By Saskia Kaya, Program Manager, and Sean Reilly, Director of Program Development

AFS recognizes that global crises, such as war, displacement, and climate change, disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, with an estimated 25% of forcibly displaced people being girls under 18. There is an urgent need for innovative solutions to support young women in crisis situations. Systemic barriers prevent young women—especially refugees, people of color, and those from low-income households—from accessing quality education, thereby excluding important voices from educational pathways.

AFS is committed to addressing these challenges—through our strategy to develop active global citizens guided by our educational framework emphasizing intercultural understanding and collective action.

Collaboration with SPARK to Support Underrepresented Populations

Since 2022, AFS has collaborated with SPARK, an international NGO supporting refugees, to foster recruitment and community engagement from severely underrepresented populations in education abroad, including Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Iraq. SPARK operates in 17 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe, focusing on education and entrepreneurship to support young people in crisis-affected regions.

In May 2024, SPARK invited AFS to the IGNITE Istanbul conference, which convenes community leaders and entrepreneurs to strategize on building economic resilience among youth and business owners in Türkiye and Jordan, shedding light on the importance of education in fostering economic stability and empowerment.

Saskia Kaya, AFS Program Manager, and Dina Almasaeid, SPARK Deputy Regional Programme Director

Understanding the needs of young professionals in fragile communities and the role of education in fostering economic resilience is essential for organizations like AFS. Discussions highlighted the urgent need for innovative solutions to address the intersecting challenges faced by vulnerable populations, including access to education, economic opportunities, digital inclusion, and entrepreneurial skills-building opportunities. The conference facilitated cross-sector collaboration, emphasizing the shared commitment to empowering marginalized communities through education and entrepreneurship.

Attendees included thought leaders and experts from various sectors, including government, private sector, investors, entrepreneurs, and higher education institutions. Such moments offer invaluable opportunities for educational organizations like AFS to connect, collaborate, and co-create solutions that empower individuals, foster economic resilience and promote social inclusion.

Aligning with UN Sustainable Development Goals to Address the Needs of Youth in Fragile Communities

Reflecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 (Quality Education) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), it is crucial for educational organizations like AFS to be part of the conversation around building economic resilience in young people globally. For young professionals to succeed, they must develop the critical soft skills of active global citizenship such as empathy, communication, understanding, and self-awareness.

The AFS Global STEM Accelerators Program: Scholarships Available

The partnership between AFS & SPARK has bolstered youth participation in international education and community outreach, particularly in refugee communities and countries outside where AFS doesn’t have an official presence, focusing on full scholarship opportunities like the AFS Global STEM Accelerators program. This program aims to tackle systemic barriers facing women worldwide by fostering critical global competencies such as problem-solving and intercultural understanding. By dedicating 20% of the Accelerators scholarships to refugee and displaced youth, the initiative addresses the global refugee crisis while closing gender and privilege gaps, fostering a more equitable and sustainable future.

The AFS Global STEM Accelerators program is part of the broader Global STEM Changemakers Initiative, funded by bp, which aims to provide 5,000 scholarships in STEM education over five years. This landmark grant is a model of a shared agenda and cooperation between the private and non-profit sector, and the scholarships augment our commitment to develop the global skills needed to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Global STEM  empowers young women worldwide with transformative learning experiences and culminates with student-led social impact projects and presentations addressing real-world challenges. Scholars who complete the program earn the Advanced Certificate on Global Competence for Social Impact, awarded by AFS and the University of Pennsylvania Center for Social Impact Strategy. To learn more about the Accelerators program, or apply, please visit: