Who We Are

Our Mission

The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (the Stevens Initiative), developed in partnership with the Stevens Family, and with significant involvement from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is a multilateral public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens. Through structured online engagements between youth in secondary through post-secondary education, the Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

The Initiative is housed at the Aspen Institute and is a collaboration between the family of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens; the U.S. Department of State; the Bezos Family Foundation; the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Algeria; in addition to LRNG, Microsoft, Twitter, and Vidyo.

The Stevens Initiative will support organizations that run virtual programs to deepen the impact and scale up the reach of their programs in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa. The Stevens Initiative may support in-person exchanges to complement participants’ virtual exchange experience. The Initiative seeks to equip young people with a sense of global citizenship and with 21st century skills, including digital literacy, leadership, cross-cultural communication and collaborative problem-solving. It will share best practices and support research to address which methods have a measurable impact and have the potential to reach all young people as the field grows.

Our Purpose

The introduction of technology into the lives of young people is changing the way they engage with the rest of the world. Increased connectivity is inspiring global citizenship, driving young people to seek connections with peers outside of their local communities, and encouraging them to tackle local and global challenges. Yet virtual connections made in the unmediated space of the Internet also have the potential to fuel misunderstanding and division rather than foster mutual respect and cooperation. Developing young people’s understanding of other cultures and diverse perspectives, and equipping them with the tools they need to communicate and cooperate, is critical to ensuring that the power of global connectivity lays the foundation for a safer and more prosperous world.

Our Inspiration

U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was known for his uncommon goodwill toward others. Always gracious, fascinated by other cultures, and constantly asking questions, he engaged in open and respectful dialogue with everyone he met. His appreciation for the differences that make people unique was fueled by his early experiences abroad. Stevens studied as a high-school student in Spain and as a college student in Italy. As a young man, he volunteered to join the Peace Corps and taught English in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Morocco was his gateway to a life spent as a brave and intrepid diplomat for the United States. He served the majority of his career in North Africa and the Middle East a region he grew to love and rose to become U.S. Ambassador to Libya. Ambassador Stevens devoted his life to building bridges. He was killed by violent extremists in Libya in September 2012 as he continued this important work. The Stevens Initiative conceived and developed in close partnership with Ambassador Stevens family was inspired by the meaningful international exchange experiences that Ambassador Stevens had as a young man, which helped to shape the kind of diplomat he became. Such in-person exchange experiences are highly valuable in today's inter-connected world, yet less than one percent of young people have the opportunity to study abroad. The Stevens Initiative builds on the pioneering work of the virtual exchange community. Recognizing the potential for significant impact that this work promises, and capitalizing on advances in technology, the aim is to make similar life-changing cross-cultural experiences available to a large number of young people through technology in sustained and meaningful ways.

Award Competition

The Stevens Initiative will provide funding, through merit-based competitions, for organizations to administer virtual exchange programs between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Stevens Initiative may support in-person exchanges to complement participants' virtual exchange experience. The second Stevens Initiative award competition opened on October 26, 2016 for organizations based in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa. Learn more about the award.  

Our Network

Partners of the Stevens Initiative include the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco, and Algeria. These governments have committed funds to support virtual and physical exchange programs in the United States, the Middle East, and North Africa. Partners also include charitable foundations that serve as collaborative thought partners and academic organizations that provide technical and analytical services to ensure maximum impact and efficiency; and businesses offering in-kind support. Stevens Initiative founding partners the J. Christopher Stevens Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. Department of State and the Kingdom of Morocco have provided significant funding, resources, and intellectual guidance in support of the establishment of the Initiative.