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2018 Competition Guidelines

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The Stevens Initiative invites qualified non-profit organizations and educational institutions to submit proposals to scale proven models of virtual exchange and seed new models connecting young people between the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. Applicants should review the competition rules below and submit a Letter of Interest, the first step of the application process, no later than September 13. Organizations selected by an independent review committee will be invited to submit a full application this Fall. Virtual exchange program activities would be expected to begin during the Fall 2019 academic term and continue through the Spring 2021 academic term. See below for more information about the competition and programming timeline.
 
The Initiative views virtual exchange as programs that: use online technology to connect individuals and small groups between countries; are based on a curriculum; involve qualified facilitators (such as educators or others); and involve sustained communication and collaboration synchronously (in real-time) or asynchronously over a period of time. Virtual exchange can help young people gain the collaboration, language, and problem-solving skills, as well as the familiarity with and empathy for different perspectives, that they need to thrive in a globalized world.
 
The Stevens Initiative was created by the J. Christopher Stevens Fund and is an international effort to expand access to virtual exchange to build global competence and mutual understanding between 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 managed by the Aspen Institute through a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State (www.exchanges.state.gov) with additional funding from the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Private sector partners include Vidyo and Twitter. The Initiative has made two previous rounds of awards to 22 organizations that are reaching approximately 28,000 young people in 43 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and the Palestinian Territories. Learn more about the goals of the Stevens Initiative, its activities, and the programs it has supported at stevensinitiative.org.
 
The Initiative encourages proposals by consortia that include organizations with relevant and complementary experience, capacities, and networks. In such a consortium, the partner conducting the largest portion of the proposed work should serve as the lead applicant (which may be a non-governmental organization, college, university, school district, or local or state education agency). Organizations that are not offered awards may have the opportunity to indicate their interest in joining an awardee program once those programs are announced in 2019. Organizations that receive an award 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. All organizations interested in or conducting virtual exchange are welcome and encouraged to participate in the Initiative’s learning community (such as by attending or presenting webinars or presentations or sharing media and evaluation data) and broader field-building efforts.
 
 
Competition Features
 
When submitting a Letter of Interest (or if invited later, a full application):
  • Applicants should apply for either a Seeding or Scaling award, which have different parameters and selection criteria. Scaling award applicants are required to submit a response to the Initiative’s Survey of the Field (see form link below) alongside the Letter of Interest; this survey is optional for Seeding award applicants and open to non-applicants, as well.
  • Applicants are strongly encouraged to focus on one of the topics listed in the Priority Topics section below.
  • Applicants are expected to demonstrate how their proposed program would reach young people whose access to international exchange has been limited; see the Reaching Diverse Participants section below.
  • Applicants are encouraged to consider some of the Initiative’s particular interests listed in the Invitational Priorities section below.
  • Applicants may propose to conduct an impact evaluation of the program as a whole or of a specific program attribute. The evaluation component of these awards will be more intensive than the evaluation requirements of typical awardees. Applicants proposing to conduct an impact evaluation of the program as a whole or a specific program attribute are required to complete an Impact Evaluation Supplement included in the Letter of Interest (and subsequently full application) form.
 
Seeding and Scaling Awards
 
Seeding Awards support promising new virtual programs at the proof-of-concept stage to test, refine, and evaluate their models. These proposals must demonstrate the potential to find an institutional home, replicate, or scale in the future. This growth may include expansion across an educational institution, network of institutions (such as a district), or more broadly.
Approximate Number of Awards: 4 to 6
Award Duration: The period of performance of the awards will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2021. The first several months of the period of performance are intended to be used to prepare for the virtual exchange activities, which should begin during the Fall 2019 academic term and continue through the Spring 2021 academic term.
Anticipated Award 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 2017 operating budget.
Number of Participants Range: 100 to 750 participants. The applicant must propose to directly reach a number of youth participants within this range to be eligible for selection.
Cost per Participant Range: $400 to $1,000 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 are proposed to directly and substantially participate in the program. 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.
 
Note that each proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for the award size range, number of participants range, and cost per participant range in order to be eligible.
 
Scaling Awards support innovators and institutions that are ready to expand an existing, successful virtual exchange program. These proposals must demonstrate an intention and pathway to scaling up considerably while reducing cost per participant. This growth may include expansion across an educational institution, network of institutions (such as a district), or more broadly.
Approximate Number of Awards: 4 to 6
Award Duration: The period of performance of the awards will be 27 months, beginning April 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2021. The first several months of the period of performance are intended to be used to prepare for the virtual exchange activities, which should begin during the Fall 2019 academic term and continue through the Spring 2021 academic term.
Anticipated Award Size Range: $350,000 to $1,000,000. 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 2017 operating budget.
Number of Participants Range: 1,000 to 8,000 participants. The applicant must propose to directly include a number of youth participants within this range to be eligible for selection.
Cost per Participant Range: $100 to $350 per participant. The applicant must propose 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 are proposed to directly and substantially participate in the program. 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.
 
Note that each proposal must simultaneously meet the requirements for the award size range, number of participants range, and cost per participant range in order to be eligible.
 
 
Priority Topics
 
Proposed projects are strongly encouraged to focus on the following topics:
  1. Technology and computing
    1. 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. Vocational and job skills training in technology and computing are encouraged.
  2. World affairs and global studies
    1. Courses in a range of disciplines or departments – particularly across social studies and the social sciences – focus on places and topics beyond the borders of the country where the course is being conducted. Global education is increasingly recognized as critical for young people, who need to understand global issues and trends as they prepare for jobs that involve international communication and cooperation and as they prepare to be informed, active citizens in their globally connected communities. 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.
  3. Business and entrepreneurship
    1. Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to practice the cross-cultural communication and digital skills, such as through international projects or case studies, they need as they enter the private sector.
    2. The Initiative is particularly interested in supporting programs focused on business and entrepreneurship at the higher education and young professional level.
  4. Language learning and practice
    1. 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 Middle East and North Africa the opportunity to practice English, to give young people in the United States the opportunity to practice a language spoken in the Middle East or North Africa, or to give both groups of young people the opportunity to practices the language spoken by their peers abroad. Note that while the primary purpose of these programs may be language learning and practice, the subject or topic of the communication between participants should be any topic of relevance and interest to all participants.
 
Reaching Diverse Participants
 
The Stevens Initiative puts emphasis on reaching young people whose access to exchange programs 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. Letters of Interest and applications will be assessed on the degree to which they present practical and specific plans to prioritize the inclusion and address the needs and interests of young people in these groups.
  • Women and girls
    • While all programs supported by the Initiative must ensure that women and girls are included and encouraged to participate, the Initiative is particularly interested in programs designed specifically to empower women and girls in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa and programs that seek to include women and girls in fields where their opportunities have been limited.
  • Underserved youth whose access to international exchange has been limited
    • In the United States, this includes reaching rural and urban public institutions, including Title I eligible schools and higher education institutions with a high proportion of Pell grant eligible students, as well as community colleges.
    • In the Middle East and North Africa, this includes reaching public education institutions and community organizations whose primary language of instruction is not English as well as vocational and job skills training programs.
  • Refugees
    • The Initiative is interested in programs that include young people who are refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, recognizing the potential of virtual exchange to help refugees sustain their education, gain skills, and engage with their host countries and with peers around the world. These refugees should be located in the Middle East or North Africa or in another country outside the United States. Refugees located in the United States are welcome to participate in Stevens Initiative programs, but this in itself would not constitute an eligible virtual exchange program unless there are also participants from the Middle East and North Africa who are located outside the United States. Programs proposing to include refugees should indicate how they will address the challenges many refugees face, such as disruption to their studies, lack of access to adequate facilities, inability to access their credentials, unfamiliarity with the language in the country where they reside, and other issues.
  • People with disabilities
    • Virtual exchange can give young people the opportunity to engage with peers around the world regardless of their ability to travel.
  • Minority groups
    • In the United States, these programs would emphasize the inclusion of young people from diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, such as through minority-serving institutions or other institutions that reach diverse young people. In the Middle East or North Africa, these programs would emphasize the inclusion of young people from under-served minority groups in the proposed participating country or countries.
 
Invitational Priorities
 
The Initiative is particularly interested in projects that involve the following:
  1. Participants and institutions located in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and in the Palestinian Territories.
  2. Programs that would involve intra-regional interaction, such as between Israeli participants and those in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. These programs must still include participants in the United States.
  3. Community engagement and community service. Virtual exchange programs can include activities that bring participants outside the classroom and into their communities to better understand and make a difference in addressing local and global issues.
  
Selection Criteria
 
Letter of Interest criteria
  1. Feasibility of the proposed virtual exchange program/activities
  2. Capacity: Applicant and partner/consortium capacity to conduct the program
    1. Can the applicant and its partners reasonably conduct the proposed program? Does the applicant have sufficient prior experience and a foundation on which to conduct this program? Are the partnerships established?
  3. Priority topic: The applicant presents a compelling program that addresses one of the Initiative’s priority topics.
  4. Global competencies: The proposed program would contribute to participants’ global competencies, as defined by U.S. Department of Education global competencies framework.
  5. Practical skills: The proposed program would contribute to other skills that the participants need for a 21st century career, such as digital literacy, technical and vocational skills, and skills for a specific job sector.
  6. Reaching diverse participants: The proposed program has a practical plan to prioritize reaching young people whose access to international exchange has been limited.
  7. Need: The statement of need should encompass participants, their communities, and the participating institutions (i.e. changes to the institutions as a result of their conducting the program) in both the United States and the Middle East and North Africa.
  8. Appeal to proposed participants: Proposed programs should be interesting to the participants both in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa, by providing them with skills or knowledge that they will value, and also by recognizing and incentivizing their participation and completion of the program, such as through offering academic credit, badging, a certificate (particularly a certificate that is recognized by the professional field they are training to enter), or providing unique opportunities to alumni for further international exchange (including virtual exchange and in-person exchange) or career advancement.
  9. Growth/Sustainability: Proposed programs should demonstrate a commitment to and vision for growth and sustainability after the award period.

Impact Evaluation Supplement
 
The Initiative is seeking to work with a small number of awardees that have the willingness and capacity to implement a statistically rigorous impact evaluation, using either a randomized controlled trial or a quasi-experimental design as described below, for both U.S.- and Middle East and North Africa-based participants. The goal is to measure the impact of the virtual exchange program, or a specific program feature, on participant outcomes, including global competencies, substantive learning, and behavior change. The evaluation should be conducted with a new cohort of youth who have not participated in the program in the past. The evaluation could take one of the following forms:
  1. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) to measure the impact of virtual exchange participation. In an RCT, applicants to the program would need to be randomly assigned to either participate in the virtual exchange (treatment group) or to not participate (control group). Both the treatment group and control group would complete pre-program and post-program surveys, and their data would be compared at the end of the program to isolate the effects of the virtual exchange. The most common and least disruptive approach to conducting an RCT for programs such as the virtual exchange programs that we support is a natural experiment in which there is more demand than it is possible for an awardee to accommodate. Rather than admitting applicants or implementing the program in institutions/classrooms on a first-come-first-serve basis, there is an application window in which all applicants have an equal chance of admission, and those who are not admitted (by random selection) agree to take a post-exchange survey. The organization conducting an RCT should have a realistic target of at least 30 participants per academic term in the United States and 30 participants per academic term in the Middle East and North Africa as well as 30 additional eligible young people per academic term in both the United States and the Middle East and North Africa who would serve in the control group. Those control group members can then be considered with priority for admission in a future round of the activity during this award period.
  2. A quasi-experimental design (QED) to measure the impact of virtual exchange participation. In a QED, participants in the program would be matched with similar non-participants willing to serve in a comparison group (no randomization used in this case). Both the treatment group and comparison group would complete pre-program and post-program surveys, and their data would be compared at the end of the program to isolate the effects of the virtual exchange. The organization conducting a QED should have a realistic target of at least 30 participants per academic term in the United States and 30 participants per academic term in the Middle East and North Africa as well as 30 additional, comparable young people per academic term in both the United States and the Middle East and North Africa who would serve in the comparison group.
  3. A variation of an RCT, in which specific program features are offered to subsets of participants. Opportunities are randomly assigned to individuals or groups of participants, and the outcomes of the subsets are compared at the end of the program. Examples of features that can be varied include: the amount of virtual exchange contact hours or the amount of synchronous communication (real-time, such as by videoconference) incorporated into the program.  Non-experimental variations of this design may be considered as well.
 
All organizations seeking to conduct the Impact Evaluation Supplement should have experience conducting virtual exchange and should have at least preliminary evidence of program effectiveness. Applicants submitting this supplement must answer additional questions during the Letter of Interest phase and, if invited, during the full application phase. These applicants must also submit a supplemental budget for no less than $50,000 and no more than $125,000 during the full application phase. These supplemental funds would be in addition to the main proposed budget and would not count toward the minimum or maximum request amount and would not be factored into the cost per participant calculation. Applicants submitting this supplement will be considered with or without this supplement and may be offered an award with or without the Impact Evaluation Supplement. Scaling and Seeding applicants are both permitted to apply for this supplement.
 
 
Eligibility Rules
  • Deadline: The deadline for submitting the Letter of Interest and Survey of the Field (which is required to be submitted by Scaling award applicants and optional for Seeding award applicants) is September 13 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Letters of Interest will not be accepted after the deadline.
  • Letters of Interest may only be submitted online through aspen.fluidreview.com.
  • Download the list of the questions and prompts for the Letter of Interest form (Scaling form and Seeding form) and the Survey of the Field form, which is required of Scaling applicants and optional for Seeding applicants. Note that these PDFs are for your reference only; all forms must be completed and submitted through the online form at aspen.fluidreview.com.
  • Eligible Applicants: Applying organizations must be based in the United States or in 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.
  • Applicants based in the Middle East or North Africa must be non-profit 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, able to file reports and conduct evaluations in English as well as in Arabic or French as appropriate.
  • An organization can request no more than 80% of the amount of their Fiscal Year 2017 operating budget.
  • Organizations may submit more than one letter of interest or proposal if the proposed programs are distinct and do not involve any overlap in staff, curriculum, participants, 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. 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, and young professionals under the age of 35. Educators, facilitators, or group leaders who work with the youth participants are counted as participants for the purposes of travel but are not counted as part of the youth participants number.
  • Past recipients of Stevens Initiative awards are eligible to submit applications. These applications may be for new programs or for ongoing work on the program that has been conducted in the past or is currently being conducted.
  • In-person exchange for young people, educators, facilitators, or program organizers is allowable to include to complement the virtual exchange activities. Travel to the United States for youth or adult participants from the Middle East and North Africa must occur through the J-1 visa program. Strong preference for travel will be given to candidates that have never traveled to the United States before (for participants from the Middle East and North Africa) or have never traveled to the host country in the Middle East or North Africa (for U.S. participants). Youth or adults who are alumni of other U.S. Government-sponsored exchange programs are not eligible. No participant under the age of 15 is eligible to travel. Additional guidelines may apply and will be discussed in detail with awardees during awardee orientation.
  • Awardees will be expected to notify all participants that they are in a Stevens Initiative program and explain what the Stevens Initiative is and who supports the Stevens Initiative. Awardees will be expected to collect information about participants to share with the Stevens Initiative, and in turn with the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as part of the Initiative’s alumni engagement.
  • Applicants will be asked to share more information about several aspects of the program plan – such as monitoring and evaluation, alumni engagement, communications, sharing lessons learned with the virtual exchange community, and other areas – at the full application stage, if they are invited to that stage after the review of the Letter of Interest.
  • As mentioned above, organizations are encouraged to 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. The lead applicant should be the organization that will conduct the largest portion of the proposed work.
  • 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.
 
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 the webinars hosted by the Initiative as well as many other videos and documents that may be useful in developing a program plan. Applicants may be particularly interested to read feedback compiled by the Initiative in response to the Letters of Interest submitted during the last award competition.
  • Read Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the award competition.
  • The Initiative is hosting a webinar on the finance and compliance aspect of the competition on August 21 at 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time (click here to register). A recording of the webinar will be posted online for those who are not able to attend.
  • Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the Stevens Initiative at stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org to address any questions prior to submitting an application.