The Reach and Impact of Virtual Exchange (Summer 2014)
Our increasingly complex and interdependent world demands a generation of young people equipped with the requisite skills and inclination to advance peace and security. At Soliya, we combine the power of dialogue with the reach of new media to make transformational cross-cultural exchange broadly accessible and scalable. When our alumni face conflict, they are more likely to strive for mutual understanding and cooperation and less likely to resort to violence or zero-sum competition.
Each semester, hundreds of college students from Western and predominantly Muslim societies meet online in weekly, face-to-face small-group dialogue sessions through the Connect Program. They include world travelers at elite institutions, as well as individuals who for financial, cultural, or other reasons might not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter “the other.” Under the guidance of skilled facilitators, students engage in deeply personal and frequently challenging dialogue and collaboration around subjects such as international relations, gender, and religion. Qualified alumni can join graduate students and young professionals in our Facilitation Training and Practicum, wherein they are prepared to foster and facilitate constructive dialogue, whether online or in person.
Soliya is part of a growing field called virtual exchange — or sustained, technology-enabled, people-to-people education programs. In partnership with the Saxelab Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at MIT, we are working to accelerate the development of this field by both defining the impact that can be achieved and developing robust and shareable tools to measure that impact. Multiple control group studies have already demonstrated that virtual exchange can have powerful and comparable effects around traditional peacebuilding indicators — including “dominant” groups’ perceptions of self-other overlap and “non-dominant” groups’ feeling of being heard and respected. MIT is also exploring the ways in which virtual exchange may provide new opportunities for deepening people-to-people peacebuilding by enabling spaced as opposed to massed contact experiences and by allowing young people to meet within a safe online space while being situated within their everyday realities.