J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative 2022 Grant Competition
Opens Jun 6 2022 08:00 AM (EDT)
Deadline Sep 29 2022 05:00 PM (EDT)
Description

Competition Overview

The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (“Stevens Initiative”) invites qualified nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to submit proposals to its 2022 grant competition, supported by the U.S. Department of State, which supports grants to conduct virtual exchange programs that connect young people in the United States (U.S.) and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Applicants may propose programs that reach young people from the elementary (primary) school age through post-graduate/young adult. The Stevens Initiative is offering two types of grants – scaling and seeding –with different parameters to meet a range of needs in the virtual exchange field.

Applicants should review the competition rules below and submit their application no later than September 29, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Based on input from an independent review committee, some organizations will start a vetting, revision, and negotiation process prior to the end of the year that may result in being offered a grant in early 2023. The grant period of performance will begin in April 2023.

The Stevens Initiative plans to award up to $7 million through this competition. While the Stevens Initiative does not have a set number of grants it will award, the Initiative anticipates a competitive applicant pool resulting in approximately 12 grants awarded, with approximately six seeding and six scaling. Awards are cost reimbursable. The Stevens Initiative strives to assemble a diverse portfolio of awards and programs, aiming to fund programs that reach a variety of age groups, including primary, secondary, and tertiary education or age levels; geographies in the U.S. and MENA region; topic or subject matter; and award sizes.

The Stevens Initiative was launched in 2015 as a living memorial and to continue the legacy of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, who devoted his life to building bridges through open and respectful dialogue and person-to-person diplomacy. He served the majority of his Foreign Service career in the Middle East and North Africa, a region he grew to love, and eventually served as U.S. Ambassador to Libya. The Initiative, conceived and developed in close partnership with Ambassador Stevens’ family, seeks to give a generation of young people the kind of meaningful international experience that shaped Ambassador Stevens as a young man. The Stevens Initiative is administered by the Aspen Institute.

The Stevens Initiative builds on the pioneering work of the virtual exchange community, which uses technology to connect young people across continents and cultures. Through virtual exchange, youth have access to a substantive international exchange experience by collaborating and learning with their peers abroad without having to leave their communities. Recognizing the impact that virtual exchange promises, and capitalizing on advances in technology, the aim is to make life-changing, cross-cultural experiences available to young people.

The Stevens Initiative’s 2022 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition is supported by the U.S. Department of State, via the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with additional funding from the Bezos Family Foundation. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs builds relations between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs.  These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the U.S., support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us.

By summer 2023, prior to the start of programs to be funded through this competition, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Learn more about the Stevens Initiative, its activities, its funders, and the programs it has supported here.

Call for Proposals

The following call for proposals is organized as follows:

  • Virtual Exchange Design Considerations
  • Stevens Initiative Funding Priorities  
  • Scaling Proposal Track Parameters
  • Seeding Proposal Track Parameters
  • Alumni Engagement Supplement (Scaling Applicants Only)
  • Competition and Grant Rules
  • Support for Applicants
  • Review Process and Selection Criteria

A PDF of this Call for Proposals can be downloaded here

Virtual Exchange Design Considerations

Virtual exchange provides opportunities to connect young people from diverse places using everyday technology for collaborative learning and interaction through sustained and facilitated engagement. While virtual exchange can cover any topic or subject matter and can vary substantially in the length of programming, technology or platform(s) used, learning outcomes and activity types, all virtual exchange includes a core component of cross-cultural connection and collaboration.

Programs vary quite a bit across the virtual exchange field. One reason for this variety is that programs operate in many different settings – in different countries, at different age levels, within and outside of educational institutions, and on a range of topics, to name just a few dimensions. Just as important, however, is that there are several different ways to design and conduct a virtual exchange program for any given setting, let alone to meet the needs of young people in different settings. The Stevens Initiative recommends keeping these factors in mind, along with the factors below; it is encouraged but not required to adhere to the models described here.

  • Mutual benefit: A program should have clearly defined benefits for young people in all participating countries or communities. These benefits do not need to be identical, but should be comparable. For example, young people in one country may be primarily motivated to practice a foreign language and young people in the other participating country may be primarily motivated to gain knowledge about a specific academic subject.
  • Types of communication: Most programs involve a combination of synchronous (real-time) communication and asynchronous communication. The types of communication in a program should be chosen and sequenced based on a combination of factors, including participants’ interest, access to technology, time zone differences, and disparate academic or individual schedules. Choosing how to conduct activities often involves challenging tradeoffs. For example, participants often describe synchronous activities as a highlight, particularly as a way to build rapport with their peers early in the program, but synchronous activities can be logistically challenging, particularly when participants are separated by a large time zone difference.
  • Duration and contact hours: Many virtual exchange programs involve youth participants in eight to 30 hours of synchronous and/or asynchronous communication over a period of two to eight weeks. Less contact or a shorter program might not give participants the chance to establish relationships with their international peers or to learn and put into practice new knowledge and skills; longer programs may be difficult to schedule around academic or seasonal calendars in different countries or may strain participants’ commitment to remain involved.
  • How participants get involved: Some programs are conducted as part of for-credit courses at educational institutions, some occur outside of educational institutions, and some include a mix of course-based and extracurricular participation in different places. Some programs involve youth participants via partnerships with educational institutions or civil society organizations while others invite young people to enroll individually. Practitioners should match the program design to the incentives at play; for example, a program facilitated by educators as part of a for-credit course has different opportunities and constraints than a program that seeks to engage young people who are choosing to participate in their free time. Practitioners should also work with their partners to develop a feasible recruiting plan and recruiting timeline, regardless of how the program is structured.
  • Keeping partners and participants engaged: Across nearly all virtual exchange programs, some youth participants do not reach a level of meaningful participation despite showing interest, registering, or even attending some of the initial sessions or completing some activities. In some cases, partnering organizations or educational institutions drop out, leaving the program with significantly fewer participants than expected. Practitioners should anticipate challenges like this and strive to involve slightly more partners, facilitators, and youth participants than are strictly required to meet the threshold for meaningful participation.
  • What participants do: Many virtual exchange programs ask youth participants to work in small, international groups on a collaborative project as one component of the program. Some programs put more emphasis on dialogue or storytelling rather than project-based learning. Many programs include a combination of these types of activity as well as other activities.
  • Technology: It’s important to choose technology tools – both software and hardware – that are accessible for all participants in a program. It is particularly important to choose technology that works for people in places that have limited resources. There are many low-cost technology tools that are better suited to virtual exchange than an expensive or customized technology system. It’s also important to select technology platforms that are familiar to and accessible by all participants. If you are proposing technology or platforms that are new for some or all participants, ensure that you give them enough time and preparation ahead of the programming starting so that they can fully participate.

Applicants may wish to review the following resources for more information about common attributes and effective practices:

Funding Priorities

Demographic Priorities: The Stevens Initiative intends to reach diverse youth participants and partners, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, and to support applications from organizations with an existing presence in and/or organizations proposing to work with partners rooted in the communities the program intends to reach. Applicants should demonstrate a balanced, thoughtful, and feasible approach to reaching diverse populations. In addition to the 5 points for the participant plan in general (see the Selection Criteria section for relevant point comparisons), proposals can receive additional points if they demonstrate that they will reach young people whose access to international exchange has been limited, as noted below.

U.S. priorities

  • Students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) at the higher education level
  • Students from higher education institutions with a high percentage of Pell grant recipient students
  • Students from Title I Schoolwide Program schools
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

Pell grant statistics are available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/pell20/#table.

MENA priorities

  • Students from educational institutions where English is not the main language of instruction
  • Young people from Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

Priority Topics: Proposed projects are encouraged, but not required, to focus on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Technology and computing: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields give young people skills critical to the 21st century workforce. Virtual exchange is particularly well suited to facilitating hands-on, collaborative projects – on a range of topics, including programming, web design, robotics, and many others – that help young people gain technology and computing knowledge and skills.
  2. Engaging with local and global challenges: Global education is increasingly recognized as critical for young people who need to understand global issues and trends – ranging from climate change and the environment to gender equality to leadership and beyond – as they prepare for jobs that involve international communication and cooperation and as they prepare to be informed, active citizens. Direct communication with peers from other places and backgrounds through virtual exchange gives young people the opportunity to see the world and their own society from new perspectives and with greater empathy, learn how to problem-solve, and engage in their own communities.
  3. Business and entrepreneurship: Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to practice the cross-cultural communication and digital literacy skills they need as they enter the private sector through international projects or case studies. Virtual exchange can empower young people to collaborate with peers around the world to envision and shape their future in a rapidly changing world.
  4. Language learning and practice: Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to practice communicating in a world language, building confidence and communication skills alongside increased language proficiency. Proposals focusing on this topic may be designed to give young people in the MENA region the opportunity to practice English, to give young people in the U.S. the opportunity to practice a language spoken in the MENA region, or to give both groups of young people the opportunity to practice the language spoken by their peers abroad.

Scaling Proposal Track Parameters

Scaling grants are intended to support organizations to grow and improve established virtual exchange programs. These programs should have a track record of providing a high-quality experience to hundreds of young people over the past few years and should be poised to further expand in order to reach substantially more young people through Stevens Initiative support. The Stevens Initiative is open to funding proposals from consortia, though one organization should plan to put forward a principal investigator on the project and handle the award management and administration.

Each scaling grant proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for all parameters listed below in order to be eligible.

Grant Duration: The period of performance of the grants will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2023, and ending June 30, 2025. The first few months of the period of performance are intended to prepare for the virtual exchange activities. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to propose at least four rounds of the virtual exchange program, starting in fall 2023. Applicants proposing to conduct a different configuration of programming or a different number of rounds of programming, such as summer-only programming, will be considered as long as the configuration is adequately justified and all other application parameters are met. Applicants may propose to begin the first round of the virtual exchange program during summer 2023 if they can demonstrate that it will be feasible to start the virtual exchange activities within a few months of the start of the period of performance.

Anticipated Grant Size Range: $350,000 to $900,000. The applicant must request an amount within this range to be eligible for selection. Also note that applicants can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.

Cost per Participant Range and Definition of Meaningful Participation: $100 to $330 per participant. The applicant must submit a proposal to conduct the program for a cost per participant within this range to be eligible for selection. Cost per participant, for the purposes of this application process, is counted as the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation. The Stevens Initiative works with each prospective grantee to agree on the definition of meaningful participation that will apply to that grantee’s program; it is typically defined as an individual who completes 75% of synchronous and asynchronous exchange activities. Cost share does not count towards the permissible cost per participant range for this application process, so the cost per participant, when counting the requested funding and cost share, may be higher than the permissible range if the excess is covered by cost share.

Deliverables and expectations: Applicants should consider the following deliverables and expectations when building their program management plan, budget, and timeline.

  • Participant notification and information sharing: Grantees will be expected to notify all participants that they are about to participate in a Stevens Initiative program and explain what the Stevens Initiative is and who supports the Stevens Initiative. Grantees will be expected to collect information, including contact information, about participants to share with the Stevens Initiative, and in turn with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as part of the Stevens Initiative’s alumni engagement. If this expectation poses particularly significant challenges in your program, please address this in the application.
  • Alumni Engagement:
    • In collaboration with the Stevens Initiative, grantees will be expected to put together an alumni engagement plan at the beginning of the period of performance. This plan should include a timeline outlining alumni engagement activities, outputs, and outcomes, and will guide the Stevens Initiative in supporting the grantee’s alumni engagement activities during the period of performance of the grant.  
    • Grantees will connect the Stevens Initiative with an alumna/us who becomes the focus of an alumni success story twice during the period of performance.
    • Grantees should set up and use a channel of regular communication with alumni (e.g. newsletter, Facebook group, etc.).
    • Grantees will have an annual alumni engagement check in call with Stevens Initiative staff. Grantees that receive supplemental funding for alumni engagement may have more frequent check-ins with Stevens Initiative staff.
  • Communications:
    • Grantees are expected to adhere to Stevens Initiative and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs communication guidance. The Stevens Initiative will share communications guidance with grant recipients at the time of awarding funds.
    • Professional photography is not required but the Stevens Initiative may select the grantee to collaborate on professional photography, funded by the Stevens Initiative, and may request grantees and local partners to assist with identifying a local photographer and coordinating with photographers on site.
    • Grantees will work with the Stevens Initiative to determine a way to share impact about the program in the form of communications collateral. This may include but is not limited to: an impact story, video story, interview or audio story, photo diary, or blog post about lessons learned.
    • Grantees should share grant announcement, impact stories, alumni success stories, alumni small grants, and other updates that mention the Stevens Initiative and the funded virtual exchange via the grantee organization’s social media once per month.
    • Grantees should plan to do outreach around the grant announcement press release, a template for which will be provided by the Stevens Initiative leading up to the announcement of the grant.
    • Grantees will have regular communications and outreach check-ins, at minimum twice a year and at maximum once every other month, based on the grantee’s preference. Additional ad hoc meetings are welcome at any point.
    • Each grantee must provide a media waiver to all participants and facilitators/educators, a template for which will be provided, regardless of whether a grantee plans for them to appear in any form of media/deliverable/materials/etc. (anything that will be shared publicly). These waivers should be provided to all participants and facilitators/educators before they begin their virtual exchange. Signed waivers are not required for participation in the proposed program.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation:
    • Within a week of the start of each round of virtual exchange, submit the partnership table (using a Stevens Initiative template) updated to reflect the number of participants that have started the program at each program site.
    • Host at least one in-person or virtual site visit, conducted by either the Stevens Initiative or the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.
    • Administer post-program participant surveys using questions required by the Stevens Initiative; see the list of required survey domains here. Some of these required domains are global competency domains developed by the Initiative and others are part of the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs MODE framework (see background information here). Grantees will use the survey administration platform maintained by the Stevens Initiative unless an alternative plan is agreed in advance with the Stevens Initiative.
    • Submit demographic information about program participants with the quarterly report following each round of virtual exchange implementation (January for fall, July for spring, October for summer).
    • Grantees may elect to participate in a quarterly Evaluation Working Group meeting hosted by the Stevens Initiative's external evaluators.

Seeding Proposal Track Parameters

Seeding grants are intended to support early-stage programs that fill a gap in the virtual exchange field. These programs should have the potential to take hold and grow in the following years. Seeding grantees are expected to include clear plans for partnerships, intended participants, content/topic areas, and staffing, though the plan for activities or curriculum can be at an earlier stage and be refined and finalized early in the period of performance.

Each seeding proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for all parameters listed below in order to be eligible.

Grant Duration: The period of performance of the grants will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2023, and ending June 30, 2025. The first few months of the period of performance are intended to prepare for the virtual exchange activities. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to propose at least four rounds of the virtual exchange program, starting in fall 2023. Applicants proposing to conduct a different configuration of programming or a different number of rounds of programming will be considered as long as the configuration is adequately justified and all other application parameters are met. Applicants may propose to begin the first round of the virtual exchange program during summer 2023 if they can demonstrate that it will be feasible to start the virtual exchange activities within a few months of the start of the period of performance.

Anticipated Grant Size Range: $100,000 to $300,000. The applicant must request an amount within this range to be eligible for selection. Also note that applicants can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.

Cost per Participant Range and Definition of Meaningful Participation: $330 to $550 per participant. The applicant must submit a proposal to conduct the program for a cost per participant within this range to be eligible for selection. Cost per participant, for the purposes of this application process, is counted as the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation. The Stevens Initiative works with each prospective grantee to agree on the definition of meaningful participation that will apply to that grantee’s program; it is typically defined as an individual who completes 75% of synchronous and asynchronous exchange activities. Cost share does not count towards the permissible cost per participant range for this application process, so the cost per participant, when counting the requested funding and cost share, may be higher than the permissible range if the excess is covered by cost share.

Deliverables and expectations:

  • Participant notification and information sharing: Grantees will be expected to notify all participants that they are about to participate in a Stevens Initiative program and explain what the Stevens Initiative is and who supports the Stevens Initiative. Grantees will be expected to collect information, including contact information, about participants to share with the Stevens Initiative, and in turn with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as part of the Stevens Initiative’s alumni engagement. If this expectation poses particularly significant challenges in your program, please address this in the application.
  • Alumni Engagement:
    • Grantees will connect the Stevens Initiative with an alumna/us who becomes the focus of an alumni success story once during the period of performance.
    • Grantees should set up and use a channel of regular communication with alumni (e.g. newsletter, Facebook group, etc.).
    • Grantees will have an annual alumni engagement check in call with Stevens Initiative staff.
  • Communications:
    • Grantees are expected to adhere to Stevens Initiative and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs communication guidance. The Stevens Initiative will share communications guidance with grant recipients at the time of awarding funds.
    • Professional photography is not required but the Stevens Initiative may select the grantee to collaborate on professional photography, funded by the Stevens Initiative, and may request grantees and local partners to assist with identifying a local photographer and coordinating with photographers on site.
    • Grantees will share grant announcement, impact stories, alumni success stories, alumni small grants, and other updates that mention the Stevens Initiative and the funded virtual exchange via the grantee organization’s social media.
    • Grantees should plan to do outreach around the grant announcement press release, a template for which will be provided by the Stevens Initiative leading up to the announcement of the grant.
    • Grantees will have regular communications and outreach check-ins, at minimum twice a year and at maximum once every other month, based on the grantee’s preference. Additional ad hoc meetings are welcome at any point.
    • Each grantee must provide a media waiver to all participants and facilitators/educators, a template for which will be provided, regardless of whether a grantee plans for them to appear in any form of media/deliverable/materials/etc. (anything that will be shared publicly). These waivers should be provided to all participants and facilitators/educators before they begin their virtual exchange. Signed waivers are not required for participation in the proposed program.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation:
    • Within a week of the start of each round of virtual exchange, submit the partnership table (using a Stevens Initiative template) updated to reflect the number of participants that have started the program at each program site. 
    • Host at least one in-person or virtual site visit, conducted by either the Stevens Initiative or the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.
    • Administer post-program participant surveys using questions required by the Stevens Initiative; see the list of required survey domains here. Some of these required domains are global competency domains developed by the Initiative and others are part of the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs MODE framework (see background information here). Grantees will use the survey administration platform maintained by the Stevens Initiative unless an alternative plan is agreed in advance with the Stevens Initiative.
    • Submit demographic information about program participants with the quarterly report following each round of VE implementation (January for fall, July for spring, October for summer).
    • Grantees may elect to participate in a quarterly Evaluation Working Group meeting hosted by the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.

Alumni Engagement Supplement (Scaling Applicants Only)

The Stevens Initiative aims to embed effective alumni engagement as part of a supplement to the grant competition. Appropriately engaging Stevens Initiative-supported alumni is an effective way to incentivize participation, reinforce learning outcomes achieved during program participation, and provide opportunities for alumni to continue to develop skills and networks.

Organizations applying for a Scaling grant may propose to conduct additional work through an Alumni Engagement Supplement, and may request between $15,000-50,000 to fund these activities. This supplement is optional and submitting a supplement proposal is not required or expected of applicants. The submission deadline for the supplement proposal is the same as the deadline for the main proposal. Applying for this supplemental funding does not confer any additional points or priority on the organization’s main proposal. The main proposal will be considered first and the supplement will be considered only if the main proposal is being put forward for funding. If the supplement is rejected, the main application must still be practicable.

For additional information and requirements to apply for this supplemental funding, see the supplement template in the application.

Competition and Grant Rules

  • Deadline: The deadline for submitting the application is September 29, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Applications will not be accepted after the deadline.
  • Applications may only be submitted online through https://stevensinitiative.smapply.io/.
  • Forms and Templates:
  • Eligible Applicants: Applying organizations must be based in the United States or in the Middle East and North Africa.
    • Applicants based in the U.S. must be tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions. Other organizations are not eligible to apply, though they may be included as sub-awardees or contract recipients. U.S. applicants in the process of registration must submit proof that they are seeking nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service at the time of submission. Should the applicant be selected for a grant, funding will be contingent on the organization receiving tax exempt status. Grant recipients must be registered to conduct proposed activities in the countries where the activities would take place, if applicable.
    • Applicants based in the MENA region must be nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions, that can demonstrate current in-country registration. Other organizations are not eligible to apply, though they may be included as sub-awardees or contract recipients. Staff should be proficient in English, and able to file reports and conduct evaluations in English as well as in Arabic or French as appropriate.
    • Fiscally-sponsored organizations are eligible for funding; the application should be submitted by the fiscal sponsor and should make clear the arrangement between the fiscal sponsor and those carrying out the work.
    • Past recipients of Stevens Initiative grants are eligible to submit applications.
    • Current recipients of U.S. Government funds are eligible to submit applications. These applications must be for programs that are different from currently U.S. Government-funded activities and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, etc.
  • An organization can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.
  • Organizations may submit more than one application if the proposed programs are distinct and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, deliverables, etc.
  • Activities must be conducted in the United States and in one or more of the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  • Participants may not be asked to pay in order to participate in Stevens Initiative-funded activities.
  • In-person exchange for young people, educators, facilitators, or program organizers may be included to complement the virtual exchange activities. Travel to the U.S. for youth or adult participants from the MENA region must occur through the J-1 visa program. Strong preference for travel will be given to candidates that have never traveled to the U.S. before (for participants from the MENA region) or have never traveled to the host country in the MENA region (for U.S. participants). The Stevens Initiative strongly prefers to prioritize travel opportunities for youth or adults who have not previously studied abroad or participated in previous U.S. Government-sponsored exchange programs.  No participant under the age of 15 is eligible to travel. In-person travel conducted during the period of performance of the award is not guaranteed and must be approved in advance by the Stevens Initiative and U.S. Department of State. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consider back-up plans or alternatives to in-person travel when putting together a proposal. Additional guidelines may apply and will be discussed in detail with grantees during grantee orientation.
  • Organizations are encouraged to collaborate to develop a proposed program. The full application should be submitted by one organization and may list partners as sub-awardees or contractors. The lead applicant should be the organization that will conduct the largest portion of the proposed work, including grant management and administration.
  • Organizations that receive a grant may be asked to work with the Stevens Initiative to incorporate new implementing partners (such as educational institutions and community organizations) into their programs as appropriate.
  • In administering grants and the grant competition, the Stevens Initiative follows, and expects applicants and grant recipients to follow, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State’s Diversity Statement: “The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State strives to ensure that its efforts reflect the diversity of U.S. society and societies abroad. The Bureau seeks and encourages the involvement of people from traditionally underrepresented audiences in all its grants, programs and other activities and in its workforce and workplace. Opportunities are open to people regardless of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, socio- economic status, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Bureau is committed to fairness, equity and inclusion.”
  • Applicants must demonstrate the capacity to meet U.S. reporting requirements as specified in the “Office of Management and Budget” and “Department of State” sections of “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards” (2 CFR sections 200 and 600).
  • Applicants are reminded that U.S. Executive Orders and U.S. law prohibits transactions with, and the provision of resources and support to, individuals and organizations associated with terrorism. It is the legal responsibility of the grant recipient to ensure compliance with these Executive Orders and laws. This provision must be included in any subawards issued under this grant.
  • The Stevens Initiative advises applicants to consult with their intended partners about the time and steps that may be required to receive any necessary approvals to conduct the activities if the proposal is funded. This may include government/ministry approvals, administrative approvals, legal approvals, and more.
  • The second year of funding will be contingent on the successful conduct of the first year.

Support for Applicants

  • Prospective applicants are encouraged to visit stevensinitiative.org to learn more about the goals of the Stevens Initiative, its activities, and the programs it has supported. The site’s Resources page includes links to documents and the Stevens Initiative’s YouTube page contains recordings of webinars that may be useful in developing a program plan.
  • Applicants may be particularly interested to read feedback compiled by the Stevens Initiative in response to proposals submitted during previous grant competitions.
  • The Stevens Initiative is hosting three webinars related to this competition: 
    • one on general questions on June 29, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here)
    • another to answer questions about budget and compliance on July 12, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here)
    • and a third primarily reserved for live-answering questions on August 10, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here). 
    • Recordings of the webinars will be posted to the Stevens Initiative’s YouTube page for those who are not able to attend and responses to frequently asked questions can be found here.
  • Those who are interested in finding another way to get involved in virtual exchange are encouraged to visit the Stevens Initiative’s “Engage” page or contact the Stevens Initiative at stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org.

Review Process and Selection Criteria

The Stevens Initiative screens proposals for completeness and eligibility according to this call for proposals. Proposals are then reviewed by an independent review committee of experts from the education, exchange, education technology, international affairs, and other relevant sectors in the U.S. and MENA region. The Stevens Initiative recommends a slate of proposals to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs based on the independent review committee’s scores and comments while also seeking to create a portfolio of programs that reach a range of age levels, topics, U.S. states and MENA countries, and grant sizes (scaling and seeding). Final approval of awards is dependent on approval from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the relevant U.S. Missions to countries where the Work is proposed.

The Stevens Initiative publishes a summary of common factors from an analysis of rejected applications but is not able to offer individual feedback due to the volume of applications.

The selection criteria (described below) are worth up to the following number of points. Note that the Scalability and Unique Contribution to the Field criteria each apply to only Scaling or Seeding applications, respectively.

Criterion
Maximum Points
Content and Plan for Activities
15
Facilitation and Facilitator Training
10
Participants
25
Partnerships
15
Capacity, Feasibility, and Logistics
20
Cost-Effectiveness
5
Institutional Support
5
Scalability
Scaling only: 5
Unique Contribution to the Field
Seeding only: 5


Content and Plan for Activities

The Stevens Initiative intends to support virtual exchange programs that use online technology to connect young people in the U.S. with young people in the MENA region. Grantees are expected to put in place a plan for activities that includes a mix of activities over a sustained period of time to allow international groups of varying sizes to have in-depth dialogue and/or collaboration. These activities can include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication and a mix of discussion-based activities and collaborative projects. A well-designed plan for activities focuses on a compelling topic or topics and empowers the participants to learn about the topic or topics while also gaining communication, collaboration, language, and problem-solving skills, as well as familiarity with and empathy for different perspectives that they need to thrive in a globalized world.

Priority Topics: Proposed projects are encouraged to focus on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Technology and computing
  2. Engaging with local and global challenges
  3. Business and entrepreneurship
  4. Language learning and practice

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the proposed activities clear, appropriate, and valuable for the intended participants?
  • Is it clear from reading the proposal what your experience as a participant in the program would involve, on a week-to-week, session-to-session, or activity-to-activity basis?
  • Will the proposed activities foster sustained cross-cultural communication/collaboration among clearly identified youth participants in the U.S. and MENA region?
  • Is the topic or topics appealing, valuable, and appropriate for the intended participants?
  • Does the topic or topics include at least one of the Stevens Initiative’s priority topics?
  • Does the applicant demonstrate how virtual exchange activities would add to the participants’ learning about the topic or topics?
  • Are the modes of communication and participation engaging and well aligned with the needs, abilities, and interests of the participants?
  • Would this program be likely to help the participants gain global competencies and other knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences?
  • Is the program mutually beneficial for participants in the U.S. and the MENA region?

Facilitation and Facilitator Preparation

The proposed program should involve facilitators, either educators or other trained adults responsible for helping the participants have a productive learning experience. The grantee is expected to prepare facilitators for their role and to oversee and support facilitators throughout the program.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the facilitators – educators or others taking this role – clearly identified and appropriate?
  • Is the facilitation style clear and appropriate for the age level of the participants, the proposed content and activities, and the setting in which the exchange activities will occur?
  • Is there adequate facilitator training and preparation?
  • Is there an adequate plan for recruiting facilitators and maintaining an adequate number of facilitators for the planned activities for the duration of the period of performance?

Participants

Participants should be young people in the age range that corresponds to the K-12 school age level –including primary school, middle school, and high school – or postsecondary education age level, including undergraduate and graduate education levels as well as young professionals under the age of 35. Educators, facilitators, or group leaders who work with the youth participants are not counted as part of the participant number.

Up to 5 points for the participant plan in general:

  • Clear and specific description of who the participants would be
  • Clear and compelling articulation of how the program addresses the needs and interests of the intended participants
  • Participation numbers approximately balanced between the regions
  • Clear participant recruitment and incentives to join/complete the program
  • Demonstrated effort to ensure equal access for and to empower participation of women and girls, young people from minority groups, and young people with disabilities

Priority points for reaching young people whose access to exchange has been limited.

Virtual exchange programs can give young people in underserved communities new opportunities to gain critical skills and see the world from new perspectives even if they are not able to participate in an in-person exchange. Proposals can receive additional points for addressing the following priorities in their proposal. Applicants will be asked to state clearly in their proposal whether and how they commit to meeting one or both of these optional priorities. Grantees that propose to meet these priorities will be accountable to meet their commitments over the course of the grant.

U.S. priorities (up to 10 points)

  • Students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) at the higher education level
  • Students from higher education institutions with a high percentage of Pell grant recipient students
  • Students from Title I Schoolwide Program schools
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant
  • NOTE that Pell grant statistics are available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/pell20/#table.

MENA priorities (up to 10 points)

  • Students from educational institutions where English is not the main language of instruction
  • Young people from Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

The number of additional points earned by the proposal will be determined by the following factors: the proportion of participants who will meet the priorities; the degree to which the program meets the needs and interests of young people from these groups and empowers them to fully participate; and the feasibility of the plan to recruit these participants (and/or partner organizations located in the intended participant communities) and to support them to have an impactful virtual exchange experience and meet the definition of meaningful participation.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the participants clearly identified and appropriate?
  • Has the applicant identified partners rooted in the communities intended to be reached?
  • Are the participants’ needs and interests clear and well matched to this program?
  • Is there a feasible and clear plan to ensure equal access for empowered participation of women and girls, young people from minority groups, and young people with disabilities?
  • Is the program designed to serve the proposed participants?
  • If the applicant states that their program will meet the U.S. or MENA Region Participant Priority/ies, is the plan to meet these priorities clear and feasible?
  • Does the applicant show evidence of a track record of having reached underserved youth?

Partnerships

Applicants are expected to develop the proposal in conjunction with the partners with whom the program will be conducted. This includes the organizations where virtual exchange activities will occur as well as other organizations that may be involved in conducting the program. Grantees are expected to establish and maintain these partnerships through consistent collaboration and communication throughout the planning, implementation, refinement, and wrap-up stages of the proposed program.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are partners listed?
  • Are the partnerships appropriate?
  • Are partnerships concrete, confirmed, and clear or vague and speculative?
  • Are partnerships equitable: does the applicant demonstrate that input and ownership will be shared among partners, and will the proposed program serve the interests of all partners and communities involved?
  • Are partner organizations and participating communities, particularly those that are often underserved by international opportunities, genuinely included and empowered throughout design and implementation?

Capacity, Feasibility, and Logistics

Grantees are expected to manage the logistics of running an international virtual exchange program, ensuring activities are occurring on schedule and appropriately across all participating sites. The Stevens Initiative expects all programs to have a good, flexible, participant-centered technology plan involving several aspects, including mobile/low-bandwidth-ready tools and activities, ample support for participants, contingency planning, and more. Grantees are also expected to properly administer the Stevens Initiative grant, which includes following federal guidelines, terms, and conditions, regularly communicating with the Stevens Initiative, and submitting quarterly program, evaluation, and financial reports.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the staffing level evidenced in the budget seem appropriate to carry out the proposed program, particularly program administration and logistics?
  • For scaling applications, does the proposal demonstrate that the organization is ready to build on previously-conducted activities and lessons learned?
  • Does this organization have the capacity and knowledge to conduct this program?
  • Is it feasible to set up, manage, and monitor a program of this scale and complexity?
  • Is there a clear and suitable plan for the technology platform or platforms that will be used?
  • Are there clear and appropriate contingency plans in place to mitigate the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? This can include steps taken to continue the virtual exchange activities and to support uninterrupted participation for youth people, especially those in underserved communities whose access to technology is most impacted by the pandemic.
  • Especially for open enrollment programs that intend for youth participants to independently join the program, does the applicant have the capacity and suitable approach to review a substantial number of participant applicants and to support the involvement of all accepted participants?

Cost-Effectiveness

All proposals include a cost per participant (the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation) within the allowable range for their grant type. Within these ranges, the Stevens Initiative seeks to support programs that demonstrate an appropriate cost and use of funds and are likely to deliver a meaningful experience for participants.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Is the cost per participant reasonable for the likely value of the experience?
  • Are the most significant expenses clearly described and appropriate?
  • Does the budget narrative make clear what the program expenditures will be?

Institutional Support

Successfully administering a virtual exchange program as part of a multiyear federal subaward requires widespread support to overcome challenges and attain longevity. Institutional leaders can encourage buy-in across the organization by recognizing the funded project as valuable and consistent with the organization’s strategic plan, for example, which can in turn lead to external partnerships or internal connections with colleagues who are willing to share their expertise.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the proposal demonstrate buy-in to submit the funding proposal from the organization/team/division/department’s leadership?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate support for program implementation and longevity from the applying institution beyond the applying individual/team/division/department?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate how the applying organization will support the team implementing the program during the period of performance, beyond providing, for example, necessary administrative support?

Scalability (Scaling Only)

Scaling proposals should demonstrate the potential to scale up to reach more participants by either being replicated widely across several organizations or educational institutions, bringing on new partners, or finding new efficiencies to reduce costs.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the proposal demonstrate previously conducted work and how the proposed program would build off of that previously conducted work?
  • Are plans to build off of previously conducted work feasible and appropriate?
  • Would the grant involve building systems to further establish the virtual exchange program and virtual exchange generally as a part of the organization’s work?

Unique Contribution to the Field (Seeding Only)

The Stevens Initiative seeks to support new programs that address particular needs in the virtual exchange field in the communities they intend to serve. While using promising practices common in the field is encouraged, distinct and innovative features or approaches are also valued, as are new or improved efficiencies in virtual exchange implementation.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Is the model of this proposed program distinctive in the virtual exchange field?
  • Does the model of the proposed program include new efficiencies for virtual exchange implementation?
  • Would supporting this program allow the virtual exchange field to learn something new and different about how virtual exchange can work?
  • Are the applicants thoughtful about how they’d capture, share, and apply lessons learned?

Alumni Supplement

Applicants electing to include a request for supplemental funding should clearly outline compelling and engaging alumni engagement plans that offer alumni the opportunity to build on the learning from their virtual exchange experience by taking action. The plans should be appropriate for the age group and should be mutually beneficial for participants from all participating regions.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are proposed alumni action plans compelling and engaging for the proposed population of young people in the program?
  • Are the proposed alumni action plans designed to engage an appropriate number of alumni given the design of the virtual exchange and the associated alumni population?
  • Do proposed alumni action plans engage alumni from all regions equally?
  • Do proposed alumni action plans provide young people with an opportunity to effectively build upon the skills or experiences gained during the virtual exchange program?
  • Are proposed activities proportionate with the amount of funding requested for the supplement?





Apply

J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative 2022 Grant Competition


Competition Overview

The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (“Stevens Initiative”) invites qualified nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to submit proposals to its 2022 grant competition, supported by the U.S. Department of State, which supports grants to conduct virtual exchange programs that connect young people in the United States (U.S.) and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Applicants may propose programs that reach young people from the elementary (primary) school age through post-graduate/young adult. The Stevens Initiative is offering two types of grants – scaling and seeding –with different parameters to meet a range of needs in the virtual exchange field.

Applicants should review the competition rules below and submit their application no later than September 29, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Based on input from an independent review committee, some organizations will start a vetting, revision, and negotiation process prior to the end of the year that may result in being offered a grant in early 2023. The grant period of performance will begin in April 2023.

The Stevens Initiative plans to award up to $7 million through this competition. While the Stevens Initiative does not have a set number of grants it will award, the Initiative anticipates a competitive applicant pool resulting in approximately 12 grants awarded, with approximately six seeding and six scaling. Awards are cost reimbursable. The Stevens Initiative strives to assemble a diverse portfolio of awards and programs, aiming to fund programs that reach a variety of age groups, including primary, secondary, and tertiary education or age levels; geographies in the U.S. and MENA region; topic or subject matter; and award sizes.

The Stevens Initiative was launched in 2015 as a living memorial and to continue the legacy of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, who devoted his life to building bridges through open and respectful dialogue and person-to-person diplomacy. He served the majority of his Foreign Service career in the Middle East and North Africa, a region he grew to love, and eventually served as U.S. Ambassador to Libya. The Initiative, conceived and developed in close partnership with Ambassador Stevens’ family, seeks to give a generation of young people the kind of meaningful international experience that shaped Ambassador Stevens as a young man. The Stevens Initiative is administered by the Aspen Institute.

The Stevens Initiative builds on the pioneering work of the virtual exchange community, which uses technology to connect young people across continents and cultures. Through virtual exchange, youth have access to a substantive international exchange experience by collaborating and learning with their peers abroad without having to leave their communities. Recognizing the impact that virtual exchange promises, and capitalizing on advances in technology, the aim is to make life-changing, cross-cultural experiences available to young people.

The Stevens Initiative’s 2022 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition is supported by the U.S. Department of State, via the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with additional funding from the Bezos Family Foundation. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs builds relations between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs.  These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the U.S., support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us.

By summer 2023, prior to the start of programs to be funded through this competition, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Learn more about the Stevens Initiative, its activities, its funders, and the programs it has supported here.

Call for Proposals

The following call for proposals is organized as follows:

  • Virtual Exchange Design Considerations
  • Stevens Initiative Funding Priorities  
  • Scaling Proposal Track Parameters
  • Seeding Proposal Track Parameters
  • Alumni Engagement Supplement (Scaling Applicants Only)
  • Competition and Grant Rules
  • Support for Applicants
  • Review Process and Selection Criteria

A PDF of this Call for Proposals can be downloaded here

Virtual Exchange Design Considerations

Virtual exchange provides opportunities to connect young people from diverse places using everyday technology for collaborative learning and interaction through sustained and facilitated engagement. While virtual exchange can cover any topic or subject matter and can vary substantially in the length of programming, technology or platform(s) used, learning outcomes and activity types, all virtual exchange includes a core component of cross-cultural connection and collaboration.

Programs vary quite a bit across the virtual exchange field. One reason for this variety is that programs operate in many different settings – in different countries, at different age levels, within and outside of educational institutions, and on a range of topics, to name just a few dimensions. Just as important, however, is that there are several different ways to design and conduct a virtual exchange program for any given setting, let alone to meet the needs of young people in different settings. The Stevens Initiative recommends keeping these factors in mind, along with the factors below; it is encouraged but not required to adhere to the models described here.

  • Mutual benefit: A program should have clearly defined benefits for young people in all participating countries or communities. These benefits do not need to be identical, but should be comparable. For example, young people in one country may be primarily motivated to practice a foreign language and young people in the other participating country may be primarily motivated to gain knowledge about a specific academic subject.
  • Types of communication: Most programs involve a combination of synchronous (real-time) communication and asynchronous communication. The types of communication in a program should be chosen and sequenced based on a combination of factors, including participants’ interest, access to technology, time zone differences, and disparate academic or individual schedules. Choosing how to conduct activities often involves challenging tradeoffs. For example, participants often describe synchronous activities as a highlight, particularly as a way to build rapport with their peers early in the program, but synchronous activities can be logistically challenging, particularly when participants are separated by a large time zone difference.
  • Duration and contact hours: Many virtual exchange programs involve youth participants in eight to 30 hours of synchronous and/or asynchronous communication over a period of two to eight weeks. Less contact or a shorter program might not give participants the chance to establish relationships with their international peers or to learn and put into practice new knowledge and skills; longer programs may be difficult to schedule around academic or seasonal calendars in different countries or may strain participants’ commitment to remain involved.
  • How participants get involved: Some programs are conducted as part of for-credit courses at educational institutions, some occur outside of educational institutions, and some include a mix of course-based and extracurricular participation in different places. Some programs involve youth participants via partnerships with educational institutions or civil society organizations while others invite young people to enroll individually. Practitioners should match the program design to the incentives at play; for example, a program facilitated by educators as part of a for-credit course has different opportunities and constraints than a program that seeks to engage young people who are choosing to participate in their free time. Practitioners should also work with their partners to develop a feasible recruiting plan and recruiting timeline, regardless of how the program is structured.
  • Keeping partners and participants engaged: Across nearly all virtual exchange programs, some youth participants do not reach a level of meaningful participation despite showing interest, registering, or even attending some of the initial sessions or completing some activities. In some cases, partnering organizations or educational institutions drop out, leaving the program with significantly fewer participants than expected. Practitioners should anticipate challenges like this and strive to involve slightly more partners, facilitators, and youth participants than are strictly required to meet the threshold for meaningful participation.
  • What participants do: Many virtual exchange programs ask youth participants to work in small, international groups on a collaborative project as one component of the program. Some programs put more emphasis on dialogue or storytelling rather than project-based learning. Many programs include a combination of these types of activity as well as other activities.
  • Technology: It’s important to choose technology tools – both software and hardware – that are accessible for all participants in a program. It is particularly important to choose technology that works for people in places that have limited resources. There are many low-cost technology tools that are better suited to virtual exchange than an expensive or customized technology system. It’s also important to select technology platforms that are familiar to and accessible by all participants. If you are proposing technology or platforms that are new for some or all participants, ensure that you give them enough time and preparation ahead of the programming starting so that they can fully participate.

Applicants may wish to review the following resources for more information about common attributes and effective practices:

Funding Priorities

Demographic Priorities: The Stevens Initiative intends to reach diverse youth participants and partners, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, and to support applications from organizations with an existing presence in and/or organizations proposing to work with partners rooted in the communities the program intends to reach. Applicants should demonstrate a balanced, thoughtful, and feasible approach to reaching diverse populations. In addition to the 5 points for the participant plan in general (see the Selection Criteria section for relevant point comparisons), proposals can receive additional points if they demonstrate that they will reach young people whose access to international exchange has been limited, as noted below.

U.S. priorities

  • Students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) at the higher education level
  • Students from higher education institutions with a high percentage of Pell grant recipient students
  • Students from Title I Schoolwide Program schools
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

Pell grant statistics are available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/pell20/#table.

MENA priorities

  • Students from educational institutions where English is not the main language of instruction
  • Young people from Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

Priority Topics: Proposed projects are encouraged, but not required, to focus on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Technology and computing: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields give young people skills critical to the 21st century workforce. Virtual exchange is particularly well suited to facilitating hands-on, collaborative projects – on a range of topics, including programming, web design, robotics, and many others – that help young people gain technology and computing knowledge and skills.
  2. Engaging with local and global challenges: Global education is increasingly recognized as critical for young people who need to understand global issues and trends – ranging from climate change and the environment to gender equality to leadership and beyond – as they prepare for jobs that involve international communication and cooperation and as they prepare to be informed, active citizens. Direct communication with peers from other places and backgrounds through virtual exchange gives young people the opportunity to see the world and their own society from new perspectives and with greater empathy, learn how to problem-solve, and engage in their own communities.
  3. Business and entrepreneurship: Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to practice the cross-cultural communication and digital literacy skills they need as they enter the private sector through international projects or case studies. Virtual exchange can empower young people to collaborate with peers around the world to envision and shape their future in a rapidly changing world.
  4. Language learning and practice: Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to practice communicating in a world language, building confidence and communication skills alongside increased language proficiency. Proposals focusing on this topic may be designed to give young people in the MENA region the opportunity to practice English, to give young people in the U.S. the opportunity to practice a language spoken in the MENA region, or to give both groups of young people the opportunity to practice the language spoken by their peers abroad.

Scaling Proposal Track Parameters

Scaling grants are intended to support organizations to grow and improve established virtual exchange programs. These programs should have a track record of providing a high-quality experience to hundreds of young people over the past few years and should be poised to further expand in order to reach substantially more young people through Stevens Initiative support. The Stevens Initiative is open to funding proposals from consortia, though one organization should plan to put forward a principal investigator on the project and handle the award management and administration.

Each scaling grant proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for all parameters listed below in order to be eligible.

Grant Duration: The period of performance of the grants will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2023, and ending June 30, 2025. The first few months of the period of performance are intended to prepare for the virtual exchange activities. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to propose at least four rounds of the virtual exchange program, starting in fall 2023. Applicants proposing to conduct a different configuration of programming or a different number of rounds of programming, such as summer-only programming, will be considered as long as the configuration is adequately justified and all other application parameters are met. Applicants may propose to begin the first round of the virtual exchange program during summer 2023 if they can demonstrate that it will be feasible to start the virtual exchange activities within a few months of the start of the period of performance.

Anticipated Grant Size Range: $350,000 to $900,000. The applicant must request an amount within this range to be eligible for selection. Also note that applicants can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.

Cost per Participant Range and Definition of Meaningful Participation: $100 to $330 per participant. The applicant must submit a proposal to conduct the program for a cost per participant within this range to be eligible for selection. Cost per participant, for the purposes of this application process, is counted as the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation. The Stevens Initiative works with each prospective grantee to agree on the definition of meaningful participation that will apply to that grantee’s program; it is typically defined as an individual who completes 75% of synchronous and asynchronous exchange activities. Cost share does not count towards the permissible cost per participant range for this application process, so the cost per participant, when counting the requested funding and cost share, may be higher than the permissible range if the excess is covered by cost share.

Deliverables and expectations: Applicants should consider the following deliverables and expectations when building their program management plan, budget, and timeline.

  • Participant notification and information sharing: Grantees will be expected to notify all participants that they are about to participate in a Stevens Initiative program and explain what the Stevens Initiative is and who supports the Stevens Initiative. Grantees will be expected to collect information, including contact information, about participants to share with the Stevens Initiative, and in turn with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as part of the Stevens Initiative’s alumni engagement. If this expectation poses particularly significant challenges in your program, please address this in the application.
  • Alumni Engagement:
    • In collaboration with the Stevens Initiative, grantees will be expected to put together an alumni engagement plan at the beginning of the period of performance. This plan should include a timeline outlining alumni engagement activities, outputs, and outcomes, and will guide the Stevens Initiative in supporting the grantee’s alumni engagement activities during the period of performance of the grant.  
    • Grantees will connect the Stevens Initiative with an alumna/us who becomes the focus of an alumni success story twice during the period of performance.
    • Grantees should set up and use a channel of regular communication with alumni (e.g. newsletter, Facebook group, etc.).
    • Grantees will have an annual alumni engagement check in call with Stevens Initiative staff. Grantees that receive supplemental funding for alumni engagement may have more frequent check-ins with Stevens Initiative staff.
  • Communications:
    • Grantees are expected to adhere to Stevens Initiative and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs communication guidance. The Stevens Initiative will share communications guidance with grant recipients at the time of awarding funds.
    • Professional photography is not required but the Stevens Initiative may select the grantee to collaborate on professional photography, funded by the Stevens Initiative, and may request grantees and local partners to assist with identifying a local photographer and coordinating with photographers on site.
    • Grantees will work with the Stevens Initiative to determine a way to share impact about the program in the form of communications collateral. This may include but is not limited to: an impact story, video story, interview or audio story, photo diary, or blog post about lessons learned.
    • Grantees should share grant announcement, impact stories, alumni success stories, alumni small grants, and other updates that mention the Stevens Initiative and the funded virtual exchange via the grantee organization’s social media once per month.
    • Grantees should plan to do outreach around the grant announcement press release, a template for which will be provided by the Stevens Initiative leading up to the announcement of the grant.
    • Grantees will have regular communications and outreach check-ins, at minimum twice a year and at maximum once every other month, based on the grantee’s preference. Additional ad hoc meetings are welcome at any point.
    • Each grantee must provide a media waiver to all participants and facilitators/educators, a template for which will be provided, regardless of whether a grantee plans for them to appear in any form of media/deliverable/materials/etc. (anything that will be shared publicly). These waivers should be provided to all participants and facilitators/educators before they begin their virtual exchange. Signed waivers are not required for participation in the proposed program.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation:
    • Within a week of the start of each round of virtual exchange, submit the partnership table (using a Stevens Initiative template) updated to reflect the number of participants that have started the program at each program site.
    • Host at least one in-person or virtual site visit, conducted by either the Stevens Initiative or the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.
    • Administer post-program participant surveys using questions required by the Stevens Initiative; see the list of required survey domains here. Some of these required domains are global competency domains developed by the Initiative and others are part of the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs MODE framework (see background information here). Grantees will use the survey administration platform maintained by the Stevens Initiative unless an alternative plan is agreed in advance with the Stevens Initiative.
    • Submit demographic information about program participants with the quarterly report following each round of virtual exchange implementation (January for fall, July for spring, October for summer).
    • Grantees may elect to participate in a quarterly Evaluation Working Group meeting hosted by the Stevens Initiative's external evaluators.

Seeding Proposal Track Parameters

Seeding grants are intended to support early-stage programs that fill a gap in the virtual exchange field. These programs should have the potential to take hold and grow in the following years. Seeding grantees are expected to include clear plans for partnerships, intended participants, content/topic areas, and staffing, though the plan for activities or curriculum can be at an earlier stage and be refined and finalized early in the period of performance.

Each seeding proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for all parameters listed below in order to be eligible.

Grant Duration: The period of performance of the grants will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2023, and ending June 30, 2025. The first few months of the period of performance are intended to prepare for the virtual exchange activities. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to propose at least four rounds of the virtual exchange program, starting in fall 2023. Applicants proposing to conduct a different configuration of programming or a different number of rounds of programming will be considered as long as the configuration is adequately justified and all other application parameters are met. Applicants may propose to begin the first round of the virtual exchange program during summer 2023 if they can demonstrate that it will be feasible to start the virtual exchange activities within a few months of the start of the period of performance.

Anticipated Grant Size Range: $100,000 to $300,000. The applicant must request an amount within this range to be eligible for selection. Also note that applicants can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.

Cost per Participant Range and Definition of Meaningful Participation: $330 to $550 per participant. The applicant must submit a proposal to conduct the program for a cost per participant within this range to be eligible for selection. Cost per participant, for the purposes of this application process, is counted as the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation. The Stevens Initiative works with each prospective grantee to agree on the definition of meaningful participation that will apply to that grantee’s program; it is typically defined as an individual who completes 75% of synchronous and asynchronous exchange activities. Cost share does not count towards the permissible cost per participant range for this application process, so the cost per participant, when counting the requested funding and cost share, may be higher than the permissible range if the excess is covered by cost share.

Deliverables and expectations:

  • Participant notification and information sharing: Grantees will be expected to notify all participants that they are about to participate in a Stevens Initiative program and explain what the Stevens Initiative is and who supports the Stevens Initiative. Grantees will be expected to collect information, including contact information, about participants to share with the Stevens Initiative, and in turn with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as part of the Stevens Initiative’s alumni engagement. If this expectation poses particularly significant challenges in your program, please address this in the application.
  • Alumni Engagement:
    • Grantees will connect the Stevens Initiative with an alumna/us who becomes the focus of an alumni success story once during the period of performance.
    • Grantees should set up and use a channel of regular communication with alumni (e.g. newsletter, Facebook group, etc.).
    • Grantees will have an annual alumni engagement check in call with Stevens Initiative staff.
  • Communications:
    • Grantees are expected to adhere to Stevens Initiative and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs communication guidance. The Stevens Initiative will share communications guidance with grant recipients at the time of awarding funds.
    • Professional photography is not required but the Stevens Initiative may select the grantee to collaborate on professional photography, funded by the Stevens Initiative, and may request grantees and local partners to assist with identifying a local photographer and coordinating with photographers on site.
    • Grantees will share grant announcement, impact stories, alumni success stories, alumni small grants, and other updates that mention the Stevens Initiative and the funded virtual exchange via the grantee organization’s social media.
    • Grantees should plan to do outreach around the grant announcement press release, a template for which will be provided by the Stevens Initiative leading up to the announcement of the grant.
    • Grantees will have regular communications and outreach check-ins, at minimum twice a year and at maximum once every other month, based on the grantee’s preference. Additional ad hoc meetings are welcome at any point.
    • Each grantee must provide a media waiver to all participants and facilitators/educators, a template for which will be provided, regardless of whether a grantee plans for them to appear in any form of media/deliverable/materials/etc. (anything that will be shared publicly). These waivers should be provided to all participants and facilitators/educators before they begin their virtual exchange. Signed waivers are not required for participation in the proposed program.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation:
    • Within a week of the start of each round of virtual exchange, submit the partnership table (using a Stevens Initiative template) updated to reflect the number of participants that have started the program at each program site. 
    • Host at least one in-person or virtual site visit, conducted by either the Stevens Initiative or the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.
    • Administer post-program participant surveys using questions required by the Stevens Initiative; see the list of required survey domains here. Some of these required domains are global competency domains developed by the Initiative and others are part of the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs MODE framework (see background information here). Grantees will use the survey administration platform maintained by the Stevens Initiative unless an alternative plan is agreed in advance with the Stevens Initiative.
    • Submit demographic information about program participants with the quarterly report following each round of VE implementation (January for fall, July for spring, October for summer).
    • Grantees may elect to participate in a quarterly Evaluation Working Group meeting hosted by the Stevens Initiative’s external evaluators.

Alumni Engagement Supplement (Scaling Applicants Only)

The Stevens Initiative aims to embed effective alumni engagement as part of a supplement to the grant competition. Appropriately engaging Stevens Initiative-supported alumni is an effective way to incentivize participation, reinforce learning outcomes achieved during program participation, and provide opportunities for alumni to continue to develop skills and networks.

Organizations applying for a Scaling grant may propose to conduct additional work through an Alumni Engagement Supplement, and may request between $15,000-50,000 to fund these activities. This supplement is optional and submitting a supplement proposal is not required or expected of applicants. The submission deadline for the supplement proposal is the same as the deadline for the main proposal. Applying for this supplemental funding does not confer any additional points or priority on the organization’s main proposal. The main proposal will be considered first and the supplement will be considered only if the main proposal is being put forward for funding. If the supplement is rejected, the main application must still be practicable.

For additional information and requirements to apply for this supplemental funding, see the supplement template in the application.

Competition and Grant Rules

  • Deadline: The deadline for submitting the application is September 29, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Applications will not be accepted after the deadline.
  • Applications may only be submitted online through https://stevensinitiative.smapply.io/.
  • Forms and Templates:
  • Eligible Applicants: Applying organizations must be based in the United States or in the Middle East and North Africa.
    • Applicants based in the U.S. must be tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions. Other organizations are not eligible to apply, though they may be included as sub-awardees or contract recipients. U.S. applicants in the process of registration must submit proof that they are seeking nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service at the time of submission. Should the applicant be selected for a grant, funding will be contingent on the organization receiving tax exempt status. Grant recipients must be registered to conduct proposed activities in the countries where the activities would take place, if applicable.
    • Applicants based in the MENA region must be nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions, that can demonstrate current in-country registration. Other organizations are not eligible to apply, though they may be included as sub-awardees or contract recipients. Staff should be proficient in English, and able to file reports and conduct evaluations in English as well as in Arabic or French as appropriate.
    • Fiscally-sponsored organizations are eligible for funding; the application should be submitted by the fiscal sponsor and should make clear the arrangement between the fiscal sponsor and those carrying out the work.
    • Past recipients of Stevens Initiative grants are eligible to submit applications.
    • Current recipients of U.S. Government funds are eligible to submit applications. These applications must be for programs that are different from currently U.S. Government-funded activities and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, etc.
  • An organization can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.
  • Organizations may submit more than one application if the proposed programs are distinct and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, deliverables, etc.
  • Activities must be conducted in the United States and in one or more of the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  • Participants may not be asked to pay in order to participate in Stevens Initiative-funded activities.
  • In-person exchange for young people, educators, facilitators, or program organizers may be included to complement the virtual exchange activities. Travel to the U.S. for youth or adult participants from the MENA region must occur through the J-1 visa program. Strong preference for travel will be given to candidates that have never traveled to the U.S. before (for participants from the MENA region) or have never traveled to the host country in the MENA region (for U.S. participants). The Stevens Initiative strongly prefers to prioritize travel opportunities for youth or adults who have not previously studied abroad or participated in previous U.S. Government-sponsored exchange programs.  No participant under the age of 15 is eligible to travel. In-person travel conducted during the period of performance of the award is not guaranteed and must be approved in advance by the Stevens Initiative and U.S. Department of State. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consider back-up plans or alternatives to in-person travel when putting together a proposal. Additional guidelines may apply and will be discussed in detail with grantees during grantee orientation.
  • Organizations are encouraged to collaborate to develop a proposed program. The full application should be submitted by one organization and may list partners as sub-awardees or contractors. The lead applicant should be the organization that will conduct the largest portion of the proposed work, including grant management and administration.
  • Organizations that receive a grant may be asked to work with the Stevens Initiative to incorporate new implementing partners (such as educational institutions and community organizations) into their programs as appropriate.
  • In administering grants and the grant competition, the Stevens Initiative follows, and expects applicants and grant recipients to follow, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State’s Diversity Statement: “The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State strives to ensure that its efforts reflect the diversity of U.S. society and societies abroad. The Bureau seeks and encourages the involvement of people from traditionally underrepresented audiences in all its grants, programs and other activities and in its workforce and workplace. Opportunities are open to people regardless of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, socio- economic status, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Bureau is committed to fairness, equity and inclusion.”
  • Applicants must demonstrate the capacity to meet U.S. reporting requirements as specified in the “Office of Management and Budget” and “Department of State” sections of “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards” (2 CFR sections 200 and 600).
  • Applicants are reminded that U.S. Executive Orders and U.S. law prohibits transactions with, and the provision of resources and support to, individuals and organizations associated with terrorism. It is the legal responsibility of the grant recipient to ensure compliance with these Executive Orders and laws. This provision must be included in any subawards issued under this grant.
  • The Stevens Initiative advises applicants to consult with their intended partners about the time and steps that may be required to receive any necessary approvals to conduct the activities if the proposal is funded. This may include government/ministry approvals, administrative approvals, legal approvals, and more.
  • The second year of funding will be contingent on the successful conduct of the first year.

Support for Applicants

  • Prospective applicants are encouraged to visit stevensinitiative.org to learn more about the goals of the Stevens Initiative, its activities, and the programs it has supported. The site’s Resources page includes links to documents and the Stevens Initiative’s YouTube page contains recordings of webinars that may be useful in developing a program plan.
  • Applicants may be particularly interested to read feedback compiled by the Stevens Initiative in response to proposals submitted during previous grant competitions.
  • The Stevens Initiative is hosting three webinars related to this competition: 
    • one on general questions on June 29, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here)
    • another to answer questions about budget and compliance on July 12, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here)
    • and a third primarily reserved for live-answering questions on August 10, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (register here). 
    • Recordings of the webinars will be posted to the Stevens Initiative’s YouTube page for those who are not able to attend and responses to frequently asked questions can be found here.
  • Those who are interested in finding another way to get involved in virtual exchange are encouraged to visit the Stevens Initiative’s “Engage” page or contact the Stevens Initiative at stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org.

Review Process and Selection Criteria

The Stevens Initiative screens proposals for completeness and eligibility according to this call for proposals. Proposals are then reviewed by an independent review committee of experts from the education, exchange, education technology, international affairs, and other relevant sectors in the U.S. and MENA region. The Stevens Initiative recommends a slate of proposals to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs based on the independent review committee’s scores and comments while also seeking to create a portfolio of programs that reach a range of age levels, topics, U.S. states and MENA countries, and grant sizes (scaling and seeding). Final approval of awards is dependent on approval from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the relevant U.S. Missions to countries where the Work is proposed.

The Stevens Initiative publishes a summary of common factors from an analysis of rejected applications but is not able to offer individual feedback due to the volume of applications.

The selection criteria (described below) are worth up to the following number of points. Note that the Scalability and Unique Contribution to the Field criteria each apply to only Scaling or Seeding applications, respectively.

Criterion
Maximum Points
Content and Plan for Activities
15
Facilitation and Facilitator Training
10
Participants
25
Partnerships
15
Capacity, Feasibility, and Logistics
20
Cost-Effectiveness
5
Institutional Support
5
Scalability
Scaling only: 5
Unique Contribution to the Field
Seeding only: 5


Content and Plan for Activities

The Stevens Initiative intends to support virtual exchange programs that use online technology to connect young people in the U.S. with young people in the MENA region. Grantees are expected to put in place a plan for activities that includes a mix of activities over a sustained period of time to allow international groups of varying sizes to have in-depth dialogue and/or collaboration. These activities can include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication and a mix of discussion-based activities and collaborative projects. A well-designed plan for activities focuses on a compelling topic or topics and empowers the participants to learn about the topic or topics while also gaining communication, collaboration, language, and problem-solving skills, as well as familiarity with and empathy for different perspectives that they need to thrive in a globalized world.

Priority Topics: Proposed projects are encouraged to focus on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Technology and computing
  2. Engaging with local and global challenges
  3. Business and entrepreneurship
  4. Language learning and practice

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the proposed activities clear, appropriate, and valuable for the intended participants?
  • Is it clear from reading the proposal what your experience as a participant in the program would involve, on a week-to-week, session-to-session, or activity-to-activity basis?
  • Will the proposed activities foster sustained cross-cultural communication/collaboration among clearly identified youth participants in the U.S. and MENA region?
  • Is the topic or topics appealing, valuable, and appropriate for the intended participants?
  • Does the topic or topics include at least one of the Stevens Initiative’s priority topics?
  • Does the applicant demonstrate how virtual exchange activities would add to the participants’ learning about the topic or topics?
  • Are the modes of communication and participation engaging and well aligned with the needs, abilities, and interests of the participants?
  • Would this program be likely to help the participants gain global competencies and other knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences?
  • Is the program mutually beneficial for participants in the U.S. and the MENA region?

Facilitation and Facilitator Preparation

The proposed program should involve facilitators, either educators or other trained adults responsible for helping the participants have a productive learning experience. The grantee is expected to prepare facilitators for their role and to oversee and support facilitators throughout the program.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the facilitators – educators or others taking this role – clearly identified and appropriate?
  • Is the facilitation style clear and appropriate for the age level of the participants, the proposed content and activities, and the setting in which the exchange activities will occur?
  • Is there adequate facilitator training and preparation?
  • Is there an adequate plan for recruiting facilitators and maintaining an adequate number of facilitators for the planned activities for the duration of the period of performance?

Participants

Participants should be young people in the age range that corresponds to the K-12 school age level –including primary school, middle school, and high school – or postsecondary education age level, including undergraduate and graduate education levels as well as young professionals under the age of 35. Educators, facilitators, or group leaders who work with the youth participants are not counted as part of the participant number.

Up to 5 points for the participant plan in general:

  • Clear and specific description of who the participants would be
  • Clear and compelling articulation of how the program addresses the needs and interests of the intended participants
  • Participation numbers approximately balanced between the regions
  • Clear participant recruitment and incentives to join/complete the program
  • Demonstrated effort to ensure equal access for and to empower participation of women and girls, young people from minority groups, and young people with disabilities

Priority points for reaching young people whose access to exchange has been limited.

Virtual exchange programs can give young people in underserved communities new opportunities to gain critical skills and see the world from new perspectives even if they are not able to participate in an in-person exchange. Proposals can receive additional points for addressing the following priorities in their proposal. Applicants will be asked to state clearly in their proposal whether and how they commit to meeting one or both of these optional priorities. Grantees that propose to meet these priorities will be accountable to meet their commitments over the course of the grant.

U.S. priorities (up to 10 points)

  • Students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) at the higher education level
  • Students from higher education institutions with a high percentage of Pell grant recipient students
  • Students from Title I Schoolwide Program schools
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant
  • NOTE that Pell grant statistics are available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/pell20/#table.

MENA priorities (up to 10 points)

  • Students from educational institutions where English is not the main language of instruction
  • Young people from Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories
  • Other marginalized youth as specified by the applicant

The number of additional points earned by the proposal will be determined by the following factors: the proportion of participants who will meet the priorities; the degree to which the program meets the needs and interests of young people from these groups and empowers them to fully participate; and the feasibility of the plan to recruit these participants (and/or partner organizations located in the intended participant communities) and to support them to have an impactful virtual exchange experience and meet the definition of meaningful participation.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are the participants clearly identified and appropriate?
  • Has the applicant identified partners rooted in the communities intended to be reached?
  • Are the participants’ needs and interests clear and well matched to this program?
  • Is there a feasible and clear plan to ensure equal access for empowered participation of women and girls, young people from minority groups, and young people with disabilities?
  • Is the program designed to serve the proposed participants?
  • If the applicant states that their program will meet the U.S. or MENA Region Participant Priority/ies, is the plan to meet these priorities clear and feasible?
  • Does the applicant show evidence of a track record of having reached underserved youth?

Partnerships

Applicants are expected to develop the proposal in conjunction with the partners with whom the program will be conducted. This includes the organizations where virtual exchange activities will occur as well as other organizations that may be involved in conducting the program. Grantees are expected to establish and maintain these partnerships through consistent collaboration and communication throughout the planning, implementation, refinement, and wrap-up stages of the proposed program.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are partners listed?
  • Are the partnerships appropriate?
  • Are partnerships concrete, confirmed, and clear or vague and speculative?
  • Are partnerships equitable: does the applicant demonstrate that input and ownership will be shared among partners, and will the proposed program serve the interests of all partners and communities involved?
  • Are partner organizations and participating communities, particularly those that are often underserved by international opportunities, genuinely included and empowered throughout design and implementation?

Capacity, Feasibility, and Logistics

Grantees are expected to manage the logistics of running an international virtual exchange program, ensuring activities are occurring on schedule and appropriately across all participating sites. The Stevens Initiative expects all programs to have a good, flexible, participant-centered technology plan involving several aspects, including mobile/low-bandwidth-ready tools and activities, ample support for participants, contingency planning, and more. Grantees are also expected to properly administer the Stevens Initiative grant, which includes following federal guidelines, terms, and conditions, regularly communicating with the Stevens Initiative, and submitting quarterly program, evaluation, and financial reports.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the staffing level evidenced in the budget seem appropriate to carry out the proposed program, particularly program administration and logistics?
  • For scaling applications, does the proposal demonstrate that the organization is ready to build on previously-conducted activities and lessons learned?
  • Does this organization have the capacity and knowledge to conduct this program?
  • Is it feasible to set up, manage, and monitor a program of this scale and complexity?
  • Is there a clear and suitable plan for the technology platform or platforms that will be used?
  • Are there clear and appropriate contingency plans in place to mitigate the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? This can include steps taken to continue the virtual exchange activities and to support uninterrupted participation for youth people, especially those in underserved communities whose access to technology is most impacted by the pandemic.
  • Especially for open enrollment programs that intend for youth participants to independently join the program, does the applicant have the capacity and suitable approach to review a substantial number of participant applicants and to support the involvement of all accepted participants?

Cost-Effectiveness

All proposals include a cost per participant (the total amount of funding requested divided by the total number of young people who meet the definition of meaningful participation) within the allowable range for their grant type. Within these ranges, the Stevens Initiative seeks to support programs that demonstrate an appropriate cost and use of funds and are likely to deliver a meaningful experience for participants.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Is the cost per participant reasonable for the likely value of the experience?
  • Are the most significant expenses clearly described and appropriate?
  • Does the budget narrative make clear what the program expenditures will be?

Institutional Support

Successfully administering a virtual exchange program as part of a multiyear federal subaward requires widespread support to overcome challenges and attain longevity. Institutional leaders can encourage buy-in across the organization by recognizing the funded project as valuable and consistent with the organization’s strategic plan, for example, which can in turn lead to external partnerships or internal connections with colleagues who are willing to share their expertise.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the proposal demonstrate buy-in to submit the funding proposal from the organization/team/division/department’s leadership?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate support for program implementation and longevity from the applying institution beyond the applying individual/team/division/department?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate how the applying organization will support the team implementing the program during the period of performance, beyond providing, for example, necessary administrative support?

Scalability (Scaling Only)

Scaling proposals should demonstrate the potential to scale up to reach more participants by either being replicated widely across several organizations or educational institutions, bringing on new partners, or finding new efficiencies to reduce costs.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Does the proposal demonstrate previously conducted work and how the proposed program would build off of that previously conducted work?
  • Are plans to build off of previously conducted work feasible and appropriate?
  • Would the grant involve building systems to further establish the virtual exchange program and virtual exchange generally as a part of the organization’s work?

Unique Contribution to the Field (Seeding Only)

The Stevens Initiative seeks to support new programs that address particular needs in the virtual exchange field in the communities they intend to serve. While using promising practices common in the field is encouraged, distinct and innovative features or approaches are also valued, as are new or improved efficiencies in virtual exchange implementation.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Is the model of this proposed program distinctive in the virtual exchange field?
  • Does the model of the proposed program include new efficiencies for virtual exchange implementation?
  • Would supporting this program allow the virtual exchange field to learn something new and different about how virtual exchange can work?
  • Are the applicants thoughtful about how they’d capture, share, and apply lessons learned?

Alumni Supplement

Applicants electing to include a request for supplemental funding should clearly outline compelling and engaging alumni engagement plans that offer alumni the opportunity to build on the learning from their virtual exchange experience by taking action. The plans should be appropriate for the age group and should be mutually beneficial for participants from all participating regions.

Illustrative Review Questions

  • Are proposed alumni action plans compelling and engaging for the proposed population of young people in the program?
  • Are the proposed alumni action plans designed to engage an appropriate number of alumni given the design of the virtual exchange and the associated alumni population?
  • Do proposed alumni action plans engage alumni from all regions equally?
  • Do proposed alumni action plans provide young people with an opportunity to effectively build upon the skills or experiences gained during the virtual exchange program?
  • Are proposed activities proportionate with the amount of funding requested for the supplement?





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Opens
Jun 6 2022 08:00 AM (EDT)
Deadline
Sep 29 2022 05:00 PM (EDT)