Mid-Year Reflection: Three Ways IIE Impacts the World

In the middle of June, when the team at the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund realized we were facing a third Iraq emergency—as well as requests for help from scholars in many other parts of the world—Senator Leahy of Vermont reminded us why we do this work. He told the story of a man walking along a beach where many starfish had washed ashore. The man was picking them up one by one and tossing them back into the ocean. A passerby noted that there were many hundreds and that the effort was pretty much futile. “Not to the one I just managed to throw back,” replied the man.

I have sometimes noted that achieving what we do takes a village. This summer, and considering all the crises breaking out in the world, the starfish story seems a better perspective. We can’t save or fix everything, but what we do sure matters to those we help.

We have been in this situation before, since the idea to create the Institute formed a few months before the outbreak of World War I. That conflict caused our founders to pursue the idea with even more vigor once the war ended, because they believed that international educational exchange—and the dialogue it promoted among educated people—were the keys to preventing future global conflicts. Two of the founders won Nobel Peace Prizes for their ideas about how this would actually work. It didn’t prevent a second World War, of course, and none of us today have indeed found a global solution to the conflicts that are generating so many headlines.

We do, however, help in three ways.

First, we save scholars’ lives and with them national academies so that, once conflicts end, education systems can be rebuilt and scholars can return to teaching in them. So, while we measure the work of the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund by a dashboard totaling up the numbers of professors to whom we are able to make grants (to date, more than 550 scholars have been selected), a long-term impact still to be measured is what they contribute to post-war reconstruction when conditions permit their return. In this sense, we are a bit ahead of our founders, because teachers and scholars were not saved during the First World War. Indeed, when President Duggan made his first tour of Europe, he discovered that the students who entered university for the 1919-1920 academic year had practically no one to teach them.

Second, we widen access to international educational opportunities. We cannot possibly reach everyone, of course, but the scholarships and opportunities we find and have the privilege to administer (such as the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright and Gilman programs, as well as the Government of Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program, among others) sure make a difference to those who receive them.

We have also made significant progress with Generation Study Abroad since we launched this IIE initiative in March. More than 300 partners have signed on, and they are committing to specific, actionable goals to increase the number of U.S. students studying abroad. The initiative has quickly developed into a significant national campaign, with national and international media attention and a strong #generationstudyabroad social media campaign.

Generation Study Abroad has made increasing diversity a major platform in its call to action as it urges partners to work not only on increasing the numbers but also in changing the perception of study abroad. About 50 percent of all commitment partner campuses and organizations have pledged to take specific action to address student diversity and minority participation in study abroad.

Finally, we presented our inaugural IIE Passport Awards for Study Abroad to 13 students who attend high schools in Chicago, Denver, Houston, New York, and Washington, DC. We established these awards to encourage students from inner city high schools to enroll in college and make plans to study abroad during their undergraduate years.

This is only the beginning. In the coming months and years we will be working to expand and sustain this campaign to achieve our goal of doubling study abroad.

The third way the Institute helps is by enabling people who are divided by many things to talk and work together. This year is the 10th anniversary of the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East. As I wrote in my recent blog post from Israel, “the teams that have won IIE Goldberg Prizes founded and worked in amazing civil society organizations that, among other things, advanced the human rights of all, as they contributed to the hope that the way to peace was not through separation but through embracing each other’s humanity.” We are also actively exploring ways to re-open the dialogue among national academies in the United States with the countries of Cuba and Iran.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the opening of the IIE headquarters building and as I write I am reminded of reading something that then Secretary of State Dean Rusk said at the cornerstone laying ceremony. He said, “If educational and cultural exchange is ‘a beacon of hope,’ the Institute of International Education is one of the great lighthouses from which this bright signal shines forth to the world.”