Young Leaders Exchange in Iraq

Making assumptions about people, communities, cultures, religions and nations can have devastating long-term effects. When we generalise, we risk both wrongly defining individuals and wrongly holding groups to account for the actions of an individual.

Since its first program in 2007, World Learning’s Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) has sought to tackle these problems across ethnic, religious, and national groups through experiential discussions, workshops, home stays and post-exchange service projects in Iraq. Whilst the first class in 2007 was mostly males from urban areas, more recent participants reflect the true diversity of the nation. A particular focus is given to recruiting women with access to girls schools and institutions, further expanding the reach of the program.

During the 4 week summer exchange program, English-speaking students aged between 15-17 explore themes such as leadership development, civic rights and responsibilities, respect for diversity, and community engagement. Participants work together to develop community-based solutions to particular problems they face at home, and in the course of developing the project, participants soon realise that other regions of Iraq also struggle to provide support to internally displaced people and refugees within their communities.

Participants have noted that bring together Arabs and Kurds – groups often framed as being in conflict with one another – breaks down stereotype. One participant from Duhok noted, “I learnt that with our skills and knowledge, we can develop our country and help improve the situation. We, as a team of members from different parts of Iraq with different ethnicity and beliefs, can work together to help re­build our country.”

World Learning’s commitment to maintaining a broad definition for the term “inclusion” allows our project work to remain adaptable, relevant and inclusive itself of the range of pressing issues facing our world.