Exchange Matters / June 27, 2022

“You Really Are Taller In-Person Than on Zoom!”

By Gary Springer, President & CEO, World Partnerships, Inc.  

Man with a headset speaking over Zoom

“Virtual” Alex Mahadevan. Photo provided by World Partnerships, Inc.

The first words out of my mouth when I finally met face-to-face with Alex Mahadevan of the Poynter Institute were “Wow, you really are much taller in person than on Zoom!” With that comment the morning of March 22, 2022, World Partnerships, Inc. brought its first in-person International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) back through the doors of the Poynter Institute. 

It had been two years and nine days (but, who was counting?) since our last IVLP visitor departed for home just as the world began closing down in the face of the global pandemic. For Alex, the Senior Multimedia Reporter for the Poynter Institute MediaWise Project, this was his first in-person IVLP group, and he led a lively discussion on media literacy and combating disinformation for the IVLP senior journalists from Pakistan.  

And just like that, the IVLP was back live and in-person in the Tampa Bay region! In the span of four weeks, World Partnerships hosted four in-person projects with two of our Washington, DC-based National Program Agency (NPA) partners: two on journalism (with Meridian International Center), one on government transparency (with MCID Washington), and one on community policing (with Meridian International Center).  

One of the projects included our first hybrid IVLP group. In April, we welcomed, in-person, Latvian journalists who we had first met virtually in September 2021. Meeting virtually with them was a good start in promoting international exchange; however, there is truly no substitute for the human connection. That sentiment was further underscored by a Brazilian police officer, who told me that while his IVLP virtual session last October was great, his in-person session with Chief Anthony Holloway and senior leaders of the St. Petersburg Police Department was invaluable to gaining a new perspective on innovative techniques for community policing. Of course, his ride-along with a Portuguese-speaking officer helped a lot too.  

Our local, professional resources were delighted to meet in person again with the IVLP groups, and we were overjoyed to see our community partners again in person. It was great to be present with so many interpreters we hadn’t seen in so long, and since a couple of the projects closed here, we were able to see longtime U.S. Department of State colleagues and finally meet some new NPA colleagues face-to-face. 

Man smiling at camera and standing up

Seeing Alex in person! Photo provided by World Partnerships, Inc.

During the pandemic, when we weren’t training, arranging, or hosting virtual programs, we used the pause on in-person programming to focus on three readiness initiatives for our organization. These included: developing a new strategic plan; creating a new communications platform for our regional audience; and bringing IVLP alumni back together for virtual reunion conversations. Each initiative was focused on the return to in-person IVLP programming, and finding ways to strengthen connections with our visitors and community.  

With the return to in-person programming, we find ourselves more often than not present at most of the meetings we arrange for our IVLP visitors. As we learned from doing virtual programs, being present and fully focused on these sessions can connect us even more deeply with our soon-to-be alumni. We have shared yet another type of experience. And, finally, we have all learned to be more flexible, adaptable, and fully aware of Plan B. 

Oh, and Poynter’s Alex Mahadevan really is taller in person!