Soliya Winter 2012 Newsletter
U.S. Government Takes Notice
In October Soliya and the United States Institute of Peace organized an event in Washington D.C to promote virtual exchange programming titled ‘Exchange 2.0: The Science of Impact, the Imperative of Implementation.’ Her Majesty Queen Noor Al Hussein gave the keynote speech highlighting the importance of virtual exchange programming to global peace and prosperity: “…it is clearly possible that such [virtual exchange] programming could become a fundamental part of education in the coming decade, enabling literally millions of new relationships of genuine respect to be fostered across the divides where they are most needed.”
Under-Secretary of State for Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine and Director of Global Engagement for the National Security Council at the White House Andrew Cedar, among other officials, participated in the event. The event focused on the impact of virtual exchange programs featuring Rebecca Saxe, Director of the Saxelab for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, who shared findings from her lab’s cutting-edge research on Soliya’s Connect Program.
Exchange 2.0 is a collective effort to vastly increase the number and diversity of students who have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education by leveraging the power of new technologies. These efforts are being advanced by a coalition of organizations led by Soliya including other virtual exchange providers, such as iEarn and Global Nomads Group. The Exchange 2.0 Coalition has already had considerable success. Last May, the US Senate Appropriations Committee issued a report directing the State Department to consider more “virtual exchange” programs and the State Department established a “Virtual Exchange Unit.” This time last year the terms "virtual exchange" and "exchange 2.0" were literally not in the legislative vocabularies, but after a year of advocacy efforts by the Exchange 2.0 Coalition, we are now hearing a growing chorus all advancing the exchange 2.0 cause.
Connect Program Expands to Rural Egypt and Community Colleges in the U.S.
Over the past nine years, Soliya’s flagship Connect Program has brought thousands of young people across the world together as a global community of peers. By reaching across national, religious and ideological boundaries in open dialogue, participants have had the opportunity to learn from one another’s experiences, articulate and question their own beliefs, and form deep friendships. Kaitlin from Saint Louis Community College shared this reflection:
"I pay much more attention to what is happening in the Middle East. I also care much more now because I have put faces with the cultures. I know if something is happening in Egypt, it’s affecting people I know. Through Soliya, I have also learned things that should have been obvious to me before. For example, two of my classmates are from Egypt and have very different views… It’s great to hear two different perspectives from the same country and to realize, although they live in the same place, they do not necessarily view things the same way."
Soliya has also welcomed to the Connect Program imams and religious scholars in training from Tanta and Alexandria in Egypt, and participants from Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Basel University, Geneva School of Diplomacy and University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Kennesaw State University in Georgia, St. Louis Community College in Missouri, and Skidmore College in New York. Through their participation, Soliya has more deeply enriched the intercultural dialogues with thoughtful, informed, and diverse views.
Western Kentucky University Students in Connect Program Experience
In this video Western Kentucky University students, John-Mark Francis and Hanna Garland talk about their experience in the Connect Program and the transformative impact it has had on the way they see the world.
Prior to the Connect Program, neither student had met many Muslims or Arabs and had, as John-Mark explains, “only really been exposed to the extremes of Islam and the Middle East.” While initially intimidating, over the semester they were able to have open discussions with a diverse group of people, engage other cultures, analyze their own assumptions, and form friendships that continue to this day.
The Connect Program During the Egyptian Revolution
Professor Osama Madany from Menoufeya University – a public university in the Nile River Delta region of Egypt – talks about his students’ commitment to the Connect Program at the height of the Egyptian Revolution in this video and the transformative impact of the program on his students in this video. Many of the most influential Egyptian political figures including Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak are from Menoufeya, along with the accused mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Mohamad Atta. There are approximately half a million university students in Menoufeya and very few have opportunities for substantive and sustained cross-cultural interaction. As Professor Madany explains in the video, he has not even advertised the Connect Program on campus, and he already has a waiting list of 700 students hoping to participate.
35 Fellows, 15 Countries: The Soliya Fellowship Summit in Amman
The Soliya Fellowship trained exceptional emerging civil society leaders from predominantly Muslim societies and the West—including many Connect Program alumni and facilitators—who are committed to leading inclusive, authentic, and respectful cross-cultural dialogue. Through the Fellowship, participants learned to use new media and communications technologies to better engage their communities in constructive dialogue around divisive issues, disseminate results of those dialogues to the broader society, and network with other fellows from all over the world.
After nearly a year of intensive training and building this dynamic Fellowship community online, Soliya brought together 35 fellows for an in-person Summit in June in Amman, Jordan sponsored by the Middle East Partnership Initiative at the U.S. State Department and in partnership with the British Council. During the summit, Fellows, who represented over 15 countries and 30 non-governmental organizations, received advanced training in facilitation and social media engagement, developed collaborative strategies to promote their community-based online dialogues, and visited and met with local communities and NGO leaders.
Huffington Post Article by Soliya's Founder on Ambassador Stevens
In a Huffington Post article, Why We Need a Million More Chris Stevens and How We Can Get Them, Soliya’s Founder and Chief Innovation Officer, Lucas Welch, speaks about the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. Lucas discusses the need for the kind of respectful cross-cultural communication Ambassador Stevens exemplified, and how virtual exchange programs can empower individuals all over the world to realize the kind of world Ambassador Stevens worked to build.
To join our international, dynamic community of volunteers, develop the conflict resolution skills to facilitate cross-cultural dialogues, and/or participate in our UN-certified Facilitation Training, click here.