From the AFS International Team 


In June of last year, the team at AFS International issued a statement on what we were learning from the Black Lives Matter Movement

“We recognize that we at AFS, and the entire international education community, can and must do better at educating ourselves and our communities, and taking effective action as individuals and organizations to tackle stereotypes, biases and systemic racial and discrimination injustices… Today we commit to starting and joining the conversations and actions that will ensure statements like this one are no longer needed.” 

To hold ourselves publicly accountable to this commitment, we would like to share an update on what actions we have taken in the last 12 months. 

Following up on our team’s commitment 

AFS is a Network of 57 Partner Organizations around the world. AFS International is the administrative organization that leads the AFS Network and is made of about 40 people with an office in New York City, but team members located in the US, Latin America, Europe and Africa. This is the team of people that collaboratively drafted the statement we published last year, and have worked together in the last 12 months to make change. 

Where have we made progress?

What we didn’t want was short-lived performative activism but long-term commitment through dedication and accountability. That’s why we started by creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee with a formal charter of responsibilities and reporting line to senior leadership. This ensured that there were people who would actually be held accountable for doing the work required to make progress. 

While we still have a long way to go, and much to learn, we are happy to have made some progress in the following year. Here is what we have done:  

  • Worked harder on educating ourselves and others about diversity, equity and inclusion.

In an effort to better educate ourselves, we Partnered with Justworks to complete their “Diversity: Inclusion in the Modern Workplace” training series as a foundation for subsequent training. The entire AFS international team is also taking the Global Up At Work program. This research-based blended learning program created by AFS develops the tangible global skills essential to live, work, and make a real social impact around the world. It focuses on empathy and active listening; dealing with conflict; understanding inequality; microaggressions; and power & privilege. When you work in international education, it’s easy to believe that the very nature of your work gives you the skills you need to be a global citizen. We believe that this is not something we can take for granted, which is why we are making sure to put our own mission into action within our team. 

  • Changed our holiday calendar to reflect our organizational values.

As an organization, we formally removed Columbus Day as a holiday and replaced it with Juneteenth. In addition, we instituted a “Day of Solidarity.” This is a personal day that team members can choose to take at any time during the year, and gives them space to make progress on their individual learning journeys. The expectation is that they will take this time to dedicate it to action, reflection or learning and share that with the rest of the team. 

  • Became members of the Diversity Abroad Network.

AFS joined the Diversity Abroad Network, the leading professional consortium of educational institutions, government agencies, for-profit and non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusive good practices that increase access, achieve equitable diversity and foster inclusive excellence in global education.

Where do we still have work to do?

We are dedicated to holding AFS International to a high standard when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. This will not be a one-year project in reaction to the events of 2020, but an integral part of our organizational culture. But over the next year, we feel we specifically need to make progress when it comes to: 

  • Recruiting diverse candidates for roles at AFS International. While our team is diverse in many ways, true diversity goes far beyond geography, nationality and skin color. 
  • Measuring the diversity of the young people, volunteers, and families that participate in AFS programs. Establishing this benchmark will help us understand where we need to do better.

The call to action that we felt in 2020 is the same one we feel now in 2021. “We call for a more just and peaceful world. It has been AFS’s mission for decades to connect people across cultures and differences to transform the way we view and treat one another. Our belief in this mission is not shaken, only reinforced at this time. We are not alone. AFS stands with the global movement to end systemic racism and white supremacy, and promote the values of dignity, diversity appreciation, inclusion and acceptance.” 

As we have worked on educating ourselves, the AFS International team has found these resources helpful: