Creating meaningful exchanges with leaders around the world

Screen grab of an online meeting with faces on multiple small screens (State Dept.)
Former participants in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program reconnect during a virtual meeting in July. (State Dept.)

The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is celebrating 80 years of cultural exchange between the United States and rising leaders around the world.

The “Faces of Exchange” celebration highlights 80 alumni, some well-known internationally, some doing local work in their communities.

Over the course of 2020, the State Department rolled out the stories of these alumni to celebrate IVLP’s anniversary. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will deliver remarks at a concluding event on December 9.

“At its core, IVLP is about building relationships,” said the State Department’s Director of the Office of International Visitors Anne Grimes on November 9. “Our goal is to provide a very personal face on America.”

Founded in 1940, IVLP is a way for emerging leaders around the world to visit the United States to learn about U.S. society and institutions. The first IVLP visitor, Father Aurelio Espinosa, arrived from Ecuador under the program’s earlier name — the Hemisphere Leaders Program — and the program has hosted over 225,000 exchange visitors since.

Some of these IVLP alumni have gone on to high-profile careers in politics. More than 500 of the program’s alumni are current or former heads of state or government.

Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger on terrace of building overlooking Washington Monument (© Bob Daugherty/AP Images)
Future Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher, right, during a breakfast meeting with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the State Department on September 18, 1975 (© Bob Daugherty/AP Images)

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an IVLP participant in 1967. Decades later, in 1990, she sent a note from 10 Downing Street that read: “The whole tour was immensely valuable. I saw and felt the vitality and generosity of the American way of life and it has left an indelible impression on my mind. Forever more I shall be a friend to the United States.”

Others, such as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres — who participated in 1978 — and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who participated in 2012 — are currently in office and affecting positive change in their positions.

Peter Masika is the founder and chief executive of Tanzania Youth Alliance (TAYOA) and an IVLP alumnus from 2003. After participating in the program, Masika launched an HIV prevention services series in Tanzania, which included programs to communicate medical information and develop technical leadership skills.

Now, Masika’s TAYOA implements a variety of outreach programming to promote equality and engage Tanzanian youth with international volunteers.

“We [Tanzanians] need leadership not only in politics but also business and everywhere,” Masika said.

Large group of people standing together for a photo (State Dept.)
Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce welcomed the diplomatic community to the launch of the International Visitor Leadership Program’s 80th anniversary celebration at the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington in January. (State Dept.)