I want to thank all of you for making exchange programs matter around the world. When you bring your experiences home and share new ideas, you improve your communities. Today, 75 years after our first participants arrived from Latin America, our exchange alumni family is home to 63 Nobel Laureates, more than 390 current and former heads of state and government, and countless authors, advocates, non-profit leaders, researchers, and innovators. Here in the United States, we also welcomed six exchange alumni to the U.S. Congress, bringing the number who serve in the 114th session of Congress to 48.
Photo Credit, U.S. Department of State
Each year, the exchange community goes above and beyond to share the impact of exchanges, and 2014 was another fantastic year full of milestones. Your work helps showcase the power of international exchange programs in achieving a safer and more secure world.
At the highest levels, exchange alumni received recognition for their work in 2014. President Obama awarded three exchange alumni, Alvin Ailey (posthumous recipient), Mildred Dresselhaus, and Abner Mikva, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. In Spain, King Felipe VI honored the Fulbright Program with the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation in recognition of the Program’s educational and cultural exchange that has strengthened links and mutual understanding between the world’s citizens. And in South Africa, Dr. Sunitha Krishnan was awarded the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award for her extensive work in helping survivors of sex-trafficking re-integrate into society.
Making our world a safer, healthier place was a common theme in 2014. TIME magazine named Ebola Fighters as their 2014 Person of the Year. We are proud of our exchange alumni, including many of our newest alumni from the Washington Mandela Program, who have worked tirelessly to end the outbreak through education. For example, Joe Bangura, a dynamic entrepreneur from Sierra Leone and the Humphrey Fellowship, used his one hour radio show to teach his community about Ebola prevention. Through his position as the Head of Corporate Affairs at Africell, Sierra Leone’s largest mobile phone company, he also arranged for his company to donate services to health organizations disseminating crucial information to stop the spread of Ebola.
Also in 2014, the world saw many new global challenges emerge, and our resilient exchange community looked to the future to determine how we can build a more peaceful, tolerant society. In Europe, alumni gathered at the Youth Ambassadors Summer Institute (YASI) for Peacebuilding in Eastern Europe 2.0. In Kuwait, alumni organized a forum on disability issues. Bolivian alumni formed a mentoring network to connect seasoned alumni with young leaders, while in Pakistan, an alumna worked with youth to end gender discrimination. Throughout Africa, recently returned Mandela Washington Fellows crowdfunded to find solutions to their community’s toughest challenges, including conservation, disability inclusion, and access to education. And in Burma, an alumna met with President Obama, detailing her hopes for the future of her government.
As we looked for ways to assist you, the State Department launched an interactive web series on entrepreneurship last year. Through conversations on social entrepreneurship and networking, exchange alumni connected with experts and fellow alumni. And in February 2015, we launched our fifth annual Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) to support alumni initiatives that promote shared values and innovative solutions to global challenges through small grants of up to $25,000.
We hope you will join our 75th anniversary celebrations throughout 2015. We are excited to highlight the benefits of exchange programs, and we welcome your opinions and voices. You can visit our 75th anniversary website and join the discussion on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr using the hashtag #ExchangesAre. Let’s continue to show the world how important exchanges are to our shared future.
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs