Letter from the CEO & Chair 

The year 2020 will be remembered by the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world—and AFS is no exception. 

For the first time in our organization’s 105-year history, we had to make the difficult decision to stop all of our exchange programs. In the interest of the safety of our participants, host families, volunteers and staff, we undertook a massive global repatriation effort that brought all 7,000 students safely home to their natural families. 

The challenge of the pandemic highlighted the tremendous power of the global AFS network: the relentless commitment of our volunteers and staff to the AFS mission; the solidarity and the spirit of global citizenship of each and every AFSer in times of crisis; and the importance of continuing to build innovative programs with reliable partners that address our impact goals: develop active global citizens; globalize schools and institutions; and expand access to intercultural learning. 

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2020 impact at a glance

We are grateful to our strategic partners and donors for supporting our vision in these challenging times. Despite the incredible challenges in 2020, we were able to continue to advance our impact around the world—often in new ways: 

  • Expanded access to intercultural education to thousands of people through innovative virtual programs and partnerships. We launched new virtual AFS Global You programs for teens: truly global, high-impact, educational, and fun virtual programs that build young people’s personal and professional changemaker mindset and skills. Our Global Competence Certificate program reached new milestones in developing global competence for students, staff or faculty, professionals across a variety of disciplines with partners like Education New Zealand (ENZ), Malaysian Ministry of Education, Clemson University, or Cultural Vistas. We transformed the bp Global STEM Academies into virtual education programs for 110 scholarship recipients using an innovative social impact and intercultural learning curriculum. With the support of the Cyril Taylor Charitable Foundation, the AFS Effect+ Program brought to life the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a new virtual curriculum that empowered students to become Active Global Citizens implementing concrete actions and social impact projects. 
  • Upgraded the educational curriculum to better support young people in creating social impact, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy (CSIS). Our students will experience study abroad, learn global skills, practice social impact and return home to become active global citizens. The curriculum combines virtual and in-person learning, and students will receive a certificate in social impact.
  • Continued to build an international coalition of people dedicated to global competence and intercultural learning, partnering with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to host the launch of the first ever assessment of global competence within the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Presented at our virtual AFS Global Conference which convened 500 leaders from 75 countries, PISA results confirm the need for cross-sectoral collaboration in developing these skills. Additionally, we were honored by the remarks of OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who labeled AFS as the “gold standard in intercultural exchanges.”

AFS was born during a global crisis. The organization was created as a volunteer ambulance corps in 1915, and then reactivated after the start of World War II. Our founders transformed AFS into a global organization that builds understanding among people from diverse backgrounds to create a more just and peaceful world. If the crisis of the last year has made the challenges of connecting globally in a meaningful way apparent, it has also strengthened our commitment to service and volunteerism. As we continue to connect people across cultures and differences to transform the way we view and treat one another, we pledge to do so with a commitment to address racial inequalities, power discrepancies, and bias recognition. 

We express our sincere gratitude to all AFS program participants, alumni, volunteers and staff around the world whose work champions AFS values and makes the work of our global organization possible. 

Daniel Obst
President and CEO 

Vishakha Desai (AFS ‘67)
Chair, Board of Trustees 

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