The UNAOC Fellowship Program aims at fostering intercultural exchange and interfaith understanding by engaging with emerging leaders and young professionals from Europe, North-America (EUNA), the Middle East and North-Africa (MENA). Framed around two-week exchange trips between EUNA and MENA countries, the Program sends participants from each geographic area to their counterparts’ region.
The Fellowship provides participants with a first hand exposure to diversity and with the opportunity to experience cultural immersion while interacting with a wide range of local actors and partners. In every country visited, participants are being provided with crucial comprehension tools to help them understand the plurality and the complexity of their surroundings, and to get an extensive grasp of their host country’s culture, politics, society, religion, media and more. The main objective of the Program is to involve Fellows into intercultural cooperation and encourage them to engage in broader and deeper discussions on cultural sensitivity. By exposing participants to new ideas and perspectives, and by immersing them into culturally diverse and unfamiliar environments, the Fellowship Program aims at challenging perceptions and deconstructing stereotypes. Building on that, participants become then better equipped to position themselves as informed stakeholders and to develop cross-cultural partnerships while bridging divides between peoples from different faiths and cultures.
In 2015, besides addressing issues related to intercultural dialogue, activities and discussions of the Fellowship Program were built around a sub-theme: “Migration and Integration” for MENA participants traveling to EUNA countries, and “Youth Development” for their EUNA counterparts traveling to the MENA region. Both themes were chosen according to UNAOC objectives and plan of action with the goal to ensure a concrete impact on the ground and to encourage intercultural collaboration between Fellows and actors met during their trip. It also framed the selection process, and both cohorts were composed by young professionals and experts deeply involved in either Youth or Migration. Both topics were, and remain, global problematic at the center of current events: in EUNA countries, Migration issues have become a focus of attention in media and political debates; in the MENA region, the field of Youth Development is becoming more relevant everyday.
In 2015 – and for the first time since the launch of the Fellowship Program in 2010 – the two cohorts have had the opportunity to meet and interact with one another for four days in Sarajevo. The experience was unanimously described by the Fellows as extremely beneficial.