Exchange Matters / March 28, 2022

International Exchange as an Advocacy Tool for Championing Women

Compiled by Margaret Pfeifle, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S.

This March, in recognition of Women’s History Month, our Community-Based Members are celebrating International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLPs) that develop leaders and champion women in various industries. Holly Harris, Program Coordinator for the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (DBA Global Ties Iowa), highlighted a 2021 IVLP that emphasized women’s empowerment in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) fields. Jodi Hope Michaels, Executive Director of Global Ties Kalamazoo, reflected on one of the last in-person IVLPs held before the pandemic, and how the women engaged made the most of their IVLP experience. Peggy Parfenoff, President of WorldChicago, described how an IVLP focusing on women in business sparked conversations on how to overcome entrepreneurial and gender-related challenges.

Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (DBA Global Ties Iowa)

IVLP: Advancing Women and Girls in STEAM Fields: A Project for Israel
NPA: Institute of International Education

Photo provided by the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (DBA Global Ties Iowa)

In October 2021, the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (DBA Global Ties Iowa) virtually hosted a group of emerging leaders from Israel for a program titled “Advancing Women and Girls in STEAM Fields” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) in collaboration with the Institute of International Education.

Our first meeting on October 28 was with Allison Schwanebeck, Director of Exhibits at The Science Center of Iowa (SCI). She shared how SCI improves access to STEAM opportunities for women and girls of all ages through academic partnerships, workshops, and mentorship programs. The visitors were interested to learn more about the long-term impact of these programs and how many of those involved continue to pursue a STEAM field as an adult.

The second meeting on November 1 was a panel discussion with the University of Iowa (UI) College of Engineering and included Sarah Vigmostad, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, as well as two students from the UI College of Biomedical Engineering. They discussed how to promote women in STEAM fields from both a faculty and student-led perspective in higher education. One of the students mentioned that she had participated in some of the programs at SCI when she was younger which helped spark her interest in the field of engineering. The visitors seemed pleased to hear of the success in those programs and the impact it had on this student.

A common theme discussed in this program was the challenges women face obtaining a job after they receive their degree, or reentering the competitive workforce after they have children. It was impressive to hear both the participants and resources discuss how they’re able to overcome these challenges as women, and the importance of raising a generation of young girls and boys to be allies for each other in STEAM fields.

It was powerful to see everyone share their own experiences and offer admiration for each other’s work and support for their future endeavors. Although these women had just met and were talking through a screen across the world from each other, they were able to connect on a shared passion and empower and uplift each other. To me, this is what international exchange is all about and I was so grateful to be a part of these interactions.

– Holly Harris, Program Coordinator

Global Ties Kalamazoo

Photo provided by Global Ties Kalamazoo

As we prepare to welcome our first international visitors in person since March 2020, we have been reflecting back on our last in-person exchange programs. Here, I would like to focus on our very last meeting, on March 12, 2020. During that time, we had two IVLP groups and one Open World group in town (women entrepreneurs), and this latter group was the last to leave. The pandemic had already been declared and we were all a bit discombobulated, not knowing when such an opportunity to gather together would arise again. When women connect and inspire one another, you never know what might happen, and the impact here locally on people in the United States is such a vital part of our work.

The meeting took place at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, where we sat down with Tirrea Billings, a woman entrepreneur extraordinaire with her own film production company Reflct Media, which focuses on social justice storytelling. Little did we know then how vitally important this type of work would become — as two-dimensional communications tools would become our only way of sharing and connecting. Tirrea is now living in DC doing incredible work at Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. She is a press fellow for American Bridge 21stCentury, the largest research organization in progressive politics and will be starting her Ph.D. at American University this fall.

“As a storyteller, I’m always fascinated with how others view and understand the world around them. Meeting with groups from around the world hosted by Global Ties Kalamazoo has allowed me to not only appreciate our differences, but also realize just how similar we all are as human beings despite being worlds apart,” Tirrea said. “Through Global Ties Kalamazoo, I’ve truly been able to build rich connections and advance my own transnational and cultural competence in ways I hadn’t before.”

– Jodi Hope Michaels, Executive Director


IVLP: Women in Business
NPA: World Learning

WorldChicago was fortunate to host a virtual “Women in Business” International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) from Belarus in October 2021 with James Horsman and Delana DiNapoli from World Learning. Due to the sensitive nature of our political relations with Belarus we cannot show a photo of the meeting, but imagine if you will, a screenshot of a Zoom meeting with eight female entrepreneurs from Belarus and five women from Chicago: Blanca Berthier, Managing Director, Entrepreneurial Services Division I, WBDC; Michelle Lura White, Women’s Business Development Manager, Illinois Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO); Aisha McBurrows, Director, Entrepreneurial Services, Aurora, WBDC; Maura Mitchell, Managing Director, Entrepreneurial Programs and Services, Division II, WBDC; and Vanessa Uribe, Deputy Director, Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, DCEO.

These women in the Chicagoland area build up entrepreneurs by helping them develop their business idea, apply for funding, and providing the safety net needed when navigating the many pitfalls of starting a business. As they told stories of the women they have helped in Chicago, what quickly became apparent as the Belorussian women nodded and responded, is that entrepreneurship challenges are the same around the world. Funding, support, and getting recognized as a business professional in spite of their gender, are universal mountains that need to be climbed.

What was different was the support the government in Illinois and the United States provides to entrepreneurs, while for the women in Belarus, it felt as though sometimes their government was raising hurdles, instead of knocking them over. The WorldChicago presenters were inspired because it was clear that these participants are leaders who are assisting others in Belarus to become successful professionals—kindred spirits who had met through this program. IVLP programs, by their very nature, inspire growth and global understanding for women around the world.

Other meetings in Chicago included meetings with Shelly Rosen, an entrepreneur who started Luxe Bloom. The delegates got to see Shelley’s studio and flower production facility, and then joined together with her in a very candid discussion of challenges facing women entrepreneurs. The final meeting included Gorana Kolar and Isra Omar with the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Thank you to everyone who met with this group in Chicago!

Thank you to the U.S. Department of State Office of International Visitors for supporting virtual exchanges during the pandemic and providing additional funding to Community-Based Members when our other funding streams were put on hold while in-person travel and exchanges were put on hold – we appreciate the IVLP Network’s leadership and support that made programs like “Women in Business” come alive on the screen. Global Ties U.S. gets a huge vote of gratitude for processing multiple funding cycles in a year, and being our voice nationally. A big thank you as well to all the National Program Agencies who helped us pivot and travelled with us up the technology learning curve. And of course, big hugs to our colleagues across the Network who reached out by Zoom, setting up regular check-ins as we navigated through remote work, virtual exchanges, PPP, and all the things we faced in the past two years – we have truly jelled as a national Network—and friends—over the past two years.

During this women’s history month, WorldChicago is proud to salute all of the women in Belarus, Chicago, and around the world.

– Peggy Parfenoff, President