The Collective Public Policy Voice of the Exchange Community

By: Andrea Bodine 

Nearly a month ago now, Alliance members arrived in Washington DC to raise their voices in support of international exchange programs. This year’s event on March 7 brought an exciting, and somewhat hectic, energy to Capitol Hill with the looming deadline to avoid a government shutdown and State of the Union address later that evening. See a brief recap of the key highlights above.

Even in my sixth Advocacy Day with the Alliance, I remain impressed by our members’ enthusiasm and dedication to representing not only their specific programs, but also the larger international exchange community. Gabi Hunt, Program Associate at the Stevens Initiative, had this to say about her experience:  

“Advocacy Day is not just a critical opportunity for ensuring that decisionmakers are aware of the exchange community’s incredible work, but also an invaluable forum for connecting with peers across this space. Each year, I leave this day energized by our collective effort advocating for the importance of these programs, while also feeling connected to colleagues who share my belief in the transformative power of international exchange.” 

Advocacy Day is also a great opportunity to bring the Alliance membership together. The current state team structure, which places participants in groups based on their ties to one main state, aims to connect members across programs and professional experience. This year, we worked to provide more opportunities for these connections with the introduction of the state team meet up and a young professional gathering ahead of Advocacy Day. Both of these were in addition to our traditional Congressional Reception on the Hill that allows our members to network with each other, congressional staff, and our partners at the Department of State, which included our keynote speaker Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange Rebecca Pasini. In discussing the benefits of Advocacy Day as an opportunity to meet a variety of Alliance members, Alliance Board member and President of Greenheart International, Daniel Ebert shared: 

“What stood out to me this year was the caliber of industry representatives our member organizations sent over for these crucial meetings on the hill.  It truly gave me renewed hope for the next generation of cultural exchange leadership.  The individuals that were on my teams were whip-smart, articulate, passionate and clearly dedicated to the great work they do.  I had so much fun getting to know each of them and hearing their stories about how exchanges influenced, and continue to influence, their lives.” 

We hope that Alliance members will also view Advocacy Day not only as an experience that demonstrates the value in advocating on important issues, but even more so, the importance of using your story to positively impact the country. As exchange program practitioners, many with exchange experiences themselves, our members have the tools to successfully share the power of these programs with our policymakers, which helps gather and/or maintain support for their continuation. Trevor Phipps, Senior Program Manager at Alliance Abroad and McCarry Awardee, had this to say after his first Advocacy Day: 

“As a citizen, I think it is important to voice your support of movements that can better your nation. I believe in the importance of International Exchange and Education, and the boundless positive impacts it has on our country. Advocacy Day gave me the opportunity to use my voice with hopes that our representatives will listen and embrace supportive actions. I think everyone should do it at least once.” 

As our first flagship event of this year, Advocacy Day lays critical groundwork for achieving our 2024 goals of validating and communicating exchanges’ impact, strengthening our position as a community, and better preparing for the upcoming elections this November. The success of these efforts is due in large part to the commitment and participation of our members, and we look forward to continuing our collective work in the months ahead.