Inside the International Visitors Leadership ProgramThe International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) was launched in 1940. Since then, it has helped the U.S. maintain and improve its relationship with other countries. Foreign leaders visit U.S. public and private sector organizations correlating to the project’s theme while partaking in cultural and social activities.

How it Works

Each year about 5,000 foreign leaders come to the United States. In addition, 200,000 international visitors come to interact with Americans through the International Visitor Leadership Program. They have the opportunity to meet more than 500 former or current chiefs of state or heads of government.

The brief visit usually lasts more than three weeks, taking place in four U.S. communities. But the themes the Embassy requests and other factors determine how long a program lasts. So, how does someone get to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program? You can not simply apply for the position. A visitor must be nominated then selected by the U.S. Embassies global staff. To better understand how much of an impact the International Leadership Program has on foreign leaders, Here is the story of one woman who was allowed to travel for further development of her cause.

Inside the International Visitors Leadership Program

Angela Benedicto is a known civil society activist back in her country Mwanza, Tanzania. The International Leadership Program approved Benedicto to travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan, back in 2013. Although excited to get an American perspective of youth development, she had no idea what to expect on this journey. However, Benedicto knew that she wanted to build a community of people passionate about youth development. A passion that stems from her personal experience of being a child domestic worker. This sparked Benedicto’s nonprofit organization, Wotesawa Domestic Worker, to improve the rights of domestic workers. The International Visitors Leadership Program not only impacted Angela Benedicto’s life but nearly 5,000 international leaders each year.

Building Relationships

With the help of the International Visitor Leadership Program, Angela Benedicto was able to contact other nonprofit organizations generating professional U.S. connections. She gives her opinion of what makes the International Visitor Leadership Program project great saying, “It was the people!”

Benedicto highlighted her relationship with Global Ties Kalamazoo, a citizen diplomacy network located in Michigan. The network seeks to establish trust with world leaders and their communities at home. The nonprofit organization allows participants to visit the homes of local families as part of its programs.

For example, Benedicto ate dinner with the Potratz family who she met through Global Ties Kalamazoo connections. Quickly, they built a long-lasting relationship after talks about youth development. Later, this singular visit led to the Potratz family and Benedicto collaborating on a “Test of The World” auction, a project to raise funds for Tanzanian girls to receive scholarships. Items sold in this auction included handmade products and donated goods provided by local businesses.

COVID-19 and The International Leadership Program

COVID-19 did not stop the International Visitors Leadership Program members from continuing their work. Although the pandemic limited physical activity and travel, members like Angela Benedicto use zoom to connect with Kalamazoo and Tanzania organizations. The International Visitor Leadership Program allowed Benedicto to produce a team of leaders on a global scale to help youth development even during a pandemic.

The International Visitor Leadership Program creates a bridge for foreign leaders and American citizens to cross. It allows them to meet, discuss and develop new perspectives and solutions for a common interest on particular issues. Thus, making it easier for the international community to grow globally and keeping the U.S. involved with counterpart countries.

– Alexis Jones
Photo: Flickr

Global Music Project
It is scientifically proven that music poses many benefits, including improving memory, reducing stress and anxiety and improving heart health. Peter Fosso, a singer, songwriter and founder of Global Music Project, hopes to extend these benefits to the poor.

What is the Global Music Project?

Global Music Project is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 that works to provide musical instruments to adults and children in poverty all across the globe. The Musical Instrument Donation Program of the Global Music Project gives instruments that volunteers and participants donated to impoverished individuals in orphanages, schools and cities. Global Music Project also organizes music concerts and events to raise awareness and support for local artists in communities around the world. Additionally, the organization helps individuals learn about people and music from different cultures through its music discovery site.

How Does Music Help the Poor?

Studies have shown that learning a musical instrument can minimize stress levels, help develop concentration skills and improve confidence. For people living in poverty, music can pose other benefits as well. Music is an outlet to express creativity and unique cultures. It can also create a sustainable income for growing musicians. A sustainable income allows them to feed their families and make a living.

To help support these musicians, go on Global Music Project’s website. There are links to listen to music from growing artists all over the world.

How is This Organization Changing Lives?

Global Music Project donates instruments to a variety of people globally, including both adults and children. To date, the organization has reached many regions around the world: 53% of instruments donated to Brazil, 23% donated to the United States, 8% donated to countries in Africa and 16% donated to other countries. The organization also sponsors and funds events to help local musicians, small communities and charities around the world.

Stories of People Who the Program has Changed

The Global Music Program’s worldwide reach has changed lives in many different ways. One of the people who received help from the program is a young man from Ghana, Africa named Justice Asante. Justice loved to play the trombone, but he could not afford an instrument of his own. The program stepped up and donated one to him. He now takes part in a jazz band and plays music for his friends and family.

The program also assisted a community of musicians in Bahia, Brazil. A woman named Maestrina Elem Silva started a band called Children of Rocinha when she was just 8 years old. She made the instruments out of old cans, jars or whatever scrap material she could find. She later continued to develop the band in her 20s with the goal of helping children and teens escape the rough cycle of poverty, violence and drug activity. Global Music Project helped fund a film about Elem’s work called “Maestrina de Favela” and donated 30 drums to Elem’s band.

Global Music Project is one of the many organizations that exist to close the gap between the wealthy and those in poverty. The difference is it strives to do so by connecting people around the world through music. The organization has provided many with the means to achieve their dreams as aspiring musicians and hopes to continue doing so.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Empowering Women in India Through SewingOver the last decade, empowering women in poor communities has become a focal point in India. That is because about 50.7 million people live in extreme poverty in India, yet, as of 2019, only 20.7% of women in India are part of the labor force. Moreover, the country has recently seen a drop in its GDP from 6.1% to 5% and is attempting to recover from its uncertain economy. As a result, one solution that many nonprofit organizations and the government have recognized is investing in the population that is living under the poverty line. Specifically, many groups are empowering women in India through sewing.

Today, being able to sew can be an acclaimed vocational skill. Over the past decade or so, embroidery has become an empowering tool for women in India, and a traditional craft. With this understanding, nonprofits have implemented many initiatives in India to empower women and help their families out of poverty.

Sewing the Seeds & Samugam Trust

Sewing the Seeds is a nonprofit organization that partnered with the NGO Samugam Trust to begin a women’s sewing initiative. The plan supports women in impoverished communities by creating economic stability using creativity and the traditional craft of stitching. Bruno Savio and Gayle created Sewing the Seeds to use sewing to empower women in India living in poverty.

Savio’s father opened the Samugam Trust in 1991 to support the educational training of the underprivileged, the rehabilitation of leprosy patients and those who are physically challenged. Bruno Savio has continued his father’s legacy as director of Samugam and partner of Sewing the Seeds. Gayle backpacked across India about 40 years ago. During her journey, she saw an opportunity to empower women in the country through vocational training.

Savio and Gayle recognized that more than 50% of women in India are illiterate, and only 29% of women in India are actively employed. Additionally, those who are employed are paid 46% less than men holding the same positions. Sewing the Seeds and Samugam Trust realize that investing in women is smart economics and essential to reducing poverty. With this in mind, the initiative provides the training, financial assistance, materials and communal space to empower women while preserving local craft traditions.

Samugam Trust has supported the initiative since 2011, with the first collection of products introduced online in 2018. Sewing the Seeds and Samugam Trust have supplied training and machines for 130 women. The importance of this initiative is to empower women in India in a way that is holistic and long term in its support.


Shakti.ism also supported empowering women in India through sewing by launching a sustainable livelihood project. The starting goal is to reach out to 10 tribal and disabled Indian women to provide vocational training. To successfully supply these resources Shakti.ism is partnering with Samugam Trust and Sewing the Seeds to empower impoverished women. Recently, they chose 10 women from diverse backgrounds including disabled mothers.

Shakti.ism continuously raises money to cover instruction fees, supplies, daily stipends for trainees and administrative costs such as quality control. Most products are crafted from repurposed saris (a traditional Indian woman’s dress) and are to be sold online. Shakti.ism is empowering women in India as a way to support families living in underprivileged rural areas of India, as well as decrease the wage disparity while increasing the trainees’ self-confidence and skills.

Usha Silai School

Included in the community-based initiative is Usha Silai (sewing) School. This initiative has reportedly set up over 15,000 sewing schools across India with the support of the Digital Empowerment Foundation NGO and Sikana. To further their reach and enhance their programs, Usha and Sikana co-created a video program to train illiterate women. The enhanced program has increased the initiative’s outreach while providing skills to gain a livelihood to women in rural India.

The Digital Empowerment Foundation supplies technological information for rural citizens to use to their advantage. For example, they supply internet-dependent tools that can provide access to training and create socioeconomic equality. Specifically, they provide internet and digital tools in rural community centers that partner with Usha Silai School.

Community-based initiatives that provide sewing empowerment for women in poverty have been essential for the growth of rural India. Sewing has become a highly desired vocational skill and is a powerful tool for those living in poverty. Recognizing the long term impact of vocational training, NGOs provide this solution-based approach across India to bring self-confidence and skills to women.

– Sumeet Waraich
Photo: Flickr

Jamaica's First Skatepark
Will Wilson, the co-founder of nonprofit organization Flipping Youth, is building Jamaica’s first skatepark. Wilson and his nonprofit are building Freedom SkatePark in an effort to make action sports an accessible recreational opportunity for Jamaican youth.

What Is Flipping Youth?

After an exposure to international poverty while volunteering abroad, passionate skateboarder Will Wilson came up with the idea for Flipping Youth — a nonprofit organization driven by the mission to “empower young people from challenging environments internationally through action sports, creative arts and entrepreneurship.” This unique idea has propelled Wilson to accomplish great acts of service in impoverished countries, specifically Jamaica. In addition to fostering strong skating communities, Flipping Youth seeks to promote youth entrepreneurship, teach business skills and improve employability.

Flipping Youth in Jamaica

After watching a viral skate video that showcased a talented, Jamaican skater and a budding skateboarding community in 2016 — Wilson decided to bring Flipping Youth to Kingston, Jamaica. The idea was to help grow the skateboarding community even more. Since then, Flipping Youth has developed both local and international relationships to better understand what sort of aid is most needed in Jamaica. Flipping Youth’s main goal at the time was to decide the best way to implement the Freedom SkatePark, in an effort to foster a strong community of Jamaican youth. Also, safety is an important feature of the program for Wilson. He wants to ensure that the skatepark will become neither a place for drugs nor other criminal activities.

Progress Through Partnerships

Though the planning and building process has been slow, the future looks promising for Jamaica’s first skatepark. Thanks to funding from popular skate brands such as Supreme New York and a partnership with a nonprofit called Concrete Jungle Foundation, the Freedom Skate Park is nearly complete. Notably so, Concrete Jungle Foundation helped to complete over half of the project, including the construction of the park, itself.

Kevin Bourke, a member of the Freedom Skatepark team, celebrated overcoming many obstacles throughout the project’s duration, stating “It shows that a project that was rooted in love [can’t] be stopped.”

Improving Communities Through Sports and Activities

Flipping Youth is not the only organization using recreational opportunities to empower youth, globally. In the past, UNESCO has used youth sports programs to encourage social cohesion in areas of conflict. Organizations like Flipping Youth understand the value of recreational opportunities for youth in struggling communities. Recreation is not just for fun; according to Dr. Seiko Sugita of UNESCO Beirut, “Sports [have] proven to be a cost-effective and powerful tool for promoting peace and human values such as respect for others, teamwork, discipline, diversity and empathy.”

Recreation and Youth Empowerment

Working from a similar approach, Will Wilson’s project to create Jamaica’s first skatepark is an example of international development rooted in recreational opportunities and youth empowerment. Flipping Youth and other organizations look to sports and activities as a means of creating strong, vibrant communities and thus — a better future for younger generations and society as a whole.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty Eradication in Egypt
Innovations in poverty eradication in Egypt have taken a sustainable and decentralized form in the last four years. Through local initiatives and collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Egypt has incorporated social welfare and development programs aimed at improving the standard of living in its poorest governorates and providing a permanent path out of poverty for future generations.

With Egypt’s poverty rate rising to 5% in 2019, how exactly does Egypt plan to have a “competitive, balanced, diversified, and knowledge based economy” that would eliminate poverty by 2030?

UNDP Sustainable Development Strategies

One significant innovation in poverty eradication in Egypt is the UNDP’s adoption of a social entrepreneurial and minority centralized model. Through partnerships with Egypt’s public sector, private companies and civil society, the UNDP not only helped prioritize economic development but also made women, children and disabled people a focal point.

  1. The GSER Program: The GSER program under the Misr El-Kheir Foundation, a nonprofit development institution in Egypt, organizes social innovation camps with UNDP’s support. Youth from all parts of Egypt co-scheme solutions to improve the livelihoods in Fayoum’s fishing community, one of Egypt’s poorest governorates. Accomplishments include a redesigned shrimp peeling table for fishermen’s wives, which advanced hygiene and shell quality in Fayoum.
  2. The IBM Academic Initiative: The IBM Academic Initiative invested $70 million with the objective of providing over 25 million Africans free digital skills training and launching one of its regional offices in Egypt. UNDP’s contributions will help Egypt cultivate a STEM-oriented workforce through access to IBM’s cutting edge tools and course material.
  3. The Game Changer Fellowship: The Game Changer Fellowship is a one-year program that provides incubation support to aspiring Egyptian game designers through a partnership between UNDP Egypt and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College in Boston, U.S.A. This has enabled Egypt’s youth to uniquely approach development challenges by stimulating behavior change. Given that 84% of Egypt’s unemployment rate comprises young men and women, such initiatives are imperative in enhancing human capital in order to prevent an underdeveloped workforce.
  4. The Mobile Ramp App: The Mobile Ramp App helps Egypt’s disabled community lead easier, more integrated lives. UNDP partnered with Fab Lab Egypt and the Misr El-Kheir Foundation to launch a media campaign that promotes and teaches sign language as well as maps out locations with available ramps.

J-PAL’s (Abdul Latif Jamil Poverty Action Lab) Innovative Research

Despite these innovations in poverty eradication in Egypt, reports determined that there were 32.5% of Egyptian citizens living below the poverty line in 2019. According to J-PAL, a global research center aiming to reduce poverty, this extreme poverty figure of 32.5% indicates that the policies and programs designed to alleviate Egypt’s poverty are not as effective as they could be.

In order to achieve successful innovations in poverty eradication in Egypt, J-PAL’s MIT branch is launching a research center at the American University in Cairo. Through research and professional training to inform evidence-based policies and engage governments and relevant NGOs, Egypt will establish a culture of empirical policy making so that it can adequately evaluate the efficacy of its plans. 

Institutionalizing Social Innovation and Sustainable Development

While international efforts facilitate innovations in poverty eradication in Egypt, government and grassroots organizations in Egypt have adopted technological and sustainable based solutions to economic problems through their own localized projects and findings.

  1. The Egyptian Government: The Egyptian government is investing EGP 47bn ($3 billion) to Upper Egypt governorates in its 2020-2021 fiscal year. This is a 50% increase from 2019, representing 25% of total government investments.
  2. The Takaful and Karama Program: The Takaful and Karama program provides income support to the poor through a conditional and unconditional cash transfer program that aims to increase food consumption and necessary healthcare. Nevin al Qabbaj, the Social Solidarity Minister, reported that by 2020 around 2.5 million Egyptian families have benefited from the program.
  3. SEKEM: SEKEM, an Egyptian sustainable development organization, is working with the Egyptian government to implement Egypt Vision 2030. The plan includes 12 “pillars” targeting economic development, social justice, innovative research, education, health and the environment. Additionally, along with local NGOs, SEKEM has revitalized Egypt’s desert land and developed its agricultural businesses using biodynamic methods.

Egypt’s ability to mitigate poverty across all demographics using sustainable, innovative and ethical practices is testimony to its economic and cultural prosperity. Egypt’s innovations in poverty eradication are unique in that they exemplify the duality of individual, entrepreneurial growth in the private sphere and collective, righteous leadership in the public sphere.

– Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

4 Socially Responsible Companies During COVID-19For most of 2020, the world has been quarantined and the majority of societies have been shut down. The safest access to the outside world many have is through the internet. For those looking to shop with a purpose, listed below are four socially responsible companies that have focused their efforts on COVID-19 and its impacts.

Allbirds Shoe Company

A socially responsible shoe company always committed to the environment, Allbirds had already committed to going carbon neutral in 2019. The company makes a pointed effort to use low carbon materials to lessen its carbon footprint. Allbirds’ shoes are created with a natural design that completely outshines the synthetic, cheaper options. Allbirds is a certified B Corp company. It uses 90% “post-consumer recycled cardboard” for its shoeboxes. It works with Soles4Souls to donate all lightly used products to those most in need around the world.

In the era of COVID-19, Allbirds has “donated $500,000 worth of shoes” to first responders and is continuing to do so as consumers purchase products. Consumers can also buy a pair of shoes as a donation to send to a first responder.

Cotopaxi Adventure Brand

An adventure brand, this certified B Corp company is socially responsible in every step of production. Products are made from recycled materials. Additionally, Cotopaxi dedicates 1% of its revenue towards the Cotopaxi grant program, which are awarded to non-profits focusing on addressing poverty. So far, it has awarded 42 grants spread across six countries. In 2019, the Cotopaxi Foundation donated more than $300,000 to partners focused on reducing poverty and provided Latin American and Ecuador with more than 5,000 malaria-preventing bed nets. Furthermore, it distributed 200 emergency kits to families along the American-Mexican border and provided digital literacy education to around 80 refugee families. 

During the pandemic, the company had to close all its stores, and consequently, saw online sales drop significantly. In order to revive sales within the company, Cotopaxi gave back to its local community. It began by partnering with an emergency and survival kit vendor, Uncharted Supply. Cotopaxi had surplus resources without high demand, and Uncharted Supply had a high demand without the resources to fill orders. The partnership was able to fulfill the needs of both companies. Cotopaxi also began producing apparel with the phrase “#OneUtah,” a rallying cry on social media in the state. The profits went towards Utah’s COVID-19 relief efforts. Cotopaxi’s response to COVID-19, while different from its main mission, helped the company to restore the brand and regain sales. As a result, it was able to continue its mission of alleviating the effects of global poverty.

Alex and Ani

Lifestyle and jewelry brand Alex and Ani works to leave a positive mark on the planet. The brand accomplishes this through its Charity By Design division. It partnered with UNICEF USA to donate 20% of its profits from the Charity by Design collection to children in need. This a collection of charms, bracelets and necklaces represents UNICEF’s work. The company’s philanthropic mission has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alex and Ani are donating 10% of the Frontline Collection profits to all frontline workers between June 12 and August 12, 2020.

Warby Parker

A popular eyewear company, Warby Parker is known for leading the way for socially responsible companies with its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. The mission focuses on providing eyewear to those around the world who “need glasses but have no access to them.” The company estimates that there are around 2.5 billion people in need of eyewear. Of that number, difficulties with their vision set back at least 624 million people in their education and work. Warby Parker partners with groups across the globe, distributing a pair of glasses in need for every pair purchased. Warby Parker has donated more than four million pairs of glasses to date. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced Warby Parker to adapt and change its program as its partners across the world are unable to safely deliver during the pandemic. In place of the “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, Warby Parker has donated personal protective equipment “to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, Johns Hopkins Hospital, NYU Langone Health and the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.” Shifting its efforts to help public health has helped Warby Parker to continue charitable efforts without compromising the safety of its global partners. 

Shopping at socially responsible companies is a simple way to give back. Doing so at such a challenging time in the world makes it especially important. Finding companies that are not only socially responsible in normal circumstances but that have adapted in the face of COVID-19 to help are the best places to shop right now. Shopping at these companies is one of the best ways to give back in a safe yet impactful way.

Olivia Fish
Photo: Flickr

Non-Profits and Natural Disaster ReliefNon-profit organizations place volunteers in remote, developing countries during natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Non-profits extend the reach of companies and governments in saving lives. Here are 10 facts about non-profits and natural disaster relief in 2019 and 2020.

10 Facts About Non-Profits and Natural Disaster Relief

  1. Experience Mission is a Christian, non-profit mission. It offers one week or up to nine-month immersion mission trips. Chris Clum founded this non-profit organization in 2003 in order to aid and form relationships with residents of third world countries. Abbie Thiebaut, an EM mission trip leader, went to Dorado, Puerto Rico shortly before the start of 2019 when Hurricane Maria struck the island. Hundreds of volunteers showed up as well in the course of seven months, she reports.
  2. Hunger Corp is a non-profit organization that focuses on the Amazon, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the island of Puerto Rico in 2018, and Hunger Corp has continued with relief efforts since then. Hunger Corp rebuilds homes for Puerto Rico’s citizens, shows farmers agricultural solutions and supports local social-aid projects like Experience Mission. Hunger Corp partners with Experience Mission as well, recruiting hundreds of volunteers.
  3. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (CIRFRC) in Damascus, Syria saved more than 200,000 men, women and children from storms in January of 2019. They pull people from under debris and snow, provide medical services and nurture victims until they are able to fully recover. Syria, a developing country, faces destruction from harsh winter weather, floods, sandstorms and cyclones. CIRFC, one of the few non-profits in Syria, arrives at the scene each time there is a crisis.
  4. REACT International base of operations is in Glendale, California. This organization plans to prepare people for hurricanes. REACT International is a communications-based organization. Two ways the company provides help are through instructions available online and volunteers who speak via radio to the public.
  5. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a nonprofit that encourages U.S. foreign policies to send help to developing countries. It also aims to create healthy change within developing nations to jumpstart their own independence. USAID has a section specifically for post-disaster care called the United States Foreign Disaster Assistance, or USOFDA. USOFDA has spent $100,000 on foreign assistance in the Philippines since January 12, 2020. The Taal Volcano in the Philippines erupted on Jan 12 and destroyed the surrounding area. USOFDA was there to give medical care to thousands of injured people. This organization is staying in the Philippines to support the Filipino government’s efforts to restore and rebuild its nation.
  6. World Vision is another nonprofit that includes disaster care in its program. World Vision is currently partnering with USAID to provide the Philippines with supplies including food, water, shelter, safety and clothes. The nonprofit has 37,000 staff members and volunteers working in at least 100 countries.
  7. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) “provides knowledge, funding, and technical assistance” to its partnerships with other NGOs like USOFDA. It focuses on preventing future natural disasters as well as teaching nations like the Philippines to recover after disasters.
  8. Global Giving is an online source that creates a network between regular citizens who want to donate, government agencies, companies and nonprofits. Headquartered in Washington D.C., the website GobalGiving.Org has been operational for 17 years, raising $390 million during that period. Global Giving’s Disaster Recovery Network has a long-term recovery fund to rebuild Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca and Chiapas in Mexico after three earthquakes destroyed communities and homes there in 2017.
  9. Heart to Heart International’s (HHI) mission statement is to “strengthen communities through improving health access, providing humanitarian development and administering crisis relief worldwide.” HHI helped Mozambique after Cyclone Idai hit in 2019, sending a response team to work with its residents. It helped them evacuate and provided basic needs like food and water. The non-profit also sent Mozambique medicine through partner companies like FedEx and UPS.
  10. Direct Relief is a non-profit organization headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. On January 8 of this year, Direct Relief reported that there was only one casualty when an earthquake hit Puerto Rico despite the structures such as businesses and homes that were destroyed. Running water was no longer available. Direct Relief sent at least 10 teams to bring medical supplies and medical care to Puerto Rico.

Volcanos, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and more devastate the globe. These 10 facts about non-profits and natural disaster relief in 2019 and 2020 give a peek into the amount and kind of work that is often needed to rebuild many developing countries in nature’s aftermath. Evacuating cities, preventing future disasters, healing victims and providing food and shelter are relief efforts that become more effective when organizations work together. Non-profits and government agencies need to cooperate to save lives. Currently, the United States government spends only 1 percent of its budget to fund nonprofits. Its impact can increase exponentially if more funding is given to the U.S. foreign policy.

– Sofia Ponomareva

Photo: Pixbay