Chicago Sister Cities International to Receive Grant from the Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative to Create Virtual Exhange between High School Youth in Chicago and Casablanca, Morocco

Categories: Casablanca News,News,Press Release



CHICAGO, April 4, 2016 – The Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative today announced the award of a two-year grant to Chicago Sister Cities International, one of 10 new projects funded through a national competition to use virtual exchange to increase cross-cultural understanding and equip young people to participate in a global economy.

Chicago Sister Cities International is among the first wave of virtual exchange programs to be funded by the Stevens Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Virtual exchanges use technology for sustained, people-to-people education programs. The Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding between youth in middle school through post-secondary and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world.

The announcement marks the first major step in the Stevens Initiative’s plan to scale up people-to-people exchanges between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Initiative provided $5 million to support online programs that will bring more than 20,000 young people together to engage in cross-cultural learning experiences. The programs reach 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and 25 American states.

Under the Stevens Initiative, Chicago Sister Cities International will partner with the Digital Youth Network at DePaul University, the Idmaj Neighborhoods Association in Morocco, and the Center for Arabic Language and Culture (CALC) to create the STEAMuseum, a digital museum that will act as a collaborative exchange between high school students in Chicago and Casablanca. This pilot project will bring students together virtually to create digital museum exhibits for an eventual virtual, global museum. The STEAMuseum will be a new kind of cultural space created by and for a new generation of digital learners.

Other examples of the work to be undertaken include:

  • Online English, Arabic, and Kurdish language exchange between students in California and their peers in Morocco, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia;
  • Storytelling through virtual reality for middle and high school students in Kentucky, New York, and Jordan, including Syrian refugees;
  • Global leadership activities for students in Iraq, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin;
  • An online program exploring how the media portrays people in the United Arab Emirates and various states across the United States.

Most programs will launch in Spring 2016 and continue for a period of two years.

“This is the beginning of a global classroom. Chicago Sister Cities International will be a pioneer in an exciting and dynamic field,” said Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute. “Our vision is to spark conversations between young people in countries around the world—to exchange ideas and information and to work together on addressing important issues. We look forward to working with Chicago Sister Cities International to achieve this vision.”

The first Stevens Initiative award competition was open to U.S. non-profit organizations. In addition to holding future rounds of the award competition, the Initiative will share best practices and support research to address which methods have a measurable impact and have the potential to reach all young people as the field grows.

“The City of Chicago is one of the most global of American cities because we have residents from every corner of the world, and thanks to Chicago Sister Cities International, we have partnerships that increase our global reach. This grant will make our partnership with Casablanca even stronger and for that, I cannot thank the Aspen Institute enough,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “By connecting high school students in Chicago with their peers in Chicago’s sister city of Casablanca, Morocco, the students will not only explore and gain STEAM education, they will learn what it means to be global citizens.”

“Since the beginning of our sister city relationship in 1982, Casablanca and Chicago have prioritized multi-disciplinary education exchanges between our students. The STEAMuseum will continue this great tradition by connecting students in both cities, for better understanding and lasting friendship, as they design and curate a museum for the digital age,” said Boubker Mazoz, President and Founder of the Idmaj Neighborhoods Association.

The other Stevens Initiative grantees announced today are:

  • Eurasia Foundation
  • Global Nomads Group
  • National Democratic Institute
  • Soliya
  • State University of New York – Center for Collaborative Online International Learning
  • University of California Berkeley
  • Wofford College
  • World Learning


Chicago Sister Cities International

Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI), a division of World Business Chicago, provides leadership to develop, manage and coordinate comprehensive programs and projects with Chicago’s 28 sister cities in the areas of economic development, education, tourism, immigration and cultural enrichment. CSCI expands Chicago’s global reach for the benefit of the City of Chicago, its residents and businesses. For more information, visit

Chicago’s 28 sister cities include: Accra, Ghana (1989); Amman, Jordan (2004); Athens, Greece (1997); Belgrade, Serbia (2005); Birmingham, United Kingdom (1993); Bogota, Colombia (2009); Busan, Republic of Korea (2007); Casablanca, Morocco (1982); Delhi, India (2001); Durban, South Africa (1997); Galway, Ireland (1997); Gothenburg, Sweden (1987); Hamburg, Germany (1994); Kyiv, Ukraine (1991); Lahore, Pakistan (2007); Lucerne, Switzerland (1998); Mexico City, Mexico (1991); Milan, Italy (1973); Moscow, Russia (1997); Osaka, Japan (1973); Paris, France (1996); Petach Tikva, Israel (1994); Prague, Czech Republic (1990); Shanghai, China (1985); Shenyang, China (1985); Toronto, Canada (1991); Vilnius, Lithuania (1993); and Warsaw, Poland (1960).

Neighborhoods Association Idmaj

Neighborhoods Association Idmaj is a registered non-profit organization in Morocco, founded in 2006 by Mr. Boubker Mazoz. The association aims to give vulnerable youth and at-risk children the opportunity to learn and to be part of a community through programs in languages, civic education, life skills, arts, music, sports, and leadership. Idmaj runs Sidi Moumen Cultural Center located in an underserved neighborhood of Casablanca, where they provide an alternative to delinquency, drug addiction, and extremism.

Digital Youth Network

Digital Youth Network (DYN) is a DePaul University-based organization charged with developing the people, tools, practices, and infrastructure necessary to facilitate youth becoming savvy and empowered digital and computational learners, creators, and contributors in their homes, classrooms and communities.

Center for Arabic Language and Culture

The Center for Arabic Language and Culture (CALC) is the main support organization for the thirteen Chicago Public Schools teaching Arabic. CALC provides professional development workshops for teachers, curriculum development materials, and acts as a clearinghouse for Arab cultural events, as well as supplementing existing curricula with exciting, engaging, and enriching cultural programming inside the classroom.

The Stevens Initiative

The Stevens Initiative is a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens. By fostering structured online engagements between young people in secondary through post-secondary education, the Stevens Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Housed at the Aspen Institute, the Stevens Initiative is a collaboration between the family of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Algeria, and Morocco, and Microsoft, Twitter, Mozilla, and GoPro.  Visit us at

Media Contact
Benjamin Kelner