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22 May 2011
Project Encounter’s Gulf Exchange Informs Western Perspectives

A group of 26 graduate students and young professionals from the United States and European countries has arrived in the UAE for the inaugural Gulf Exchange, a visit program designed to broaden the participants’ understanding of the social, economic and political dimensions of the Middle East. The current visit runs from May 22-31, and includes more than 30 meetings and events scheduled for the participants in the UAE and Qatar, including visits to DIFC, Masdar, MBC, Dubai Courts, Dubai Police, Etisalat, The National, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Al Jazeera, Qatar Foundation, the Doha Debates and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
 
Organized in partnership with Mideastwire.com, the Gulf Exchange is the flagship program of Project Encounter, an independent UAE-based non-profit initiative currently hosted by the Dubai School of Government.
 
The group met at the Dubai School of Government with DSG Executive President Tariq Lootah, Project Encounter Co-Executive Directors Taufiq Rahim and Nick Billotti, and Project Encounter Director Fadi Salem. In the afternoon, Fellow Paul Dyer presented an overview of the situation of youth in the Arab world, including research conducted through the Middle East Youth Initiative.
 
According to Taufiq Rahim, Co-Executive Director of Project Encounter, "Ten years after 9/11, there is a spirit of change in the region, and there is a real opportunity to build stronger bonds of understanding between the Middle East and the Western world. In this spirit, we see the inaugural Gulf Exchange as part of a long-term effort at Project Encounter to empower potential ambassadors of engagement between East and West."
 
Chosen from leading graduate institutions in Europe and North America through a competitive application process, the 26 participants in the Gulf Exchange will have the opportunity to meet with a wide range of GCC citizens and residents, and to immerse themselves in the rich culture of the region. They will then become part of a growing network of what Project Encounter terms ‘ambassadors of engagement.’ Each Gulf Exchange visit is uniquely customized according to the nature of the participants.
 
Fadi Salem, a Director of Project Encounter, noted,"While most of our current Gulf Exchange participants are either current graduate students, or have recently finished their studies, in future versions of Gulf Exchange we plan to target specific sectors of opinion leaders such as journalists, business figures, community activists and religious figures. With each trip we hope to broaden external perceptions of this region and empower the participants to do the same as they return to their respective communities."
 
Launched in early 2011, Project Encounter is led by a small entrepreneurial team based in the UAE. The initiative is supported by a wide network of volunteers, organizations and corporate sponsors, and has four core activities: the Gulf Exchange program; dialogue with student delegations visiting the region; UAE+1, by which engagement programming is added to existing cultural and civic events; and, Encounter 2012, an international conference involving global stakeholders playing a role in Muslim world-West engagement.
 
According to Nick Billotti, Co-Executive Director of Project Encounter, "Although a number of initiatives have emerged in recent years to facilitate cross-cultural interaction, relatively few are active in the Middle East. That’s where Project Encounter works to make an impact—by providing a platform that promotes vibrant on-the-ground encounter from within the region, and not merely about it."

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