Meridian Hosts Gold Star IVLP Alumni

IVLP Gold Star Alumna Ms. Riham Adel speaking with participants at the Diplomacy Begins Here, Global Ties Regional Summit in Kansas City, Missouri (Photo Credit to nufolk)

Earlier this year, the Department of State selected Meridian International Center to administer the International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) of five Gold Star Alumni. The 'Gold Star' initiative was designed to emphasize the results and the overall impact of the IVLP on several exemplary former participants. These participants were nominated by State Department Officials, National Programming Agencies, and Community Based Members and selected based on their active participation in the IVLP and the work that they have accomplished since the conclusion of their program. The alumni who will be participating in this program are as follows:

  • Ms. Riham Awad of Egypt (June 2017) founded Job Nile – Recruitment and HR Consultancy, a specialized recruitment firm based in Alexandria, Egypt in 2000. In 2012, she traveled on the IVLP Multi-Regional Project “A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation”. Upon her return to Egypt, Ms. Awad spearheaded a volunteer mentor program to share ideas from her IVLP with young entrepreneurs. She continues to offer her expertise to up and coming entrepreneurs and has expanded her volunteer work to include free career counselling sessions for job seekers at several universities. She serves is a board member of several NGOs that work in the area of empowering female Egyptian entrepreneurs and developing a vocationally-trained Egyptian technical workforce. Immediately following her IVLP, Ms. Awad partnered with a German IVLP participant from the same program, Angelo Juric, to open a new branch of Job Nile in Halle, Germany. The German branch focuses on getting German experts to support companies in Africa and the Middle East, especially in the automotive industry. For three successive years, Job Nile was awarded a grant from the Cultural Section of the American Embassy in Cairo to organize an annual employment fair that offers thousands of job opportunities for Egyptian public and alumni.
  • Ms. Geraldine Mlynarz of Chile (July 2017) is co-Founder and CEO of two biotech firms specializing in the diagnosis and control of infectious diseases found in animals and President of the WeAmericas Association in Santiago. Her scientific work is recognized for advancements in both aquaculture and business, and in 2000, she earned Chile’s Best Young Entrepreneur award. Under Geraldine’s leadership, WeAmericas launched a regional organization of International Visitor Leadership Program participants to train mentors in a peer-to-peer network called Mujer Apoya Mujer (Women Helping Women).  In addition, this Chilean association partnered with Houston’s Angel Network to train Latin American entrepreneurs in securing investor funding.           
  • Ms. Chigozie “Gozie” Udemezue of Nigeria (July 2017), a practicing lawyer in the field of social justice in Nigeria, describes her participation in a 2006 U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) as “a huge turning point” in her life. Shortly after her return, she used $100 in seed funds from Ms. Cynthia Willson, her State Department liaison, to found the Leadership Club for Girls which focuses on building girls’ leadership skills in rural high schools. Ms. Udemezue’s visit to the Leadership Center at Morehouse College in Atlanta inspired her to found a Martin Luther King, Jr. Club for schools in the city of Enugu, co-opting other alumni of U.S. government exchanges to spread Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message. In 2008, she founded Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation, working with a team of more than 100 individuals, financial partners and volunteers to provide support to more than 5,000 widows. The support includes free medical outreach, pro bono legal services, economic empowerment, advocacy for law and cultural reforms, community education and sensitization. Through her Widows Foundation, she has worked with traditional rulers on cultural reforms. Her efforts led to the unprecedented appointment of a widow to join the ruling council of the king. She also succeeded in reducing the period of mandatory seclusion for widows in traditional communities from six months to one month. Her community recognized her leadership activities by bestowing upon her a Chieftaincy title. So far, Ms. Udemezue’s Adopt a Widow program has led to the adoption of 55 widows and their kids by individuals and families based in Nigeria, Kenya, the U.S., and Canada. They help with rent, school fees, and monthly stipends and – in some cases – startup capital. In July 2016, Ms. Udemezue was recognized on the floor of the U.S. Congress by Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell in recognition of the work she is doing with widows. In January 2017, she led a program in Enugu with fellow lawyers and U.S. government exchange alumni to train attendees on inheritance and custodial rights to empower Nigerian women who normally have great difficulty inheriting and keeping assets necessary to start businesses and preserve personal independence. Ms. Udemezue is an alumna of the U.S. Department of State’s IVLP exchange project titled Grassroots Activism. She is returning to the U.S. as a Gold Star alumna of the program.
  • Mr. Dimitrios Kalavros-Gousiou of Greece (September 2017) is the Founder and Curator of TEDxAthens, one of Greece’s most popular youth-oriented conferences, promoting innovative ideas and attracting more than 2,000 attendees every year. He is also Co-Founder and Partner of Found.ation, a startup accelerator and innovation hub. Despite the difficult economic situation in Greece, Dimitris has worked to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that could inspire and empower young people and provide them with knowledge and networks to develop their ideas into businesses, particularly in the tech sector. Dimitris established his startup accelerator, Found.ation, based on the models of incubators and accelerators he encountered while participating in the State Department sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). His 2013 IVLP addressing social entrepreneurship provided contacts and ideas he has highlighted in parallel events, including the recent TEDxSalon event focused on accessibility for people with disabilities. Dimitris also tapped his IVLP network to identify models of digital literacy programs, which Found.ation now offers to dozens of young people, ages 17-30. Currently, he is working to establish a venture capital fund, with support from the EU’s European Investment Fund, that will train technology startup entrepreneurs and provide them seed funding to grow their businesses. Dimitris played a key role in creating the first association for Greek alumni of the IVLP and other U.S. exchanges.
  • Mr. Mohamed Amine Zariat of Morocco (November 2017) is the president and founder of Association TIBU Maroc (named after the first basketball event that was organized and which was called “Tournoi International de Basketball Universitaire”). He created Morocco’s first basketball academy in 2013; a Casablanca-based school that provides training in sports, English, and leadership to marginalized youth. He began with one location and has since partnered with Morocco’s Ministry of Education in order to expand to 24 more across Casablanca, Mohammedia and other cities, including centers in some of the most underserved neighborhoods. In 2016, his company created the Handibasket Tour, a three-city tour to teach wheelchair basketball skills to disabled children. In addition to his work with the International University Basketball Tournament, Mr. Zariat has now founded two additional civil society startups. The first, Morocco Leadership Academy, founded in 2015 is dedicated to leadership development and coaching for Moroccan youth. The second, Sported International, is dedicated to capacity building for entities working to professionalize sports in Morocco.

Gold Star Programs in Action

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