InterExchange Foundation Grantee Helps Small Businesses in Middle East

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After being awarded a Christianson Grant through The InterExchange Foundation, Swarthmore College graduate works with Kiva, a microfinance organization, to aid small businesses in the West Bank and Lebanon.

When asked why he decided to leave his social and professional circles behind to volunteer in the West Bank and Lebanon, Christianson Grant recipient Philip Issa said, “New York can wait. An opportunity to work in this region helping people improve their lives may not come again.”

“I was convinced by the wisdom of a dear friend that New York and its realm of opportunities will not disappear in my absence,” said Issa, originally from McLean, VA. “’Go,’ she advised me. ‘Seize this opportunity. It’s something you definitely will not regret.’”

The 2009 Swarthmore College alumnus, who graduated with a degree in Economics and Political Science, embraced his role as a liaison and organizer with Kiva, which facilitates microfinance projects globally by connecting lenders with small business borrowers in developing countries.

Not only did Philip work with Arabic-speaking organizations and small business owners in Ramallah and throughout the region on behalf of Kiva, he learned to become an integrated part of his host community.

Issa’s experience working in a new culture and engaging with a host community mirrors the experiences of the more than 80 InterExchange Foundation grantees who have been awarded funding since 2007. Other Foundation grant recipients have made similar commitments to long-term, international volunteer and work projects—everything from environmental support efforts in South America to health care advancement in Africa.

Besides learning the professional culture of the Middle East, Issa also participated in community activities, like family meals and wedding preparations for friends.

“Among my favorite memories are attending bachelor parties of new friends from the area. They are done very differently in the West Bank," said Issa. “The parties are strictly for men, and they are attended by practically all of the groom’s male relatives (of all ages) and their friends. Typically, there are enough people invited to warrant making it a block party and guests gulp down loads of tamarind juice and coffee, as they dance throughout the night to a live singer or band.”

During his work in the West Bank and Lebanon, Philip helped make it possible for more small businesses to borrow from Kiva microlending, which, in turn, has allowed Kiva to extend more interest-free funds to microfinance institutions throughout the region.

The Christianson Grant made Issa’s travel to the various Kiva branches throughout the territory and housing possible. The grant funding is designed to off-set the expenses that volunteers and workers like Issa incur while working pro bono.

The next Christianson Grant deadline is on March 15, 2013. Applicants can visit the InterExchange Foundation website for more information about materials needed to apply for up to $10,000 in grant money.

The Christianson grant also makes the new, global perspectives that can only be gained by living abroad, a little easier to obtain.

“Living abroad gives Americans a chance to reflect on their own society. Most of all, living abroad can bestow a deeper sense of empathy and renew our vigor to help make our country or world a better place,” said Issa. “I am more aware, as a result of my extended experience abroad, of my unearned privileges that stem simply from having been born in the United States. I plan to be a more forceful advocate for the responsibilities of the privileged to help the underprivileged both in the U.S. and worldwide.”


InterExchange is a non-profit organization committed to improving international understanding by facilitating life-changing, exceptional cultural exchange experiences for young people, businesses and families around the world. As both a J-1 Visa sponsor designated by the U.S. Department of State and a cross-cultural ambassador, we develop meaningful relationships with participants from more than 60 countries as well as with international recruiting organizations, host employers and families. We ensure that all in our community are treated with the respect and consideration that comes from staff with firsthand experience living and working abroad and more than 40 years of leadership in the industry.

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Media Contact:
Ron Hernandez
Director of Marketing and Communications
InterExchange, Inc.
161 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10013

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