics are essential to both international exchanges and the communities in which we work. Here’s what they had to say:

IVLP participants try out the wheelchairs used for Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball at the Colorado Springs Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Photo provided by Colorado Springs World Affairs Council

Colorado Springs World Affairs Council
—Jamie Bequette, International Visitor Program Manager
IVLP: Disability Rights – Equal Access for All
NPA Partner: Graduate School USA

Each year, Colorado Springs World Affairs Council hosts multiple International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) projects related to disability rights and inclusive education. During the summer of 2019, a group of eight international visitors stopped in town to meet with several entities to learn about access to services, recreation, sports programs, public facilities, and civic participation for people with disabilities. The delegation was from Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Haiti, Mali, Niger, South Africa, and Togo.  

As part of the exchange, the group visited the Colorado Springs Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, and were able to try out the wheelchairs used for Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball (pictured above). U.S. Paralympics, a division of the nonprofit United States Olympic Committee, is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the Paralympic Movement and promoting excellence in the lives of people with Paralympic-eligible impairments, including physical disabilities and visual impairments. U.S. Paralympics supports Paralympic athletes in achieving sustained competitive excellence while demonstrating the values of the Olympic Movement. 

It is important that all people, with all abilities, are afforded the same opportunities and services. From recreation opportunities, to accessible voting, to education and beyond, leaders in Colorado Springs work hard to ensure that everyone is served and included. We believe this should be shared with the world and are grateful that IVLP exchange focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  

International Visitors Council of Los Angeles (IVCLA)
—Janet Elliott, Executive Director
IVLP: Minority Participation in the Democratic Process, Western Hemisphere 
NPA Partner: IIE

IVLP alumni Miztle Mejía. Photo provided by IVCLA.

As the United States grapples with how to ensure all citizens are able to participate in the democratic process, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumni Miztle Mejía, a journalist and social entrepreneur from Nicaragua, is exploring this same topic in his home country. 

In March 2020, Miztle and his fellow IVLP participants from nine different countries in the Western Hemisphere came to Los Angeles on a program to discuss minority participation in the democratic process. One of the organizations they met with was Innercity Struggle. This grassroots organization helped give Miztle an understanding of the importance of including everyone, especially young people, in the civic engagement process.

Miztle shared with us that although young people are a majority in Nicaragua, they are given few opportunities to express themselves. To encourage more youth engagement in his home country, Miztle developed a project to promote entrepreneurship and civic participation by providing students a digital platform to express themselves in creative ways.

Group photo of the IVLP visitors in Los Angeles. Photo provided by IVCLA.

As one of the last IVLP groups to depart the United States, just as the pandemic was imposing restrictions on international travel, Miztle returned home to a country dealing with COVID-19. In response, he decided to also use his platform to inform communities throughout Central America about COVID-19 precautions. He feared his region was not doing enough to implement restrictions such as those that were being enforced in the United States.  

In order to build awareness about proper safety measures, he and his team conducted live Facebook seminars featuring young Central American leaders, Nicaraguan expats in Europe, and global health experts. As Nicaragua faces increasing challenges administering vaccines, COVID-19 remains a threat to many. IVCLA connected Miztle with our resource at UCLA, Professor Rafael Lozano, for possible participation in his online seminars delivering the latest COVID-19 information.  

The global pandemic and the world-wide call to end racial inequities have placed a spotlight on the importance of global dialogue and cooperation. Though Miztle established a digital platform to help make Nicaragua more inclusive to youth voices, his platform has also helped to create more equitable access to public health information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Miztle’s exchange experience exemplifies how connections initiated though the IVLP help to amplify the voices of people around the world who are working to create positive change.  IVCLA will continue to follow Miztle’s work engaging Nicaragua’s youth and informing Central American communities about COVID-19 precautions. 

IVLP visitors at the Lighthouse Works facility. Image provided by WorldOrlando.

—Shilpa Deshpande Finnerty, Project Manager
IVLP: Disability Rights – Equal Access for All
NPA Partner: Meridian International Center 

In November 2019, WorldOrlando had the pleasure of hosting a group of International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visitors from South Asia for a project titled, “Disability Rights – Equal Access for All.” During their time in Orlando, the visitors had the opportunity to meet with Lighthouse Works, the social enterprise partner of Lighthouse Central Florida. Lighthouse Works provides training and competitive employment opportunities to adults who are blind or have a vision disability while generating revenue to help fund vision rehabilitation. 

At the Lighthouse Works facility, the visitors took part in a demonstration (see video below) to better understand what it is like to be blind or have a vision disability. The visitors were asked to complete an assembly process that workers with vision disabilities repeatedly conduct on Lighthouse Works’ Supply Chain business line.

Although the group was comprised of advocates in the area of disability rights, many of the visitors commented that this was a truly enlightening experience for them. This activity promoted a deeper connection between the participants in the group who were blind and the visitors who experienced, for a brief moment, what it is like to live in their shoes. 

Reflecting on her time in the United States on this project, Samridhi Rana Thapa, an IVLP alumna from Nepal said, “we all can learn from each other’s success and challenges, and motivate each other.” This was a truly memorable project for WorldOrlando that highlighted the importance of inclusivity in all aspects of our lives. 

World Affairs Council Seattle
—Sean Bowman, Senior Program Officer
IVLP: Minority Participation in the Democratic Process and Human Rights
NPA Partner: Meridian International Center

In May, the World Affairs Council of Seattle coordinated a virtual meeting for South American visitors participating in the “Minority Participation in the Democratic Process and Human Rights” International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The program, administered by Meridian International Center, sought not only to demonstrate the work of U.S. advocacy organizations focused on human rights and social justice issues, but to also offer frank and open discussions about discrimination in the United States. With these goals in mind, we reached out to Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and were immediately connected with Sakara Remmu, the Founder and Lead Strategist for the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance. 

Sakara Remmu is a diversity, inclusion, and equity professional and organizational strategies consultant with more than 20 years of experience in equity and root cause analysis, strategic planning, and training facilitation. Sakara’s advice and counsel on pressing social justice issues is often sought by elected and appointed leaders. Mere moments before her meeting with our IVLP visitors, Sakara received a phone call from the Washington Governor’s Office inviting her to a bill signing that very day. Sakara kindly informed them that she was about to begin an important meeting and that she would give the Governor a call back later. 

During her conversation with the IVLP participants, Sakara spoke about the history of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and Washington State in particular, and how the  movement began  with individuals coming together to talk about and validate each other’s lives and experiences. Eventually, these conversations grew into a powerful movement demanding and fighting for the protection, liberation, and rightful place of Black people in the United States. Sakara’s words resonated deeply with the participants, as they too shared the demand that the democratic voice of the people be heard, acknowledged, and acted upon in their countries. 

Sakara  described the mission of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance  as taking the demands of the people in the streets and advocating for those demands to be made into tangible laws and policies. Through the Alliance’s advocacy, actions, and partnerships with a diverse coalition across the State of Washington, the 2021 Legislative Session ended with historic wins. These wins included stronger police accountability and new equity policies such as funding the state’s new Equity Office, funding capital grant programs for planning and technical assistance to historically underserved communities, environmental justice legislation to reduce health and environmental impacts on overburdened communities, and reinstating voting rights for people who have completed their prison sentence.

There is still much more work to be done despite these wins, but Sakara pointed to the importance of setting a precedent that others can build on. As the meeting ended, her final advice to the visitors was that the integrity of a social justice organization comes from constantly reevaluating its structure and its positions and in publicly correcting itself when it makes mistakes. 

The World Affairs Council of Seattle was grateful for our role in facilitating this meaningful exchange. It was an honor to host these community leaders for this important conversation on demanding democracy work for all its people. 

Global Ties Arizona
—Sonal Lal, Program Coordinator
IVLP: Women & Entrepreneurship
NPA Partner: World Learning

In April, Global Ties Arizona welcomed its first International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) group of 2021 virtually to Phoenix. The group included 20 inspiring and influential women entrepreneurs from across Latin America. The group visited Thunderbird School of Global Management where they learned about DreamBuilder: an initiative that provides skills, tools, courses and resources to small business owners in emerging markets.

Two DreamBuilder graduates of Chile and Peru were featured in the meeting, providing mentorship and guidance for achieving success in women-focused entrepreneurial efforts. The IVLP delegates joined Global Ties Arizona staff and three local female professionals for a virtual “U.S.-style ladies’ brunch,” where they deepened connections and continued conversations over a virtual meal, specifically sharing their experiences as a woman in the workplace in their respective communities. 

“It is an honor to represent my country and to connect with other leaders across the Americas. I am thankful to the U.S. State Department for their confidence in and support of Latin American women. It has been an incredible opportunity for growth and will continue opening doors for the empowerment of women in our region,” said Joanna Prieto, IVLP alumna from Colombia. This project was powerful in uniting women entrepreneurs and sharing tools and resources to advance the inclusion of women across business sectors in the western hemisphere. 

Global Ties Arizona
—Sonal Lal, Program Coordinator
IVLP: Minority Participation in the Democratic Process and Human Rights
NPA Partner: Meridian International Center

In May, Global Ties Arizona welcomed a new group of IVLP leaders from Venezuela, focused on human rights and voting rights. These activists were hosted by a number of community organizations specifically focused on empowering the Latinx community: Living United for Change (LUCHA), Aqui se Vota, Mi Familia Vota and Chicanos por la Causa.

A final meeting in Phoenix included a “Southwest-style happy hour” themed home hospitality event, where community members engaged with the IVLP Delegates through U.S. political systemtrivia games and over prickly pear margaritas. This program was significant in providing our IVLP leaders an opportunity to explore how local multi-cultural groups were combatting discrimination and inequitable political practice through advocacy and inter-sectional alliances.