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IVLP 2019 - A wonderful experience

The International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) is an exclusive exchange programme by the Department of State, USA. It boasts worldwide recognition, as professionals from all around the globe become a part of it. Participants are nominated and selected annually by US Embassies in countries around the world.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be nominated under the category of ‘Youth and Civic Engagement’ for IVLP 2019. It was a landmark in my life, as it provided me with knowledge, exposed me to different views and gave me many interesting stories to remember.

The project began at Washington DC on March 9, where the participants united to explore the roles of federal government and international bodies, working with youth and civic engagement. During the city tour, the visitors gathered to share their experiences. On the premises of Graduate School USA, a number of discussion sessions took place regarding the project.

A portfolio, which focused on helping the US Government to engage the youth globally to tackle challenges of today, was discussed. Three specific areas were highlighted: engaging global youth with shared policy challenges; empowering global youth leaders through networks, exchanges, and opportunities; and elevating youth voices and causes.

With every single moment of the IVLP, I wondered how many stories I would have missed, if I were not fortunate enough to be a part of it. The innovations brought forth by the participants, in order to make the world a better place, amazed me.

On March 14, we travelled to the state capital of Utah, Salt Lake City. Our key activities included themes regarding the role of state government in promoting youth engagement.

One of the most exciting aspects of the tour was an interactive workshop on theories of change, monitoring and evaluation. It took a practical approach by giving the visitors an opportunity to reflect on their own work, constituencies, and goals. Cicero Social Impact facilitated the workshop.

I learned about YouthWorks, a community-based programme that assists youth with job and life skills training. The programme is designed for individuals who are overcoming substance abuse, gang involvement, court recidivism, school failure, or negative family and peer relations.

We were eventually split into four sub-groups, and told to visit a few cities. I was a part of the group that visited Louisville. Again, I was surprised to see how the local government supported youth communities with various programmes and partnerships. One of them is YouthBuild, an education, job training and leadership programme that works with low income adults by helping them study for high school diplomas, as well as training them to be employable.

Representatives of community organisations, including nonprofits, government, and civic groups, gathered for a roundtable discussion with us. The conversation focused on the importance of inclusion in addressing civic issues, including youth engagement.

We all reunited at Miami, where we were near the end of our trip with the sessions on leadership development, mentoring and outreach to support youth, and digital storytelling for social causes.

We went to Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor and learned its vision, goal and objectives. The Miami-Dade County Mayor’s Executive Youth Leadership Program offers university juniors, seniors and graduate students the opportunity to interact with local government, and receive a first-hand look at its operations. The programme offers structured workshops and professional mentoring and students participate in projects focused on their educational objectives.

The participants also met the co-founder of Two Parrot productions, which is a media production company that creates visual storytelling tools for philanthropic organisations. The company believes that humanitarian efforts are more effective when equipped with digital videos to tell their story, and sell their ideas to new partners.

Emmy-Award Winning Investigative Reporter Christina Boomer Vasquez introduced ‘My Miami Story programme’ to us.The programme brings together community members to discuss issues they care about, including education, affordable housing, and job opportunities. In Bangladesh we may think of building a platform where citizens can talk about their community issues they care about.

The programme formally ended with a Synthesis and Planning session. The participants gathered to reflect upon their experiences during the trip, identified trends and best practices in the field, and considered new contacts or approaches that might benefit their work. The session allowed for a comparative discussion of the needs and opportunities of different community and country contexts. It used design-thinking to guide reflection and planning. The core benefits of the programme were that we could rationalise and consolidate all the learnings we had in three weeks’ time. It helped me identify at least two useful practices I may implement after returning home.

I will not remember this wonderful journey as a trip or as a professional programme, but rather, as a dream. The knowledge that I have gained from IVLP 2019 along with the participants from 22 different countries, I can implement them to make my country a better one. It was a dream that made me realise that despite so many troubles in the world right now, there are still many people trying to make a it a better place to live in.

This was primarily published on The Daily Star.

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