U.S. Embassy Exchange Alumni Lead Innovation Workshop with U.S. Experts

PARAMARIBO – Almost 20 Surinamese community leaders recently completed an eight-week workshop focused on innovation through an effort led by alumni of the U.S. Embassy’s exchange programs and funded through an Embassy small grant.

The “Innovative Program for Cooperation” provided participants with new ways of identifying community problems and working collaboratively to create and implement solutions. The sessions ended with an official ceremony on April 1, 2022, with U.S. Ambassador to Suriname Karen Lynn Williams congratulating the participants.

“You are people who are looking for ways to better your communities, to improve not just your own lives but the lives around you, whether that be in a small community sense or a larger city sense or for the whole country,” she said.

The innovation program was led by Ashna Mahepal, an alumna of both the U.S. Embassy’s Humphrey and Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) exchange programs. She was able to take advantage of the network she developed while in the U.S. on her exchange programs, connecting participants with a Silicon Valley startup, Innovation Minds, which provided a software platform to guide the creative innovation process. Participants were able to access this software to work jointly on identifying problems and potential solutions.

“Collaboration is the key to innovation and to successful endeavors,” Ambassador Williams said. “The opportunity that Ashna has been able to put together with Innovative Minds to work with this very important Silicon Valley company, a recognized hub of innovation, is giving all of you a much greater reach and impact than perhaps you would have had by yourselves.”

Participants in the program worked in teams to explore community needs and potential solutions that focused on several areas. As part of the program, they pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, with top performers receiving additional funding and support to further develop their community action plans.

The program will continue with a second cohort of select young students going through the training program.

The “Innovative Program for Cooperation” is just the latest effort by the U.S. Embassy to provide knowledge, skills, and tools to Surinamese students, community leaders, and officials to help them find and implement Surinamese solutions to local concerns. It was funded by the Embassy’s Small Grants Program, which solicits proposals throughout the year. Details can be found here: https://sr.usembassy.gov/education-culture/small-grants/