In 1958, President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev formally agreed to exchanges between students, teachers, and researchers, setting the stage for IREX's predecessor organization, the Inter-University Council on Travel Grants (IUCTG). In 1968, leading U.S. universities established IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board) with support from the Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and the U.S. Department of State.
According to IREX's founding documents, a centralized organization was needed to "act with authority on both sides of the Atlantic, solicit and attract sufficient funds, be immune to political pressures from all sides, and fulfill the sensitive role of clearinghouse for information." The immediate goal of IREX was to administer exchange programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. While the founding proposal cited an "immediate mandate" focusing on that region, it also made clear that "there is no disposition to limit IREX's jurisdiction geographically."
Headquarters: IREX's original headquarters were in New York City. In 1986, IREX relocated to Princeton, New Jersey, and had a close working relationship with Princeton University. By relocating to Washington, DC, in 1992—where it remains today—IREX's primarily academic identity began to transform into a more development-focused entity. This also put IREX in close proximity to other development organizations, embassies, and policymakers.
Field offices: IREX opened its first field office in Moscow in 1989. Today, IREX has 20 field offices throughout Africa, Europe and Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Date of incorporation/nonprofit status: For nearly 30 years, IREX operated under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). IREX became independently incorporated in 1991 and received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 1995.
End of the Cold War: When the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia and the former Soviet Republics faced a wide range of challenges as they became newly independent countries. With deep experience and relationships in the region, IREX was well-placed to help these countries transition their civil society, education, and information and media systems.
- Increasing information access to improve prosperity: To help develop the struggling economies of many former Soviet Republics, in the mid-1990s IREX ran the U.S. Information Agency’s Internet Access and Training Program (IATP), which connected millions of people in Eurasia to the internet for the first time through libraries and other civic institutions.
- Strengthening institutions to serve people effectively: To help civil society organizations effectively serve the diverse populations they represent, IREX encouraged collaboration between U.S. and Eurasian organizations. For example, through the Institutional Partnerships Program (IPP), IREX helped forge dozens of partnerships between Russian, Ukrainian, and American NGOs, business industry groups, and universities to collaborate on joint projects to deliver more efficient health care, education, and public works.
- Fostering vibrant information and media to hold governments accountable: To provide citizens with credible information at a critical time of reform, IREX helped build independent and financially stable media and information systems throughout Eurasia. For example, during Slobodan Milosevic’s attempted crackdown on democracy and press freedom, IREX provided unwavering support to radio B-92, which continued to broadcast vital information to help citizens make informed decisions and hold government accountable.
Going global: In response to evolving global needs, IREX’s senior management made the strategic decision to "go global" in 2003, dramatically expanding IREX’s work in scale, geographic reach, and the ways in which we impact people’s lives.
Throughout these decades of change, our focus on people and communities has been steady. Today, IREX and our partners work in 120 countries to build a more just, prosperous, and inclusive world by empowering youth, cultivating leaders, strengthening institutions, and extending access to quality education and information.
- Kristin Lord: 2014–present
- W. Robert Pearson: 2008–2014
- Mark G. Pomar: 2000–2008
- Daniel C. Matuszewski: 1992–2000
- Allen Kassof: 1968–1992