by Daniel Obst, President & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs

Collaboration is key in making a lasting social impact and transforming education. Studies have shown that organizations acting independently meet numerous limitations in their work, which makes it necessary to collaborate across sectors–private, public and social. For AFS, the most successful partnerships have precisely been the ones across sectors, united behind a common goal with institutions that share our values. The results? A better prepared future workforce, more globalized schools, and increased intercultural understanding in local communities.

Our experience is also confirmed by the research done by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Their findings list six key pillars to make partnerships successful: reforming an inefficient system, advancing missions of all partners, fostering entrepreneurial approaches, leveraging partners’ strengths, empowering stakeholders and attaining measurable results.

With 70+ years of experience in international education, collaborations AFS has entered into have had a single key purpose: help the world learn to live together across many differences that challenge our societies. Our innovative partnership models with a global energy company, a government, NGOs and local communities have expanded international education opportunities to individuals and institutions that needed them the most.

Partnering with BP, a global energy company, is grounded in our shared values of diversity and inclusion. This collaboration has enabled us to empower more than a 1,000 young people from diverse cultures and backgrounds over than past six years with the global competence skills that employers across professions seek. This was made possible through the vision and AFS scholarships that BP has awarded to a diverse group of talented students, as well as children of their employees.

Most recently, this collaboration resulted in designing unique BP Global STEM Academies, four-week full scholarship programs that teach teenagers about science, technology, engineering and math along with fostering global competence. The Academies will reach 300 students over three years from Azerbaijan, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, UK and USA. With 55% female participants in 2018, this program ensures that the STEM community is inclusive and representative of a spectrum of cultural, economic and other differences, and that international education opportunities are open to those who may not be able to afford to go abroad.

Governments connect with AFS for innovative solutions to intriguing challenges. When Tokyo wanted to “internationalize” the city in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics, the city’s Metropolitan Board of Education turned to AFS Japan for expertise in fostering global competence and running study abroad programs. Mobilizing the AFS organizations in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and the United States, AFS Japan placed 80 international students in public high schools in Tokyo. This cooperation grew from the city to the national level, and resulted in AFS Japan being selected by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to implement the new Kakehashi (Japanese for “building bridges”) scholarship program for 1,000 high school students focused on facilitating intercultural exchange and understanding between teenagers in Japan and 20 other Asian countries.

Finally, partnerships are key in leading successful advocacy campaigns. Inspired by a common goal to enable more young people to study abroad without any legal or technical barriers upon returning home, the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) – the European AFS umbrella organization, joined forces with the European Educational Exchanges Youth For Understanding (EEE-YFU) and other organizations. With approximately approximately 100,000 EU students aged 15-18 years old going on individual long-term exchanges every year, this was a pressing and important topic to address.

Through an informative online campaign, research, meetings and recommendations, this group managed to secure the support of four members of the European Parliament, who championed the recognition of school study periods abroad in order to foster the potential of learning mobility, provide equal access to diverse learning opportunities, make the European job market available to people with families, help schools internationalize and improve how they teach key competences. As a result, the European Commission has issued an official recommendation to streamline and enhance the recognition of study abroad periods which is an important step towards removing barriers to international education in the EU.

These partnerships have been successful because they are motivated by similar goals, build on the strengths of everyone involved and because they are timely in addressing important social issues. AFS is looking for ways to scale up and replicate them in new communities and around different issues, as we are confident that this is the most effective way to truly impact education.

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