IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Advancing Human Rights for Marginalized Communities


Through the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative, recent alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program administer community impact projects that bring the experiences of their exchange program home to their communities and promote innovative solutions to shared global challenges. Compelling storytelling is a crucial tool in advocacy and promoting human rights globally and the IVLP network brings together global leaders that are employing unique methods for sharing the stories and experiences of marginalized communities locally and globally.

On Wednesday, October 11, 2023, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual panel of IVLP Impact Awardees with projects that are working to advance human rights, focused specifically on utilizing unique methods to elevate marginalized voices in their communities. The panel was moderated by Osaze Efe (Nigeria) and featured panelists were Natalia Pedraza Bravo (Colombia), Kudakwahse Maria Chisvo (Zimbabwe) and Dia Yonzon (Nepal). The awardees discussed their IVLP Impact Awards projects, how their IVLP exchange program experience influenced their ideas and work, and the powerful potential of visual and narrative stories.

Some top takeaways from the program were:

1. Shared IVLP Inspiration and Connections

All four awardees reflected on how their IVLP exchange programs provided them with valuable connections and inspired them to develop their projects. Dia and Kudakwashe recalled the ideas they established during their participation in the project A Global Moment in Time – Reflections on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility, organized by the U.S. Department of State and Meridian International Center: “I went to Colorado Springs, and when I was there, I think what really inspired the project that I'm working on was the issue about telling the stories of queer individuals from their perspective.” Natalia’s IVLP experience, A Global Moment in Time: Photojournalists Document Challenges and Opportunities in the COVID Era, organized by World Learning, took her to Santa Fe. She shared that “the people I met in the program really opened my eyes [to] a lot of new realities or a lot of things I didn’t know.” For Dia, her IVLP experience was the catalyst for her project because “when I was in IVLP…we went to OutFront Kalamazoo where we had a space, a community center for people, that inspired me to create something like that back in Nepal.”

2. Diverse Approaches to Storytelling

Each awardee chose a different medium to amplify marginalized voices. As a two-time IVLP Impact Awardee, Natalia is using photojournalism to continue her investigation and condemnation of violence affecting women and girls in the Wayúu community in La Guajira, Colombia on a broader platform. Kudakwashe’s project uses creative and visual arts to tell a visually impactful story and highlights the diverse perspectives of Zimbabweans because art “goes above all these different levels of how we think normally as humans, and they also subconsciously change our biases.” In contrast, Dia’s project creates space for LGBTQ+ community members to share their own stories by documenting their perspectives through writing. She explains, “When we talk about [advancing] human rights… we talk about evidence. And these stories, these deep type [of] nuanced writings are essentially evidence that we are documenting and that we are creating.” As Osaze put it, “The work that we do give[s] power to people to live their true selves."

3. Crafting Digital Storytelling on Social Media

The role of social media as a medium for digital storytelling was also a crucial part of the discussion. Kudakwashe stressed the importance of utilizing social media, explaining that it “has a form of permanency to it.” In terms of interactive media, she shared, “the music that we create during this project, we’re going to upload it onto Spotify, so it’ll be readily available for people to listen to at any time.” Dia reiterated this point and stated that her project's website would serve as a digital archive to “build their stories and…to create a digital library” or a “time capsule” of queer stories. Her hope is that the website will “create an intergenerational dialogue which... is very important since there isn’t any documented history in Nepal of any queer individuals” and that sharing it digitally will allow it to exist even after the conclusion of the project. Natalia noted that sharing stories on digital media allows them to reach a wider, more international platform, and when “the public [can] see this history is common in a lot of places…that could make some people interested in helping the indigenous Colombian women and girls.”

4. Overcoming Shared Challenges

The panelists all reflected on the shared challenge of safely uplifting overlooked voices in their communities. Kudakwashe’s project aims to “show the different cultural bodies that LGBTQIA+ persons are people, and they deserve to have their stories told.” This required making sure the project's subjects were comfortable with their identity and stories being used publicly, noting "these are the bravest people.” In a similar sentiment, Natalia highlighted that journalists always have the responsibility to take care of their sources. "If…they don’t want [their names] to be published, I need to guarantee that this doesn’t happen.” Dia emphasized that amplifying underrepresented voices in an inclusive and safe manner is a way to counteract the perpetual “othering” of marginalized communities into silence, particularly because “if you are a queer person in Nepal, it is considered that you’re not part of the mainstream, the normal society.”

5. The Lasting Impact of Supporting Marginalized Communities

“The beautiful thing is [that] you're not just telling the stories... [you're] in charge of human rights issues,” Osaze reflected. The panel inspired the audience with their dedication to telling stories and advocating for human rights that are often overlooked. Natalia summarized the discussion best in her sentiment: “I think the courageous people are the ones I’m interviewing.”

The IVLP Impact Awards team is proud to be supporting the important and meaningful work of these four leaders and Awardees, and we hope that you will continue to follow the projects of these and our many other impressive Awardees on our web page.

“Listening to the three of you, the energy, the passion...the love for the various communities that you work for, it's very palpable.” - Osaze Efe, Moderator


If you have any questions, please reach out to the IVLP Impact Awards Team at IVLPImpactAwards@meridian.org.

If interested in attending more IVLP Impact Award events click here.

Project summary

IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Advancing Human Rights for Marginalized Communities | October 2023
Countries: Colombia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Nepal
Impact Areas: Human and Civil Rights
Program Areas: Global Leadership