Connecting Youths Through Virtual Exchange

Youth Diplomat Social Venture Virtual Exchange Program, supported by the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute.

Last week, WorldChicago completed its Youth Diplomat Social Venture Virtual Exchange Program, supported by the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute. Through this virtual exchange, over thirty high school students from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and the United States connected virtually, participated in cultural exchange, and shared their passion for making a positive impact in their communities.

Focusing on social entrepreneurship and innovation, this exchange program introduced students to best practices in social entrepreneurship and encouraged them to design projects related to their interests and experiences. Together, they brainstormed ideas related to issues that have been driving social movements around world, such as unequal access to education, gender inequity, and racism. They then formed groups to develop projects relevant to their chosen topic.

To put these ideas into tangible terms, the youths also connected with entrepreneurs and social changemakers in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and the U.S. to better understand how social enterprises are implemented in practice. They met with Souad Kadi from the Amal Women’s Training Center in Morocco, who shared her work to empower disadvantaged women by running a self-sustaining restaurant as a job training center. The students learned about the organization’s mission, the unique challenges it faces, and the creative ideas Souad and her team came up with to address these challenges.

Fatma from Tunisia: For Fatma, who recently graduated from high school in Tunisia, the program was especially rewarding because it allowed her to learn about social entrepreneurship, something she has been interested in for a long time, while also connecting with youths from different countries at the same time. In high school, Fatma spent a lot of time working with nonprofit organizations and knew that she wanted to improve the health and education resources in her country. Participating in the program encouraged her to continue this passion. Now, she wants to create a platform to make education and healthcare more accessible for more people.

In addition to learning about the ins and outs of social entrepreneurship, the students also participated in cultural exchange – learning and sharing about cultural sites in their hometowns, their favorite foods, school experiences, and the important social issues in their countries. For example, Malak shared her experiences at Jemaa el-Fnaa, a lively marketplace in Marrakesh, Morocco. And Nadia told us about Koshary, the national dish of Egypt, and a popular street food.

Sara from Morocco: “Being from Morocco, even though I am also in North Africa, I know very little about Tunisia and Egypt. Being able to have these cultural dialogues really expanded my horizon. It also made it easier for us to work as a team, as we learned more about each other and realize how much we share in common, despite coming from very different places,” said Sara, a sophomore in High School from Morocco. “I don’t know what path I am going to take yet, but this program 100% opened my eyes to career options that I never considered before. I am so excited to explore all these different possibilities.”

Dalal from the United States: For Dalal, a junior in High School from the United States, this virtual exchange allowed her to connect her own family background to her personal interests. Growing up in the U.S. with Arab and Kurdish immigrant parents from the Middle East, Dalal really appreciated the opportunity to interact with youths who were also from the Middle East. Coming into the program, Dalal knew that she was interested in international relations and wanted to go into politics. “This program solidified my love for interacting with people from different backgrounds. It also showed me that even though we come from such different backgrounds, none of that should a barrier for sharing ideas and collaboration. Rather than viewing our difference as a weakness or obstacle, it is a strength that enriches us all!”

During these challenging times, we have been inspired by the students’ ability to overcome the challenge of participating in a virtual exchange and coming up with creative ways to work as a team. We are also grateful to our partners, HANDS (Hands Along the Nile Development Services), Global Ties Kansas City, and the Obama Youth Jobs Corps for helping to make this program possible!

This Youth Diplomat Social Venture Virtual Exchange Program is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates

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