Exchange Matters / December 15, 2020

IVLP: Our Impact is Our Brand

By Don Cordell, Chief, Africa Branch, Office of International Visitors, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

The outer office looked similar to almost every other office I had visited during my first few months in Uganda. Concrete walls. Tile floors. Light bulbs emanating an orange sheen that matched the wood desks. Promotional posters smattered the walls.  We shook hands and I entered his office for our introductory meeting. It was the summer of 2009 and I was the new Economic Officer in Kampala. My predecessor had recommended I meet with Mr. Tumusiime at his NGO to discuss the challenges Uganda would face in managing a potential oil revenue windfall. There on his wall, I saw the certificate with a logo I would become more familiar with throughout my Foreign Service career: IVLP.  Mere months removed from his three-week IVLP on managing energy resources, Mr. Tumusiime was a proud alumnus.

As members of the Global Ties Network, we are all aware of the powerful impact of the IVLP and people-to-people exchanges. However, despite working on the U.S. Department of State’s oldest and largest exchange program (80 years strong!), the IVLP brand is often overshadowed by other international exchanges. Rhodes and Fulbright scholars are the single-monikered “Bonos” and “Beyonces” of the exchange world. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI ) coupled a robust exchange with the stature of former President Barack Obama to quickly raise brand recognition in Africa. Meanwhile, the IVLP brings more than 5,000 rising leaders to the United States each year to experience the transformative power of an international exchange and to go home armed with ideas and ambitions.

The IVLP’s impact here and abroad remains its defining feature and consistent strength. By highlighting specific ways projects and alumni have improved communities here and abroad, Global Ties members can raise both their local profile and community awareness of the important work they are advancing.

Within one year of returning from his IVLP, Mr. Tumusiime worked closely with the U.S. Embassy and his fellow IVLP alumni to bring the most impactful American contact they had met during their IVLP to Uganda for a one-week U.S. Speakers Program. I had the honor of organizing the itinerary and traveling with this speaker to engagements ranging from rural town halls to a training for key Parliamentary committees.

The day before the program began, I received a phone call from the Ugandan Ministry of Energy requesting a last-minute meeting. To my surprise, the Minister himself entered and berated the U.S. Government for interfering in internal matters and agitating meddlesome NGOs. We politely, but firmly, informed the Minister that the program would go on. One week later, the same Minister spoke at the conclusion of the Parliamentary training. In a powerful about-face, after receiving reports on the substance of the public meetings, the Minister thanked the U.S. Government for its efforts to share expertise and common-sense approaches to managing oil revenue. His door was now open to more U.S. engagement. Impact.

We are now more than nine months into a global pandemic that has halted in-person exchanges. Due to the hard work and innovation of the Global Ties Network, IVLP Virtual is continuing our tradition of a valuable exchange experience.  While a virtual project can never match the rigor and depth of a face-to-face exchange, participant feedback is clear: virtual exchanges make connections and change lives. One Kenyan participant reported to U.S. Embassy Nairobi that her virtual project was “the best thing that happened to me all year!” She is already working with a U.S. contact on follow-up collaborations. Impact.

Around the world, IVLP alumni are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with service to their communities. IVLP alumna and 2020 International Women of Courage (IWOC) awardee from Pakistan Jalila Haider is using her IWOC grant to provide personal protective equipment to front-line health workers. Impact.

Just as you love to see the impact of IVLP on participants when they return home, we at the U.S. Department of State love to see the impact of IVLP on your local communities.  In fact, the Office of International Visitors is setting up a new internal database to collect impact stories from around the globe, relying on Embassy reporting, program officer and liaison feedback, and social media posts.  This way, we can be sure that stories such as my Uganda experience are memorialized and help convey the various ways IVLP benefits U.S. communities and advances U.S. policy priorities.

We take our responsibility to work for the American people seriously, and your reports and social media posts inform us how well we are doing and what we can do better. They are read and noticed!  So please, share the impact of your IVLP Virtual experience by posting photos and videos on social media and tagging us at @StateIVLP on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.  We look forward to hearing about how the IVLP has made a difference in your communities.