Beginning in October 2014, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Cultural Vistas (a Washington, D.C.-based national programming agency), and the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, launched the very first “virtual” International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project. The topic for this program was “NGO Management in Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development.”
Over the course of the three-months, this project connected and fostered collaboration between 10 representatives of NGOs in Iceland and professional counterparts in the United States in an effort to address key environmental and developmental issues, and promote and support sustainable environmental practices. This marked the first IVLP exchange conducted primarily through video and web-based conferencing and sharing.
Maureen Hurley, Director of WACM’s International Visitors Program, had the privilege of being at the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, with counterparts from the Georgia Council for International Visitors, for the launch of this project. While there, the Embassy hosted an American-style barbecue dinner which served as “home hospitality” for the 10 Icelandic participants, Embassy staff, and the American delegation.
After returning from Iceland, Cultural Vistas contacted Maureen requesting a Maine-based non-profit participate in this project. Friends of Casco Bay (FCB) in South Portland was selected and on January 2, 2015, Mary Cerullo, FCB’s Associate Director, and Peter Milholland, Citizen Stewards Coordinator, joined fellow panelists from the Anacostia Watershed Society (DC-Metro) and Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (Oregon) to discuss the issues of grassroots organizing and public mobilization with our Icelandic “visitors.”
Mary Cerullo and Peter Milholland speak with IVLP participants in Iceland
Additionally, U.S. cities involved in this project were asked to contribute small, lightweight items to “culture boxes” to be sent to the Icelandic participants. Maine sent a variety of postcards depicting our natural resources and small magnets to be included with similar items from the other cities. The delegation had already received Maine keychains from Maureen while she was in Iceland.
In late June, Iceland reciprocated with a culture bag for us which included post cards, note cards, a book and travel brochures about outdoor activities in Iceland, the Icelandic Times, a map, a pen, small products from the Blue Lagoon, and a small jar of geothermally-dried sea salt.
Culture box items received from Iceland
Virtual IVLP projects are a means to extend the reach of people-to-people interaction given that U.S. Embassies have a limited number of slots each year to send participants to the United States.
The World Affairs Council of Maine would like to thank Mary Cerullo and Peter Milholland of Friends of Casco Bay for their contributions to this project.