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Application FAQs

These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) have been updated as of August 28.


Q: Can the Letter of Interest submission deadline be extended?
A: No. The Letter of Interest submission deadline is September 13 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time and cannot be extended.

Q: Can documents be submitted in languages other than English?
A: No. All documents and application answers must be completed in English.

Q: What if my organization wants to request a budget/number of participants/cost per participant that falls in neither the “seeding” or “scaling” categories?
A: The Stevens Initiative is only accepting Letters of Interest that fall within the budget range, the number of participant range, and the cost per participant range for either the Scaling or the Seeding awards. If you have any questions about these rules, please contact the Stevens Initiative at

Q: What is the anticipated timeline for notifying applicants of the outcome of the Letter of Interest phase?
A: The Stevens Initiative will notify applicants in October (date to be determined) of the outcome of the Letter of Interest phase.

Q: Can an organization submit more than one application?
A: Yes, if the programs are distinct, with different staff, content, budgets, participants, etc., an organization can submit more than one application.

Q: Can an applicant participate in more than one proposal, e.g. be an applicant on one proposal and be a partner on another proposal?
A: Yes, if the proposed programs are distinct.

Q: Is the Stevens Initiative award competition open to applications from organizations that do not currently run virtual exchange?
A: Yes. Organizations that have not run virtual exchange programs may apply for a Seeding award.

Q: Can a student group apply for an award?
A: Student groups that are part of a college or university should approach the office on campus that handles external funding and/or student activities. The application must be from the college or university or from an eligible non-profit organization. 

Q: Can I see feedback for past applicants?
A: The Initiative shared an overview of common feedback to unsucessful Letters of Interest from the 2016/2017 competition on the Initiative website. The guidelines and priorities of this competition differ from those for past competitions. We hope this information is helpful as you refine your virtual exchange programs and plans, and we encourage you to carefully review the guidelines and priorities for this competition rather than relying on the feedback to past Letters of Interest.

Q: Can an organization submit both a seeding and a scaling proposal?
A: Yes, an organization may submit more than one Letter of Interest and they may be seeding and a scaling proposal (or both seeding or both scaling). Any set of proposals must be completely distinct from each other, and if the organization receives both awards, the organization must actually be able to conduct both sets of work.

Q: How can applicants view the competition webinar?
A: The recording of the August 21 webinar is posted on YouTube at

Q: Approximately how long will those asked to submit a full proposal have to prepare the full proposal?
A: The full proposal is the second stage of the application process, which we expect it to open sometime this fall, likely in October. We expect those invited to submit a full proposal to have somewhere around five to six weeks, although that's still being finalized.

Q: Are past funded projects are listed somewhere online?
A: Yes, see

Q: Can letters of support be submitted during the Letter of Interest phase?
A: Letters of support are not expected at the Letter of Interest phase but may be attached to proposals at the full application stage.

Q: My small organization has been conducting virtual exchange for a year or more, but it is a small program with a low budget. Are we expected to apply for a Scaling award due to our track record?
A: Seeding awards may be more suitable for small organizations, even if those organizations have some experience conducting virtual exchange. Seeding awards are intended to help prepare virtual exchange programs to grow and improve.
Q: Is there an age limit for the educators or facilitators involved in the program?
A: No, there is no age limit for the educators or facilitators involved in the program. The age limit applies to the youth participants in the program, the people whom the educators or facilitators are supporting.
Q: How do you ensure that the review committee is not biased?
A: Review committee members are required to agree to a conflict of interest statement and may not be involved if they are working with any organization that is applying for an award. Committee members pledge to score applications fairly and use a scoring rubric in order to apply consistent standards to all applications.


Q: The application mentions sustained communication. How long should programs run?
A: There is no strict minimum or maximum program duration or number of contact hours. The Stevens Initiative wants to see young people engaging in a way in which they get to know each other, work together, and build relationships and a sense of trust over time.

Q: To what extent should everything be in place before we apply for funding?
A: Organizations should formulate plans to the greatest extent possible before applying. The more information that can be provided in the application, the better.

Q: Can an organization’s programming include students from countries outside of the MENA region in addition to students from the United States and MENA region?
A: Young people from outside the United States or the MENA region cannot be supported through a Stevens Initiative award.

Q: Is it allowable to have implementing staff in multiple countries?
A: Yes.

Q: Is the Initiative prioritizing programs that have more significant spread across different countries in the Middle East or regions of the United States?
A: Awards support both bilateral (the United States and one other country) and multilateral programs (the United States and more than one other country) and do not prioritize one arrangement over the other. Proposals should be feasible; working in a wide array of places or harder to reach places may be challenging.

Q: Is program participation restricted to students currently enrolled in academic programs? What about recent graduates?
A: Programs do not need to be restricted to people enrolled in education. The program does not need to be administered through an education institution.

Q: Can proposals include an in-person exchange component?
A: Yes, in-person exchange components can be included in proposals to the extent that they complement the participants’ virtual exchange experience.

Q: Is an IRB (institutional review board) required for an evaluation to meet the project requirements?
A: No, it is not required, though some of our awardees have gone through the IRB process. We encourage awardees to meet the standards of their field and their institution. Awardees work closely with our evaluation experts to make sure they meet common standards of evaluation, as well.

Q: I am proposing to include refugees located in the United States. Does this meet the Stevens Initiative’s priority to include refugees?
A: 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. The intention is to connect young people in the United States with young people in the Middle East and North Africa, or refugees from the Middle East or North Africa who are located outside the United States.

Q: Can virtual exchange activities begin in summer 2019 (rather than fall 2019, as stated in the competition guidelines)?
A: From past experience, we feel it is important that programs have adequate time to prepare for virtual exchange activities, including starting their partnerships with their international partners, setting up their monitoring and evaluation system, training their educators, designing their curriculum, testing their technology, and so on. While we are open to considering any unique cases, we strongly urge applicants to plan to begin their virtual exchange activities in fall of 2019.

Q: Can the Stevens Initiative can help finding international partners?
A: The Stevens Initiative is not able to help find international partners during the open competition phase. Once awardees have been announced, the Initiative will try to include organizations, schools, and universities – including those that submitted unsuccessful applications – in awardee programs where feasible.

Q: Is it okay for a U.S. organization or university to partner with more than one educational institution in the Middle East or North Africa?
A: Yes, it is permissible to partner with more than one institution, though the technical and logistical complexity of working with several partners can make larger programs challenging.

Q: Is it possible to include partnerships in another region (assuming the program also includes U.S. and MENA region participants)?
A: Stevens Initiative funding may only be used to support activities in the Middle East and North Africa and in the United States. Any other countries that might be involved in an organization's program cannot be covered through any Stevens Initiative funding.

Q: Is it expected that a project is conducted with a partner organization? And what are the expectations about engaging partners?
A: Given the international nature of this work, nearly all past proposals have involved a certain degree of international partnership. Strong virtual exchange programs are often rooted in longstanding prior collaboration between the partnering institutions. While an organization that has very deep roots and high capacity both in the United States as well as in the Middle East and North Africa might be able to put together a feasible proposal that shows adequate capacity in all countries, or a proposal could seek to use staff and effort solely in one country and then remotely connect with participants in another country, these would be outlier cases and we would encourage the organization to make sure that they have adequate capacity, whether their own or through a partnership, in all of the places where they propose to reach young people.

Q; Are youth participants themselves eligible to travel through a Stevens Initiative award, or is it virtual-only programming for young people?
A: Travel, or in-person exchange, is allowable for students (and educators) in Stevens Initiative program. Travelers must be at least 15 years old at the time of the trip, and there are significantly more strict requirements for in-person travel for minors.

Q: Can participants in Stevens Initiative programs receive academic credit?
A: Yes, participants can receive academic credit if it is offered by the institution through which they are participating.

Q: Can someone on an international exchange in one of the eligible countries participate in a Stevens Initiative virtual exchange?
A: The Stevens Initiative welcomes linkages with other U.S. Department of State and other international exchange programs to make the best possible use of the insights and opportunities that those programs afford to young Americans as well as young people from other countries. Young people from the United States who are on an exchange program in the Middle East and North Africa may be involved in the program; young people from the Middle East and North Africa may be involved in the program if they there in the United States. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of the program is to connect young people who haven't already had an international exchange experience. So these in-person exchange participants should not be the primary beneficiary of the virtual exchange; rather, they might be helping facilitate a program that benefits the participants who haven't had the opportunity to travel themselves.

Q: Would pre-service teachers be considered youth participants?
A: Pre-service teachers could be considered youth participants in virtual exchange if they meet the parameters in the competition guidelines (i.e. are undergraduates, graduate students, or young professionals under 35).

Q: Can younger students, such as 10- or 11-year-olds, be included in a proposal?
A: The Stevens Initiative is open to seeing proposals to conduct virtual exchange reaching young people in the 10- to 11-year-old age range, assuming the other conditions of the competition are met.

Q: Does the Stevens Initiative’s definition of refugee include asylum seekers and those with humanitarian protected status?
A: Applicants are encouraged to discuss this with the Stevens Initiative on a case by case basis.

Q: For the impact evaluation supplement, does this need to be co-designed with the Stevens Initiative external evaluator, or by the implementer?
A: Any applicant submitting the supplement will get feedback and further prompts from the Stevens Initiative and its independent evaluator and that will be an opportunity to essentially work towards a practical plan. The applying organization should be putting forward its best ideas; if an award application and supplement are moving towards being accepted, the Stevens Initiative and its partners would provide ample input and the Initiative's independent evaluators would be substantially involved in overseeing and conducting the impact evaluation in which we would expect the awardees to take a substantial role.

Q: What kind of supervision is expected in programs supported by the Stevens Initiative? Does every part or session of virtual exchange need to be supervised?
A: The Stevens Initiative expects adults to observe virtual exchange activities to ensure that communication is appropriate and that participants have a safe and constructive environment for discussion and collaboration. While not every synchronous or asynchronous activity needs to be directly observed in all cases, applicants should demonstrate that they plan for educators or other trained facilitators to participate in and observe an adequate number of the activities to be highly confident that communication is appropriate. The extent and style of supervision and facilitation is likely dependent on the age of participants and other factors unique to the program design and the participants involved.


Q: Are awardees expected to propose cost share?
A: Cost share is permitted but not required.

Q: Can the requested budget amount change between the Letter of Interest round and the full application round, if the organization is invited to submit the full application?
A: Yes, though any change should be explained and justified in the full application. The budget template submitted as part of the full application asks for a detailed justification for all expenses.

Q: The application indicates that applicants cannot request more than 80% of the 2017 annual operating budget of the applying organization. If the applying organization has partners in the project with larger budgets, can the budget request be up to 80% of the partners’ budgets?
A: No. The budget request may be no more than 80% of the 2017 annual operating budget of the applying organization.

Q: For applicants outside of the United States, can the Stevens Initiative disburse funds to U.S. partners in order to avoid wire transfer fees?
A: No. Funds to organizations based outside of the United States will be disbursed only to the primary applicant.

Q: Can funds can be shared with international partner institutions?
A: Yes.

Q: To whom do awardees report over the course of the award?
A: Awardees report to the Stevens Initiative team at the Aspen Institute, which relays information to other partners (such as the U.S. Department of State) as appropriate.

Q: Do in-kind contributions or cost share count toward the calculation of cost per participant?
A: No, the cost per participant for the purpose of the application process is the amount of funding requested divided by the number of youth participants. More information about cost share will be shared at the full application stage of the award competition.

Q: Do all applicants need to conduct work for the full 27 months of the period of performance window?
A: Applicants are expected to work throughout the 27-month period. Applicants with extenuating circumstances or questions should contact the Stevens Initiative.

Q: Is it possible to include stipends for youth or educator (teacher) participants in workshops?
A: While stipends are permitted for educators or other facilitators, youth participants are not eligible to receive stipends.


Q: The guidelines say that the Stevens Initiative will collect information about youth participants in the programs it supports. How will that information be used?
A: The Stevens Initiative will collect contact information for each participant in the programs supported through these awards. The information will be used to invite alumni to opt in to the Department of State's alumni community and deidentified information will be used to assess the reach of the Stevens Initiative. Information will be kept securely.

Q: Does the initiative offer the possibility of grant renewal for successful grantees?
A: Awardees are eligible to request new funds through future competitions. The Initiative encourages awardees to plan for other funding sources and strategies to sustain and grow the program beyond the period of Stevens Initiative support.

Q: When will applicants be notified that they are receiving a Stevens Initiative award?
A: Organizations will first be offered the opportunity to discuss and negotiate before reaching an agreement on an award with the Stevens Initiative. That process should commence late in 2018, recognizing that the process can take several weeks or in some cases months given all of the vetting and due diligence that may be involved. Organizations should know well in advance of the April 1st period of performance start date that they are on track and being considered for an award.