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Stevens Initiative Award Competition, Fall 2016

Program Overview
The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to expand access to virtual exchange in order to build global competence for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Initiative is a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a public servant who dedicated himself to building understanding between people from different countries. The Initiative is housed at the Aspen Institute and is a public-private partnership of the family of Ambassador Stevens, the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, LRNG, Vidyo, Twitter, Microsoft, and the governments of Algeria, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Initiative defines virtual exchange as programs that: use online technology to connect individuals and small groups between countries; are based on a curriculum and involves qualified facilitators (such as educators or others); and involve sustained communication and collaboration in real-time or asynchronously over a period of time. Virtual exchange can facilitate a cross-cultural experience that builds marketable global competencies – including communication, collaboration, empathy, language, and problem-solving – and deepens understanding of and ability to engage with people from other backgrounds.
Through direct support for virtual exchange programs and through other field building activities, the Stevens Initiative seeks to: raise awareness and demand; establish a shared understanding of intended outcomes and key progress indicators; provide access for young people who would not otherwise be able to participate in international exchange; and increase sustainability, affordability, and ownership across involved communities.
The Initiative made awards to 10 organizations in 2016. These programs will reach over 21,000 young people in 25 U.S. states and 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Click here to learn more about the first Stevens Initiative programs.
Competition Overview
The Stevens Initiative invites educational institutions and non-profit organizations in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa to apply for funds to administer virtual exchange programs between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The competition has two stages. First, the Stevens Initiative invites letters of interests, which are due on November 30 for organizations based in the United States and December 21 for organizations based in the Middle East and North Africa. Second, organizations with letters of interest selected as finalists will be invited in early 2017 to submit full award applications.
Applicants proposing to conduct a virtual exchange program that will be ready to be implemented by Fall 2017 are expected to demonstrate a promising track record and a strong base of partnerships, curricular materials, trained educators or other facilitators, and technology, such that the exchange can be iterated, improved, and expanded over the course of the period of support. Applicants proposing to develop new virtual exchange programs are expected to demonstrate that adequate time and resources will be dedicated to establishing partnerships with implementing institutions, developing curriculum, training educators or other facilitators, and setting up the online platform before the exchange begins.
The Stevens Initiative has several priorities for funding. Applicants are strongly encouraged to demonstrate how their proposed programs contribute to one or more of the following priorities:
  • Programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM): Science, technology, engineering, and math are widely recognized as particularly important for young people around the world seeking to participate in the global economy. They provide a strong basis for international communication by inviting hands-on learning, collaboration and problem solving. They are particularly relevant in the Middle East and North Africa, where there is a shortage of candidates with STEM skills.
  • Programs that use project-based learning – a method that develops skills and understanding by exploring real-world problems – as a way to promote collaborative learning.
  • Programs that serve refugees: Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa face challenges to continue their education, to acquire skills they need in new environments, and to demonstrate their credentials without access to degrees. Technology, and virtual exchange in particular, has the potential to fill gaps in education for refugee youth, particularly those from Syria. The Stevens Initiative seeks to support virtual exchange programs that give refugees access to online education that provides training in high-need subjects, connects them with peers in the United States, and provides evidence of completion.
  • Programs that use innovative methodologies as part of or in conjunction with the virtual exchange, such as but not limited to one of the following:
    • Virtual reality and immersive experiences;
    • Use of mobile platforms;
    • Video games;
    • Programs that use language other than English as the primary language (Arabic, French, and others) or use automated translation;
    • Programs that connect people from more than two countries.
  • Programs that include in-person exchanges as a complement to the participants’ virtual exchange activities. This could include students and/or educators, including train-the-trainers programming.  
Eligibility Requirements and Parameters
  • Applying organizations may be based in the United States, Middle East, or North Africa. Applying organizations may be based in other regions if the proposed program serves refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Applicants based in the United States must be tax-exempt non-profit organizations, including educational institutions. U.S. applicants in the process of registration must submit proof that they are seeking non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service at the time of submission. Should the applicant be selected for an award, funding will be contingent on the organization receiving tax exempt status. Award recipients must be registered to conduct proposed activities in the countries where the activities would take place, if applicable.
  • The submission deadline for the letter of interest for organizations based in the United States is November 30 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time.
  • Applicants based in the Middle East or North Africa must be non-profit organizations, including educational institutions, that can demonstrate current country registration in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, or Yemen. Public International Organizations (PIOs) and For-Profit Organizations are not eligible to apply, though they may be included as sub-awardees or contract recipients. Staff should be proficient in English, able to file reports and conduct evaluations in English as well as in Arabic or French as appropriate.
  • The submission deadline for the letter of interest for organizations based in the Middle East or North Africa is December 21 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time.
  • Letters of interest may only be submitted online through
  • Click here to view the questions and prompts from the letter of interest form. Please note that applicants must use the online submission system at to submit the letter of interest. Answers must be typed or pasted into the boxes provided in the online form; this document is provided for information purposes only.
  • Organizations may request between $20,000 and $700,000. The award amount requested may not be more than 40% of the applying organization’s FY 2015 annual operating budget. In all cases, organizations should demonstrate their capacity to plan, implement, and evaluate programs of the scale they propose.
  • Maximum duration of the award is 19 months (beginning June 1, 2017) for organizations based in the United States and 18 months for organizations based in the Middle East and North Africa (beginning July 1, 2017). The period of performance ends no later than December 31, 2018, for all awardees.
  • Activities may be conducted in the United States and in the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Programs involving refugees from these countries who are currently in countries not listed above are also eligible.
  • Participants should be young people in the age range that corresponds to the middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate education levels. Also included as participants are the educators, facilitators, or group leaders who work with them.
  • Organizations may submit more than one letter of interest if the proposed programs are distinct and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, etc.
  • Organizations may collaborate to develop a proposed program. The letter of interest or full application should be submitted by one organization and may list partners as sub-awardees or contractors.
  • In administering awards and the award competition, the Stevens Initiative follows, and expects applicants and award 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 award recipient to ensure compliance with these Executive Orders and laws. This provision must be included in any sub‐awards issued under this award.
  • Read Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the award competition.
  • The Stevens Initiative conducted a webinar to address applicants’ questions on November 1. Click here to view a recording of the webinar.
  • Prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to email us at or call +1 (202) 736-2282 to address any questions they have prior to submitting an application.
Selection Criteria
Letters of interest will be reviewed by a panel of independent experts from relevant fields. Panelists will assess letters according to the following criteria:
  1. Institutional capacity
  2. Program feasibility
  3. Cost-effectiveness
  4. Emphasis on reaching those whose access to exchange programs has been limited, including girls, underrepresented populations, the disabled, and other groups
  5. Statement of need
  6. Appeal to proposed participants
  7. Contribution to participants’ global competencies
  8. Alignment with a Stevens Initiative priority
Capacity Building
The Stevens Initiative seeks to grow the field of virtual exchange in part by building the capacity of new and emerging practitioners. Beyond funding, the Initiative provides resources to its awardees, including training, partnership ideas, outreach and promotion, access to evaluation instruments and best practices, and access to technology platforms.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Initiative is monitoring and evaluating its award recipients and conducting research to identify promising practices in virtual exchange programs that lead to the achievement of the Initiative’s goals, including building participants’ global competence and increasing empathy, identification with, and humanization of people from other backgrounds. Awardees will be expected to conduct monitoring and evaluation of their own programs and to share the results of those evaluations with the Stevens Initiative. While awardees will be free to design their own M&E plan to track indicators that are specifically relevant to their particular programs, the Initiative expects that all awardees will track a set of common indicators relevant to specific outcomes, including those related to global competence. To track common indicators, awardees may be asked to implement standardized survey items or assessment so that results on certain measures can be aggregated across programs. The Initiative also expects that all awardees will track certain basic outputs, for example the number of youth served, by country and by select demographic characteristics, if applicable (e.g., age, gender, refugee status, etc.). The Initiative provides tools to assist awardees in tracking and evaluating common outputs and indicators.
Allowable Expenditures
Organizations will include an approximate budget request in the letter of interest and will submit a complete budget if they are invited to submit an application in the second stage of the competition. The following list includes examples of allowable expenses; it is not comprehensive.
  • Salary and fringe benefits
  • Travel (including regional travel for staff of in-country partners to conduct trainings/manage activities in neighboring countries)
  • Stipends or other benefits for U.S. and overseas teachers directly involved in the program
  • Honoraria
  • Educational materials
  • Training modules (including expenses related to any in-person training)
  • Curriculum Development/Integration
  • Online Professional Development
  • Software or supplies such as digital cameras, flip-cams, webcams, etc. to support online project work. Applicants should primarily seek out donations or acquisition of supplies through outside sources
  • Internet access fees*
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Communications support, including website development, promotional or outreach materials and activities
  • Other direct costs directly related to program activities
  • Indirect costs
  • Administrative expenses: The award funds may be used to pay reasonable costs for program administration, technical support, and other administrative needs. Cost sharing in these areas is strongly encouraged. * Internet access fees may only be included on a limited basis and should be justified within the proposal.
Competitive applications will explain how the program will include plans for monitoring and evaluation, communications, and facilitator/educator training or professional development.