Investing in people is the best hope multiplier

Investing in people is the best hope multiplier

Photo of young leaders looking at documents and discussing ideas during a workshop.

When I joined IREX eight years ago, I saw that our organization’s strength stemmed from a belief that if we invested in people—if we supported them to obtain the education and skills, experiences and networks, and the information and resources they needed, they would not only improve their own lives, but also contribute to making entire communities more just, prosperous, and inclusive. The individuals we invested in would be the kinds of leaders who would go on to serve others. They would strengthen public and civic institutions, making them more effective, accountable, and fair.

A world overwhelmed by conflict and compounding crises has challenged this hopeful vision. Just when we thought we were turning a corner in fighting a global pandemic, additional crises emerged. Russia launched a  full-scale invasion of Ukraine, threatening not just sovereign borders but the very idea of democratic self-determination. We’ve experienced staggering increases in inflation globally, increases in poverty, and now face the possibility of a global recession. Food insecurity is on the rise in too many parts of the world. Authoritarianism has spread, reaching the highest levels in nearly two decades. Truth itself is under attack from those who peddle malign and manipulative information. The impact of climate change and global warming is growing more pronounced as deadly storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts occur more frequently. These and other crises are overwhelming governments, businesses, humanitarian responders, civil society organizations, and all of us.

After Russia’s unprovoked escalation of its war on Ukraine, a country where IREX has worked for decades, it struck me that, for the first time since I joined IREX, our website did not feature a photo of a smiling young person. Its absence made me think about the hope we all need in our lives and what we must do to sustain it, even in the face of adversity.

But where can we find that hope, especially when so many are suffering? Personally, I reflect on the tireless efforts of IREX’s vast network of local partners around the world, as well as our own team, who persist in their work for positive change, often in the face of incredible obstacles. I remember that no matter the challenge, there are people everywhere fighting injustice, supporting those in need, and working for a better tomorrow. Their sheer persistence, even defiance, is a tangible – even infectious – demonstration of hope that things can get better. It reminds me that IREX’s approach of investing in people is still the right path towards more just, prosperous and inclusive societies. It is our best collective hope.

Allow me to share a few examples of our activities from the last year, in the hopes you will be inspired as well:

  • IREX rallied to support the Ukrainian people swiftly and with vigor.
    • Our large IREX team across Ukraine and in nearby countries redirected prior programming to respond to the urgent needs of Ukrainians. In the early months of the full-scale invasion, they supported local organizations to engage more than 2,000 volunteers, who in turn assisted 236,000 Ukrainians with humanitarian assistance.  We quickly distributed more than $530,000 in humanitarian aid, including food, first aid kits, hygiene products, transportation, and fuel. IREX supported more than 20,000 people in Ukraine with mental health and employment services, such as psychosocial assistance and finding new jobs. We supported the relocation of dozens of teachers and journalists to safer parts of the country.
    • We worked with our partners on the ground to provide quality information to newly liberated areas of Ukraine after Russian occupiers destroyed Ukrainians’ communications infrastructure and bombarded them with manipulative information. We enabled media outlets and journalists to provide critical reporting and provided media literacy and cyber security education to thousands of Ukrainians.
    • We have continued to support thousands of Ukrainian youth across the country, who are leading community efforts to provide humanitarian response, support citizens at risk, rebuild damaged areas, and communicate Ukraine’s story to the world.
  • In Syria, a country plagued by war for more than 12 years, we supported independent media outlets and provide accurate, sometimes lifesaving, information to citizens forced to live amidst conflict, disinformation, and oppression.
  • In Sri Lanka, we have provided critical information to support citizens navigating a debt crisis, skyrocketing inflation, and political turmoil. We supplied safety equipment, support, and legal advice to journalists. We also piloted a citizen journalism program to share stories – including popular stories of ingenuity and hope – from marginalized and rural areas.
  • We continued to support young leaders who are driving positive change across sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2014, nearly 6,000 leaders have participated in the annual Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders program, which has honed their leadership skills, exposed them to new perspectives and experiences, and built powerful pan-African networks. After participating in this U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs-funded Fellowship, 98% of the leaders report more confidence in their ability to make a difference in their communities.
  • 280 business and social entrepreneurs from 37 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada came together in person this year in the U.S. Department of State-funded Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.  These inspiring entrepreneurs received training, education, and professional experiences to grow their enterprises – collaborating with companies and social enterprises in 20 cities in the United States.  They bring home with them enhanced potential to support economic growth and social progress across the Americas.
  • To ensure democracy delivers for citizens, the USAID-funded Comunitatea Mea in Moldova is supporting greater citizen participation and engagement, improved government financial management and transparency, and the building of trust between communities and their local governments. So far, 165,000 citizens have joined local efforts to define the priorities of their local governments. Through better asset management, they have unlocked $12 million of additional revenue that can be devoted to local citizen needs.
  • In more than 20 countries, IREX's Learn to Discern educational resources and short online courses are building resilience to manipulative information. Citizens learn to better evaluate the information being shared with them through traditional and social media, and how to recognize and resist intentionally manipulative content. For example, Ukrainian learners who took the Learn to Discern course demonstrated a 31% improvement in media analysis skills. In Jordan, female community leaders improved their critical information engagement skills by 67%. And in Serbia, learners improved their knowledge and, their understanding of media ownership and how that may influence news content production by 42%, enabling them to make informed decisions about where to consume quality news and information. 
  • Since 2020, IREX has been working with universities across Jordan to strengthen teacher preparation, and as a result, improve student learning. Drawing on IREX-led research and support, the Government of Jordan raised the base salaries of teachers who complete the training program by 35%, provided accelerated pathways to employment for teachers who gain these skills, and invested $2.8 million in the program. Enrollment increased by 550% in the program’s second year, significantly expanding the pipeline of highly qualified teachers who are well equipped to teach 21st century skills as well as subject matter content.
  • In collaboration with our partner and subsidiary, Development Gateway: an IREX Venture, we are supporting local governments and civil society organizations as they lead initiatives to serve citizens more effectively through data-driven decision making. By understanding barriers to data collection, sharing, and use, we are equipping people with the information they need to drive positive changes in their communities.

When I see how citizens, especially young people, are stepping forward to confront real challenges in their communities, when I see the risks journalists and local leaders are taking to empower their fellow citizens, when I see the sheer talent and ingenuity across communities worldwide, it renews my sense of hope for the future.

I hope you too will be inspired by IREX’s partners, staff, and global network of resilient, innovative, and devoted professionals whose commitment and perseverance endured despite enormous challenges in 2022. And I hope you too will feel moved to do what you can to advance greater peace, prosperity, justice -- and hope -- in the months and years ahead.

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Thank you for your ongoing support.

With best wishes for a happy holiday season and a more peaceful and just new year,

Signature that says Kristin M. Lord

Kristin M. Lord
President and CEO