This is a time of change.
Some of that change presents cause to be hopeful and some of it poses new and formidable challenges. A new administration has come into power in the U.S. promising a more respectful and engaged diplomacy with the Muslim World. At the same time, violence in the Middle East has reached new heights, leading to unprecedented levels of animosity and pain. Now more than ever, we are reminded of the importance of our work to bridge deep divides.
At Soliya, we are experiencing quite a bit of change as well. Last semester, we increased the size of our Connect Program linking university students from the “West” and the “Arab & Muslim World” by 43% - we are enabling more students than ever before to have a transformative experience and giving them the tools they need to improve the relationship between their regions. Over the past year, we have brought on board a diverse and dedicated cadre of new talent - our staff has grown from a team of 9 to 23. We have established a senior leadership team, each member with extraordinary experience and expertise in their field. And our two main offices in New York and Cairo are abuzz with activity as we prepare for our largest program to date this spring.
But as Soliya grows, we also face new challenges. We are becoming an institution, and that requires us to mature as an organization. So with our new and expanded team in place, we are shifting our attention in the coming months to optimization. We want to continue doing what we've been doing, but we want to do it bigger, better, and smarter.
In this New Year, as you reflect on the type of change you want to see in the world, please think of Soliya. Help us spread the word about the work we're doing. Help us out by volunteering to facilitate a group. Or help us bring in the resources we need to do our work by making a contribution.
Thank you for being an important part of the Soliya community. We are grateful for your involvement and support of our shared mission.
We hope you enjoy our Winter Newsletter and look forward to contributing to positive change in 2009!
Lucas Welch, President, and Liza Chambers, Executive Director
Soliya Completes 10th Connect Program
We are proud to announce that Soliya sucessfully completed our 10th Connect Program last month - our most exciting semester yet!
More than 300 students from 22 universities - throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the broader Muslim World, the United States and Europe - participated in the program. This is a 43% increase in the number of participants over last semester - the largest increase Soliya has ever made in one semester.
More than 70 highly trained and skilled volunteer facilitators - 22 of whom were Soliya alumni - led the online dialogue sessions. This number of facilitators represents a 33% increase over last semester.
We are delighted to report that Soliya expanded the Connect Program to include students from Indonesia and Yemen, as well as three new universities in the United States.
In the Words of Soliya Alumni
As always, students engaged in intensive online dialogue throughout the semester - across cultures and across borders - and worked together to produce vibrant media projects that covered topics ranging from daily life in different countries and cultures to critically examining media coverage of the U.S. presidential elections and their effect on foreign policy in the Middle East.
Below are a few student quotes from the Fall 2008 evaluations, which highlight the success of the program in promoting student learning and dialogue:
My perspective toward world issues changed after the Soliya program, because it allowed me to think about other people in different countries with different backgrounds and how to communicate with them effectively. It connected us with people with totally different goals and cultures and gave us the opportunity to be open-minded and actually listen to the other opinion.
-Female, Qatari, Qatar Univeristy
I learned that everyone has a different story but somehow we all want the same thing: communication and cooperation. I can now see how understanding is possible if only we would take the time to learn a little bit about each other. I will always question each story I hear for the other side and in general look for many media sources to recognize the bias in each.
-Male, American, Tufts University
Before I joined Soliya, when I was abroad, I needed some weeks before I could talk about personal things to my European friends, namely faith, perspective on Moslem-Israeli Conflict, role of religion, etc. In Soliya, we discussed all of these sensitive issues from the first time we met, even with people we had never met before! The most important thing was that we discussed them in a fun way, like talking about music or style. I think we have trusted each other since the beginning. When trust exists, every good thing is possible.
-Female, Indonesian, Gadjah Mada University
Soliya Continues Strong Partnership with Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Soliya recently received a very generous grant from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We wish to extend our thanks to the Ministry for their continued support and commitment to our work. This grant will help Soliya to further enhance and expand the reach and impact of the Connect Program.
Following the award of this grant, a group of officials from the Ministry had the opportunity to meet with a group of Soliya facilitators in Beirut, Lebanon. Facilitators Joelle Moufarejj, Maxim Baz, Hala El-Helou, Joelle Rizk and Nader Houella participated in this meeting. Both Norwegian and Lebanese participants found the meeting enjoyable and enlightening. The group shared experiences and practical knowledge related to cross-cultural dialogue. They also discussed the common challenges faced by facilitators at all levels and the difficult questions that arise in the course of extended dialogues. We appreciate the genuine interest the Ministry has demonstrated in our partnership and hope to organize similar events in the future.
Soliya Participating in Conferences Worldwide
Tadamunn: Towards Civic Engagement in Arab Education
The Tadamunn Conference was hosted by the American University in Cairo on October 13-14, 2008. The conference explored strategies and options for promoting civic engagement in Arab educational systems. Soliya President Lucas Welch, Outreach Manager Reem Marto, and facilitator Dina Orieby were all speakers at the conference, which was also attended by Waleed Nassar, Soliya's Cairo Office Manager.
Arab-US Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) Annual Conference
The AUSACE Annual Conference was hosted by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University on November 14-17, 2008. Lucas Welch and Reem Marto, along with several professors and students involved in the Connect Program, participated in the opening panel discussion entitled "The Connect Program as an Educational Model in a Global World." Soliya's work was highlighted as a successful approach to promoting global engagement and communication at the university level.
Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Annual Conference
Washington, DC Nearly 2,000 academics, scholars, activists and graduate students from around the world who study the Middle East gathered for the annual MESA conference on November 22-25, 2008. Reem Marto and Merva Faddoul (Senior Network Officer) represented Soliya at this conference, where they hosted an informational booth about Soliya at the Book Exhibit.
Cairo Team Moves to a New Office
Soliya's Cairo team recently moved to a new, larger office space. The new office will accommodate a growing Cairo staff and allow us to continue expanding our presence and university recruitment efforts in Egypt and across the Middle East and North Africa. Our office is located in the central Giza neighborhood of Cairo, close to Cairo University and the Cairo Zoo. Soliya is very excited about this new development and the possibilities presented by an expanded space.
Moment of Opportunity
Friends Letter, 2008
Last semester we added 11 new universities to our Connect Program - significantly more than any previous semester. Our board now includes one of the leading diplomats in recent times, an emerging star in development and the premier expert on public opinion in the "Muslim World." We have established several strong funding partnerships with top-tier institutions around the world, which will enable us to bring 8 new staff members onto our team in coming months, and expand our network to include new universities from across the US, Europe, the Middle East and the broader "Muslim World" in countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia amongst others.
We are very proud of these achievements and we are more inspired than ever by the opportunity we have to help bridge the divide between the "West" and the "Arab & Muslim World." Many of you have played a critical role in enabling us to get to this point by volunteering your time as facilitators, helping us connect to new universities, providing financial support or just spreading the word. So we feel that this is a time in which it is important for us to say clearly to all of you who have enabled us to bring our vision into the world.... Thank you.
But as proud as we are of these achievements, we are not content. In this increasingly interconnected world, in which our fates are becoming more and more intertwined, potential without fundamental change is not enough. The stakes of the hatred and fear which currently define much of the relationship between the "West" and the "Arab & Muslim World" are too high for us not to seize the opportunity we have today to fundamentally shift the nature of that relationship.
The path we have chosen is not an easy or a fast one. Enabling people across cultural, geographic and religious divides to discover their common values, hopes & interests takes time. But what consistently results through the facilitated human-to-human connection we enable is a deep and lasting change and an inspiration to bring that change to one's community. In the months and years ahead, as we continue to chart that path, we hope that we can count on you to help us build a network of extraordinary young adults that bring the power of this human-to-human connection to their communities around the world and ultimately shift the dynamics between us.
- Lucas & Liza
Soliya impacts hundreds more youth across the globe
Soliya has concluded its spring 2008 Connect Program with two hundred and twenty students from twenty four universities in the Middle East, North Africa, the US, and Europe. Fifty-eight highly trained and skilled volunteer facilitators from fifteen different countries led the online dialogue. As part of the program, students engaged in intensive online dialogue over an entire semester, and worked collaboratively to produce media products. We had a wide range of university partners including ENSIMAG in Grenoble, France, University of Northern Colorado, Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, American University in Cairo, University of Bahrain and the University of Amsterdam.
Soliya establishes partnership with the Qatar Foundation
We are very proud to announce that we have just established a partnership with the Qatar Foundation. The Qatar Foundation is dedicated to preparing the people of Qatar and the region to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world, and to make Qatar a leader in innovative education and research. Led by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, their flagship initiative, "Education City" has attracted some of the world's leading academic institutions to establish campuses in Doha, including amongst others Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Northwestern's School of Journalism and Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Program. The Qatar Foundation is generously providing Soliya with significant support over two years to enable Soliya to expand the impact of its work in Qatar and throughout the region. We are very grateful to the Qatar Foundation for their support and inspired by the opportunity it presents.
Soliya receives generous funding to expand its programs
Soliya has just received news that the Kingdom Foundation will be providing us with a very generous two-year grant in support of expanding Soliya programs. The Kingdom Foundation is a charitable and philanthropic organization established by HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal in Saudi Arabia. One of the Foundation's objectives is to create forums for cultural and inter-faith dialogue that promotes understanding and peaceful coexistence between the Islamic world and other societies around the globe.
Soliya has received another generous grant from the Ford Foundation in support of expanding the scope of the Connect Program and Continued Engagement Activities over the next two years. The Ford Foundation is dedicated to strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international cooperation, and advancing human achievement.
Soliya has also received a second grant from the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation in support of the Connect Program for a one year period. Their Global Understanding Program promotes peace, learning, and understanding among peoples of the world through opportunities for progressive education and dialogue, especially among students of the younger generation.
We have recently received funding from Echoing Green to invest in our technical capacity. Echoing Green is dedicated to supporting emerging social entrepreneurs, and has awarded Soliya an "Accelerator Grant" to enhance our ability to scale our program in the coming years.
Soliya wishes to thank the Kingdom Foundation, the Ford Foundation, ABS and Echoing Green for their continued support of our efforts. We are tremendously grateful for their support and for the commitment of people like you who enable us to expand our reach and impact.
Soliya expands Board of Directors
We recently invited three new board members to join our Board of Directors, which is chaired by Shamil Idriss - the Acting Director of the UN's Alliance of Civilizations. We are excited and honored to welcome them to the team.
Robert Pelletreau - Bob is one of the leading diplomats of his generation. He was the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Ambassador to Egypt & Tunisia, and he served in 9 Arab countries.
Dalia Mogahed - Dalia is the Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim studies arguably the pre-eminent expert on public opinion in the Muslim world. She recently co-wrote Who Speaks for Islam? with John Esposito.
Jeremy Goldberg - Jeremy was the Director of Development at Seeds of Peace, where he built one of the most effective fundraising operations in the field. Over the last year, he has played a central role in fundraising and youth mobilization for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Soliya staff hires and promotions
Waidehi Gokhale - Hired as Program Manager
Reem Marto - Promoted to Outreach Manager
Rahima Bensaid - Promoted to Senior Program Officer
Merva Faddoul - Promoted to Senior Network Officer
Nahid Ahmed- Promoted to Program Officer
Lucas Welch gives Keynote Address at CMU's Future of Interactive Technology for Peace Conference
This April, Carnegie Mellon University held The Future of Interactive Technology for Peace Conference. It was a one-and-a-half day national conference providing a forum for discussing the impact and the potential that interactive technology holds for peace and peacemaking. They invited Lucas to give the keynote address, to talk about the Soliya model and explore the potential for new technologies to help enable a more peaceful world.
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations chooses Lucas Welch as Global Expert
Soliya President Lucas Welch was chosen by the UN Alliance of Civilizations to be one of the "Global Experts" that is part of their Rapid Media Response mechanism for offering constructive voices to the mainstream discussion when crises emerge between the West and the Muslim World.
Soliya Featured by CNN International!
Soliya’s Connect Program was the lead feature on CNN International’s “Inside the Middle East” for the December Edition. The six-minute segment explores students’ experiences at Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut as they engage in facilitated dialogue and collaborative media production online.
Click here to watch the segment!
Soliya connects hundreds of youth across the globe.
Soliya has concluded its fall 2007 Connect Program with over two hundred and forty students from nineteen universities in the Middle East, North Africa, the US, and Europe.; The program was led by Soliya Executive Director and co-founder, Liza Chambers and our extraordinary team of dedicated and talented Soliya staffers including Salma El Beblawi, Katja Riikonen, Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, Merva Faddoul, Rahima Bensaid, Reem Marto, & Nahid Ahmed. Fifty-five highly trained and skilled volunteer facilitators from twenty-one different countries led the online dialogue. As part of the program, students engaged in intensive online dialogue over an entire semester, and worked collaboratively to produce media products. Participating universities in the US included: Georgetown University, the University of Minnesota, Brandeis University, the University of Maine- Machias, the University of North Florida, Western Kentucky University, and Pace University. In the Middle East, participating universities included Cairo University, the American University of Beirut, Hebron University in Palestine, Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, the American University in Cairo, South Valley University in Qena, Egypt, the American University of Sharjah in the UAE, the University of Jordan, and Notre Dame University in Lebanon. In Europe, participating universities included the University of Amsterdam and the University of Bergen in Norway. Soliya also partnered with a Turkish university for the first time: Sabancı University.
Soliya invited to speak at the Inaugural United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum.
Soliya President Lucas Welch has been invited to be a speaker at the “Intercultural and Interreligious Youth Exchanges” session at The UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum. The Forum is being hosted by the Government of Spain in Madrid on January 15th and 16th 2008. It will bring together political leaders, representatives from governments and international organizations, and members of civil society and the business world to explore the most effective means of dealing with the growing polarization between nations and cultures.
Student Articles Published.
Each semester, in the final weeks of the program, Soliya students write joint-editorials with their counterparts from other regions. Over the fall 2007 semester several articles have been distributed via the Common Ground News Service and republished in international papers. Please find below a selection of articles which you can read.
Pensee Afifi, a student at the American University in Cairo, and Jane Slusark, a University of Iowa student, had their editorial "Humanity Doesn't Change with Geography" published by the Daily Star in Egypt, Middle East Online, Arab American Media Services, Human Dignity and Humiliation, and Tharwa Review. Click here to read their article.
Kim Brouwers, Caitlin Kelly and Sofia Seer, students at the University of Amsterdam, Georgetown University and University of Sharjah respectively, had their joint-editorial “Immigration: societies in flux” published by the Daily Star in Lebanon and Egypt, Middle East Online, Zawya, emarrakech, Human Dignity and Humiliation, and Tharwa Review. Click here to read their article.
Tufts University student Douglas Foote and University of Minnesota student Dives Diaves had their joint-article “Iran-US Relations: A path of disaster or a path of hope” published by emarrakech, the Daily Star in Egypt, Arab American Media Services, and Tharwa Review. Click here to read their article.
Youssef Morshedy a student at the American University in Cairo and Michael Chou at Tufts University co-wrote “Comics Bridge Cultural Gaps” which was published in the Daily Star in Egypt, Middle East Online, Human Dignity and Humiliation, Tharwa Review and links were posted to their article on AUC Egypt News, USC Center on Public Diplomacy News, and several blogs. Click here to read their article.