IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Sustainable Community Impact


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.

On Wednesday, January 31, 2024, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual panel of IVLP Impact Awardees who implemented IVLP Impact Award projects in both 2022 and 2023, and about the sustained impacts their work has had on their local communities over the two years. Laszlo Katona (Hungary) moderated the panel, and the featured panelists were Arbër Selmani (Republic of Kosovo), Hyunmin Kang (South Korea) and Lady Alejandra Vera (Colombia).

"I feel like these projects have helped me to continue my purpose [and]...this is just the beginning; we are just starting out. I want to continue with music, with activism and showcase human rights, so that we can have a world where women, children [and] vulnerable people can live free of violence. “- Lady Alejandra Vera

Some top takeaways from the program were:

1. IVLP as a "professional family"

All four of the panelists were participants on both a virtual IVLP project as well as it's following in-person iteration. Laszlo was a participant in the IVLP Project 21st Century ChangeMakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation which was organized by CRDF Global in both 2021 and 2022. Laszlo reflected on his exchange experience: "I think we can really say that IVLP, this program...has made a professional family for us." He remembered his fellow IVLP participants fondly, saying, "I think we had a wonderful group" and added, "I work really closely together with Tetiana Konovalenko, from Ukraine," another IVLP impact Awardee who Laszlo met during his IVLP exchange. Both of Hyunmin's 2021 and 2023 IVLP projects were titled A Global Moment in Time - Peace and Justice and were organized by the Institute of International Education, while Arbër's virtual (2021) and in-person (2023) projects, both titled A Global Moment in Time - Reflections on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility were organized by Meridian. Arbër shared that he sees his IVLP cohort as consultant, "I consult them whenever I want to apply for a project." Lady spoke through an interpreter about her project Ending Gender-Based Violence that was organized by Meridian in 2021 and by FHI 360 in 2022. Lady shared how her IVLP experience inspired her IVLP Impact Award project: I had the opportunity to travel to the United States, and I saw the level of attention and care that victims of violence receive, so I wanted to go [back] to Colombia and reproduce it a little bit."

2. Shared missions across disciplines

Although the panelist's projects had different focus areas and took on various formats to achieve their goals, the panelists were nevertheless able to draw parallels between their work and identify a shared mission to bring people together and make the world a better place. Laszlo and Lady had projects that were largely workshop-based, with Laszlo's focused on training teachers (in 2023) and University students (in 2022) on how to combat disinformation. Laszlo used the metaphor of education and training "enlighten[ing] people to help them become lighthouses," in order to illuminate disinformation for what it is and shed light on sources of trustworthy information. Lady's projects involved sharing her IVLP insights with women leaders on ways to combat violence against women in 2022 and her continuation in 2023 engaged and built a network of leaders focusing on this issue. On the other end of the spectrum, Hyunmin spent his project years composing two unique iterations of the "Korea Japan Song of Friendship." He described the project goals as "using music as a tool to bring Koreans and Japanese together for reconciliation and international community building." Arbër's two IVLP Impact Award projects both focused on highlighting the human rights and humanity of people with disabilities. In 2022 he accomplished this by curating an art exhibition featuring artists with disabilities, while in 2023 he created videos that showcase the daily lives of people with disabilities. Arbër spoke about the underlying issue his projects took on: “I basically don't like the way people with disabilities are being perceived and considered in Kosovo....we need to give these people opportunity...but also the space and the resources that they deserve.”

Lady articulated these interconnections between the panelist's projects well when she addressed Arbër, saying, “There are a lot of rural women and migrant women who have disabilities, so I really connect with your project, my sister has an auditive disability, so I really connect with your project on disability. I can also connect with Hyunmin’s project, because I also believe in art as well, and here we use a lot of art to promote activism, human rights and to prevent all forms of violence.” Similarly, both Hyunmin and Arbër talked about how they see their roles as artists. As Arbër put it: “To be an artist, it’s a mission...it’s not just doing aesthetically beautiful [things,] you also want for your work to be activism.” Hyunmin agreed, noting that "Musicians and artists...have more of an advantage than many other people when it comes to engaging...because people are almost always intrigued, and they have this big interest in art and culture, especially from other countries." 

3. Examples of community impact

The panelists each shared stories of success across their two projects.  For instance, Lady shared the story of how she was able to connect with an indigenous community in the Amazon region as part of her project, and even though they spoke different languages they still found a way to communicate. Lady shared her project's message of women's empowerment to the community who are geographically isolated and without access to the internet, which made a big impression. Arbër focused on his responsibility to his participants, sharing, “When I think about the impact [of the project,] I don’t just think about who saw the video...to me it’s also an impact if I just make...a child with a disability laugh...just making these people understand that they are being shown somewhere...that maybe that video can change their daily life.” Hyunmin spoke about the unique role that artists have to cross barriers: “I believe music is...basically another language, and I’ve been using it to converse with Japanese musicians through feelings and emotions...you don’t need language to communicate...and music I think, in that regard, is a very effective tool to communicate through the heart.

4. Continuing the work

As is the case with many of the inspiring IVLP Impact Awardees, these four panelists are not planning to rest on their laurels and are already looking forward to continuing their work into the future. Hyunmin shared a story of an audience member who approached him after the concert featuring the "Korea Japan Song of Friendship" in 2023, and asked if Hyunmin could focus a future project on his community. Hyunmin reflected on this and decided "I need to really work on expanding this opportunity for...as many people as possible." Arbër talked about the way that disability rights are sometimes pushed to the edge of public discourse, saying “We are fed up with waiting for our turn to talk about things" but he continued by expressing his determination: "But we have to continue. We have to continue working in our fields." Lady also acknowledged the complex set of factors leading to the violence that her project is fighting in Colombia, but said "with leaders like me, like you, I hope, I have faith, that we will reach out goal[s]."

“As long as musicians and artists stay together, ...the social impacts they create in unison will be sustainable, it won’t go away...because they have to create, they have to write new music, they have to create new art...they need social impact in order for them to grow...that’s the unique role that music plays in unifying people and motivating them to work towards common goals” - Hyunmin Kang 

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: Sustainable Community Impact | January 2024
Countries: Republic of Kosovo, Hungary, Colombia, South Korea
Impact Areas: Human and Civil Rights, Cultural Diplomacy, Empowering Women and Girls, Media and Journalism
Program Areas: Global Leadership