Exchange Matters / January 31, 2022

International Exchanges and Their Impact on Health and Humanity

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

This month, the Global Ties Network is reflecting on the influence of international exchange on global health and humanity. Whether increasing youth civic engagement, addressing healthcare crises, or advocating for the safety of the LGBTQ+ community, our Community-Based Members share how IVLP projects strengthen communities in the U.S. and abroad.

21st Century ChangeMakers: Bolstering Religious Freedom

CBM: The International Center

NPA: World Learning

Photo provided by The International Center.

The International Center of Indianapolis is a catalyst to inform, convene, and connect public, private, and civic global objectives in Indiana. For nearly half a century, The International Center has served as a guide to the world’s cultural landscape and a catalyst for the state’s international growth. In October 2021, we had the pleasure of working with World Learning to host an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) titled “21st Century ChangeMakers: Bolstering Religious Freedom.” International Visitors from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan connected with Hoosiers on a variety of topics related to religious freedom. Participants met virtually with staff, board members, and Americorps Volunteers from The Center for Interfaith Cooperation (CIC) to discuss the importance of interfaith dialogue and CIC’s achievements in the promotion of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence in central Indiana.

“IVLP groups provide our organization a tangible opportunity to meet with and better understand our colleagues that do similar work around the world,” wrote Allison Bishop, Administrative Director for CIC. “We look forward to participating and connecting with more groups in the future.” This topic provided a good way to connect with people globally and discuss events that effect people’s lives daily. The virtual aspect truly allowed for participants to hear from a variety of speakers; Allison mentioned how even though it was not a typical way of meeting, they were honored to have the opportunity to speak to global citizens through the power of the internet.

Board Member Vincent Romero shared how much he enjoyed connecting with the visitors. He appreciated gaining insight from the guests from Central Asia and having the platform to share impactful experiences in Indianapolis. Vincent shared, “We gain as much insight as the guests from Central Asia when we engage in such dialogue.” Allison also mentioned how it was an honor to be invited to work with The International Center and how she hopes she has the opportunity to work with IVLP again soon.

– Leslie Grishin, Director of Global Programs

Legal and Healthcare Approaches to Addressing Opioid Abuse and Combatting Drug Addiction in the United States

CBM: WorldOrlando

NPA: Cultural Vistas

This past Fall, WorldOrlando collaborated with Cultural Vistas on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project titled “Legal and Healthcare Approaches to Addressing Opioid Abuse and Combating Drug Addiction in the United States.”

One of the central objectives for this project was to examine health education and substance abuse and prevention programs, including research and development, and treatment and care. WorldOrlando coordinated meetings with the Greater Orlando Area of Narcotics Anonymous and AdventHealth.

The Greater Orlando Area of Narcotics Anonymous is a community-based support system created by and for users. The speaker shared how COVID has both helped and hurt those suffering from drug addiction, noting that more people start the program because they can begin virtually; but, unfortunately, due to the stress of the pandemic, the use of drugs has increased.This was an interesting exchange because the participants were curious about the work being done outside of the health profession.

At the second meeting, participants spoke with Dr. Ragu Ganjam, Dr. Scott Tucker, Jennyfer From, and Elcy Hernandez — all doctors, therapists, and staff members at AdventHealth and AdventHealth Hope and Healing Center. The center is a voluntary behavioral health center for adults overcoming substance use disorder. One of the topics discussed with the group was media portrayals of substance abuse. Dr. Ganjam was interested to hear from the visitors about the “effects of American television series, such as ‘Dopesick,’ on popular perceptions around the globe,” and how it shapes the visitors perception of substance abuse in the United States.

When meeting on a sober topic such as opioid and drug addiction, it is promising when people who are in the field every day have the opportunity to speak with their peers. Dr. Tucker spoke highly of his IVLP experience saying, “It was a delight to discuss the important topics, such as substance use disorder, with other leaders from around the world.” WorldOrlando greatly appreciated participating in this project and being able to connect these experts through diplomacy!

– Heather van Dyk, Program Manager

LGBTQI+ Civil Society Organizations Operating in Challenging Environments

CBM: San Diego Diplomacy Council

NPA: Meridian International Center

Photo provided by the San Diego Diplomacy Council.

In December 2021, the San Diego Diplomacy Council (SDDC) hosted 21 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants from Azerbaijan, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey. The focus of the meeting was on how community organizations prioritize safety and protection for the LGBT+ community, as well as how they engage with law enforcement. The group met with SDDC’s longtime partner, San Diego Pride, and members from their Healing & Safer Communities Committee, which is made up of 17 LGBTQ/BIPOC members who are engaged in community safety work and represent diverse programs, organizations, and communities directly impacted by law enforcement disparity. San Diego Pride has met with hundreds of our international visitors through the years, and is a steadfast champion of global engagement and citizen diplomacy.

Due to the nature of the topic and the size of the group, we divided everyone into breakout rooms with two to three San Diego Pride representatives in each room. The group shared how much they enjoyed being able to get to know each other more in those breakout rooms and have an active discussion. They felt the session was very valuable and especially enjoyed getting to know the speakers on a more personal level.

Although participants felt the limitation of time and time zones, the virtual conversation highlighted how important it was to have a platform to connect and share experiences. The safety and protection of the LGBTQ+ community is something the participants and speakers on the call tirelessly defend every day. It was revealing to hear the similarities and differences of experiences across Eastern Europe and the United States for the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the challenging subject of the exchange, it was evident that immense solidarity exists across the LGBTQ+ community and allies no matter where they are in the world.

– Tori Mullenix Luna, Program Office

Social Influencers for Social Good

CBM: International Visitors Council of Los Angeles

NPA: Meridian International Center

In today’s digital age, misinformation and threats to individual online privacy are constant concerns. To protect themselves and others, it is important individuals are informed about proper online conduct. However, many users are unaware of the educational resources available. Subsequently, it also becomes the responsibility of the social media platforms and companies to protect user information and maintain the quality and accuracy of content. As a means to increase global awareness on this topic, in December 2021, the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles (IVCLA) arranged two virtual meetings for an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) group from Indonesia on a project titled “Social Influencers for Social Good.”

Their first meeting to discuss this dynamic topic was with Marc Ambinder, Adjunct Instructor at the University of Southern California (USC) and Counter-Disinformation Lead for USC’s Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Along with Marc’s work at USC, his previous experience as a reporter made him a perfect fit for this group. He stressed the responsibility of digital media companies and online social platforms to implement better quality control on the content that ends up shared among their users. He believes they need to play a role in countering misinformation and providing digital security. To point out the dangers of social media, he highlighted the recent Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which was of keen interest to the visitors. The visitors were highly engaged in the Q&A session, appreciating the opportunity to pick the brain of an expert on this complex and provocative topic.

At their next meeting, they met with Michele Johnsen, Fellow at the Center for Media Literacy, an organization helping citizens and youth develop critical thinking skills. Michele informed the group she had been on a research trip to Indonesia while in grad school, so she had some experience and background regarding their communications culture. The visitors were delighted to hear she had been to their country! Michele’s presentation explained the importance of honing media literacy skills, especially in the ever-growing digital world, where, she pointed out, social media disinformation actually impacts civic engagement among youth. She addressed many of the concerns that social media raises, and how media literacy can reduce vulnerability to those issues. During the Q&A, one visitor noted the presentation was more comprehensive and thought-provoking than the university course he took on the subject!

The visitors walked away from this program with a new perspective on what their impact could be in the digital social media realm. At the end of their final meeting an extra-special moment occurred, which would most likely only happen in a virtual format. One of the visitors gave a beautiful acoustic guitar performance and sang a rendition of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,”, which was a wonderful way to wrap up their program and kick off the holiday season!

– Janet Elliott, President/CEO

Sustainable Development for Rural Communities in the United States

CBM: Columbia Council for Internationals

NPA: Cultural Vistas

In December 2021, the Columbia Council for Internationals (CCFI) had the honor to virtually host, in collaboration with Cultural Vistas, five visitors for an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) project titled, “Sustainable Development for Rural Communities in the United States.” Our portion of the program focused on three areas: (1) expanding broadband service to rural areas, (2) youth engagement in community development, and (3) the role of nonprofits entities in promoting tourism through arts and culture.

The format of this program was unique in that the participants joined from the same location, which provided participants the opportunity to interact with and get to know each other.

Visitors met with Lee Snelgrove, Executive Director of One Columbia for Arts and Culture, who spoke about the overall mission of the organization in promoting artistic and cultural tourism. Lee shared photographs of public arts projects and discussed the process by which they were jointly conceptualized by artists and the funding process — a topic of particular interest to the visitors, who also discussed the interesting projects that were going on in their communities.

The following day we met with James Stritzinger Jr., Director of the Broadband Office, which is part of the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Affairs. James runs the rural broadband program for the state, and is responsible for a budget of over $600 million to bring internet to rural counties. He described the process by which the needs for services were defined and prioritized, and shared graphs, maps, and charts detailing this identification process. We had a lively discussion as the visitors were going through a similar process to expand broadband service to their rural areas.

Lastly, we met with Jeff Beacraft, CEO of Youth Corps, and Roy Matthews, an alumnus of the program. Youth Corps is a hands-on, dynamic leadership program for ninth and tenth grade students. Students participate in nine different modules throughout the year, each designed to provide practical experience and help students on their journey to become community leaders. The modules include starting their own business, supporting actual legislation at the State House, serving victims of crime, and leading multiple community service projects.

It was an active and interesting exchange, with many questions from the group. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I may remember, and involve me, and I will learn.” That sentiment describes not only what we tried to accomplish with this project, but my own experiences with citizen diplomacy. I came to this field after a lengthy career in business and social services. I had contemplated retiring, then I found this important, exciting opportunity to be a part of citizen diplomacy. I love this job.

– Sewell Gelberd, Program Director for International Visitors