Close to 200 representatives of 64 AFS Network Organizations and Global Affiliates gathered at the 2022 AFS Network Meeting in Athens, Greece from May 6 to May 8. After two years of online meetings only, Board Members, Partner Directors, and key staff gathered in-person to reconnect and re-energize, reinforce our ‘can do’ mindset, and plan the next steps in achieving our purpose: a more just and peaceful world through active global citizenship.
Re-energized to Continue Delivering Intercultural Programs
“If more people participated in study abroad programs, there would be less racism, discrimination and injustice. When a young person becomes a part of the global AFS family, they are empowered to engage with others, build relationships and open their minds.” With these inspiring words, Eleftheria Sofou, AFS Greece alumna, kicked off the discussions about the impact of AFS on young people and how to pave the way for the future of study abroad.
Following the disruption of international education caused by the pandemic, AFS members felt re-energized about returning to in-person study abroad programs, with projections that the volume of exchanges is close to the pre-pandemic levels. Special attention was given to two groups that are core to study abroad: host families and volunteers. Network Meeting participants were motivated to continue working based on our shared principles, including innovation, collaboration, pursuing impact and putting our participants in the focus, and embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
What’s next for the global AFS Network? “Listen to and empower those whose voices are not often heard, be proactive about education, and be even more inclusive of marginalized groups,” alumna Eleftheria Sofou urged AFS leadership. The consensus on these issues was achieved, as the AFS Network continues to deliver study abroad, virtual exchange and digital education programs supported by scholarships worldwide.
Global Citizenship as a Path to Peace
The Network Meeting included a Global Education Forum which explored the intersections of education and peacebuilding, existing roadblocks and reasons for hope.
In her keynote address, Eleni Agouridi of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation stressed the growing interest and need for AFS programs due to their ability to foster positive personal ties between people around the world. Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the key partners of AFS, and has been instrumental in restarting AFS programs in Greece.
“AFS is committed to always stand on the side of peace with our most powerful weapon— education,” added Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS at the opening of the Global Education Forum. The panel discussion moderated by Veronica Boix Mansilla, Principal Investigator at Harvard’s Project Zero and AFS Board of Trustees Member, concluded that peace is a dynamic concept and a balancing act, not a permanent state. The panel included:
- Ana Carolina Cassiano, AFS Intercultural Programs
- Ana María Velásquez, Universidad de los Andes
- Frédérique Brossard Børhaug, VID Specialized University
- Ariel Schwartz, Center for Social Impact Strategy, University of Pennsylvania.
As 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of AFS exchange programs, the organization’s leaders signed a joint Proclamation, stating that: “AFS is always on the side of peace, and condemns in the strongest terms the war in Ukraine. The shadow of this violent conflict, taking place on the same continent where two World Wars were started and in which AFS was founded, reminds us that our work is far from done, and our mission is more relevant, urgent and important than ever before.”
Reinforced Commitment to the AFS Mission
The Network Meeting was organized with the excellent support of the AFS Greece staff and volunteers, representing the organization whose work started only three years ago, after almost three decades of absence from this country. In her address to the Network, AFS Greece’s Vali Papadimitriou shared a joint sentiment for the need to educate the hearts and minds of young people.
Amalie Ferdinand, Chair of the AFS International Board of Trustees, expressed her deepest gratitude to the hosts and our global diverse Network driven by volunteers, who all share the same commitment to the AFS mission of creating a more just and peaceful world.