Using their custom videoconferencing platform, Soliya creates space for young adults to engage in meaningful dialogue and foster empathy across cultures. They offer virtual programming that brings individuals from around the world face-to-face to discuss diverse perspectives.

Mission and Purpose

Soliya is a not-for-profit organization that uses Virtual Exchange to engage young adults in constructive and empathetic dialogue to work toward a more interconnected and understanding global society. This organization uses a videoconferencing platform called the Exchange Portal to conduct their programming which brings young adults in post-secondary and professional institutions into facilitated synchronous discussions of current events. These programs can be integrated into existing postsecondary curriculums and enrolled in by individuals seeking professional and personal development.

Soliya’s offerings provide the space for small groups of individuals from different countries to share their perspectives and gain a better understanding of other cultures and views with the goal of eliminating “the idea of ‘the other’ so that we can thrive in this 21st Century society.” [1] The programs also aim to teach conflict resolution strategies and refine participants’ critical thinking skills. Soliya, therefore, provides opportunity for the development of personal and professional skills. 

Vision: “A pluralistic world where diversity is embraced and conflicts are transformed into opportunities for collaboration and collective learning.”

Mission: “To prepare rising generations to approach differences constructively and lead with empathy, in order to thrive in an interconnected world.”[1]

Origins and Development

Soliya, Inc. was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation with its headquarters in New York City, U.S., in July 2002 and publicly launched in 2003.[2] Lucas Welch and Liza Chambers co-founded the organization as they grew increasingly concerned about a lack of constructive dialogue between people of Western and Muslim majority countries after 9/11. Welch and Chambers sought to use developing digital and communications spaces to foster meaningful, critical, and empathetic dialogue.

The organization developed a custom videoconferencing platform to foster such dialogue, called the Exchange Portal. This website was designed to allow individuals to connect online in ways that mimicked face-to-face small group settings. 

In October 2009, Soliya partnered with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.[3] In 2011, Soliya formed the Exchange 2.0 Coalition with Global Nomads Group and the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN-USA). This partnership, later known as the Virtual Exchange Coalition, allowed Soliya to better provide cross-cultural experiences within their programs.[4]

In 2014, Soliya merged with Search for Common Ground, an organization focused on using dialogue, media, and community building to foster sustainable peacebuilding. Through this merger, Soliya’s virtual exchange programs continue to be implemented under the name Soliya and using the same Soliya staff team, however, they operate under the direction and with the support of Search for Common Ground.[5]

Currently, Soliya seeks to foster dialogue around the world but remains focused on cultivating constructive and cooperative dialogue between youth in Western and Muslim communities.[6]

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

Soliya is run by a Board of Directors, a team of over thirty staff members, and a vast network of volunteer facilitators, trainers, and fellows. 

As of 2021, the Board of Directors consists of six members (click here for Board member bios) appointed by Search for Common Ground.[7] CEO Waidehi Gokhale leads the team of staff members which includes directors, coordinators, and officers for each program offered by the organization, as well as multiple roles in information technology, partnerships and outreach, operations and administration, and specialist roles in media and design (click here for brief bios on each staff member). As part of the organization’s work, Soliya also trains facilitators and fellows to assist in leading their programs as facilitators and moderators.[8]

In addition to Soliya’s strategic alliance with Search for Common Ground discussed above, Soliya is also partnered with Stevens Initiative, Global Affairs Canada, Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange, UN-Habitat, Open Road Alliance, Annenburg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylaniva, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, and UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.[9] To implement their cross-cultural dialogue approach, Soliya is also partnered with more than 280 postsecondary institutions around the world (click here for a complete list of partnered postsecondary institutions).

Soliya has an enrollment rate of approximately 15,000 individuals per year in their programs. Postsecondary institutions offering existing related program curriculums are able to request that their school be a part of the Connect and First Year Connect programs. Individuals can apply to the free Social Circles program.[10] 

This organization is registered as a public charity and, therefore, receives most of their funding from government grants and public support. In 2019, Soliya received $690,010 in government grants and $550,627 in the form of other institutional grants and gifts or donations.[11]

Specializations, Methods and Tools

Soliya’s work is based on developing and fostering Virtual Exchange (VE) opportunities. Virtual Exchange, also known as telecollaboration, uses technology to support face-to-face education programs focused on sustaining constructive dialogue across national borders and cultures. VE experiences are structured and facilitated to ensure critical reflection, understanding, and empathy is fostered within the discussions.[12]

Soliya was considered a pioneer of early VE development and, along with their partners in the Virtual Exchange Coalition, they were one of the first initiatives to use the term Virtual Exchange. Soliya’s involvement in VE is considered to be a service-provider approach.[13] Using developing web conferencing technology, Soliya created their own platform called the Exchange Portal to conduct VE programs and create the opportunity for postsecondary institutions to outsource their VE needs. This videoconferencing platform continues to be refined as web conferencing technology has developed. The Exchange Portal was designed using VE and conflict resolution best practices. The platform situates participant videos in a circle on the screen to resemble a round table discussion. It only allows a maximum of 24 participants per meeting to ensure participants can see all screens to interpret body language. During each meeting, the platform only allows one person to unmute their microphone at a time to eliminate the possibility of interrupting another participant.[14] 

Major Projects and Events

Soliya’s work is centred around their four main virtual exchange-related programs offered throughout the year. They also provide opportunities for custom program development and project support, as requested. 

  1. Connect is a 4 to 8-week program that can be integrated into existing postsecondary course curriculums to support instructors in providing opportunities for students to engage in facilitated, cross-cultural dialogue outside of the classroom. Led by 1 to 2 facilitators trained within Soliya’s programs, participants in the program engage in weekly online discussions with up to 10 other students from various universities around the world. No more than 2 students from each class are in a discussion group together to promote more global connections and ensure a greater diversity of perspectives in each meeting. Participants are encouraged to share their perspectives and opinions during these sessions with facilitators present to ensure the discussions remain respectful and to encourage critical thinking. This program has been implemented in university-level courses such as those in media studies, international relations, religious studies, business, and engineering. There are three offerings within the Connect Program. Connect Global is an 8-week program uses discussions of current events to foster communication skills and empathetic reception to differing perspectives. Connect Collaborate is a 5-week program is focused on teambuilding in an online environment using a current event topic to which students must apply practical lessons. Connect Express is a 4-week program that centres its discussions around the role of identity in global societal divisions.[15]
  2. First Year Connect is a 4-week program with a similar approach and offering to the Connect program, however, with a focus on local community building within postsecondary campuses in the United States. Soliya saw a need for bridging the growing divisions in the U.S. and saw their program model that has been used on a global scale as potentially being useful in creating spaces for American students to discuss differences in a facilitated environment with the emphasis on respectful and constructive dialogue. The goal of the First Year Connect program is to instill these practices of respectful dialogue in first-year university students so that they can continue to implement such practices throughout their campus experiences, thereby fostering a more understanding and engaged student body. This program involves 2-hour weekly synchronous sessions on the Exchange Portal during which students discuss current events and topics of relevance to their campus environment in a group of no more than 10 participants led by a trained facilitator.[16]
  3. The Global Circles program offers individuals 18 years of age or older an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue on controversial subjects that are of global importance and impact. The program requires participants to attend to 2 online meetings on the Exchange Portal during which they engage in discussion activities led by facilitators and complete individual assignments throughout the two-week session, culminating in a certificate of completion. Topics addressed in the 2021 sessions include vaccination safety, access, and ethics; freedom of speech and its limits; and do we trust science?[17]
  4. The Facilitation Training program engages professionals and new participants to practice conflict resolution skills that are valuable in facilitating Soliya’s virtual exchange programs as well as for problem-solving and mediating needs more broadly. Soliya offers synchronous and asynchronous facilitation training options, as well as Arabic-language training modules. During the trainings, participants engage in virtual discussions, complete readings and assignments, and practice facilitation with certified facilitation coaches. After completion of the full training program, participants receive a UN-Habitat certificate for the Advanced Facilitation Training and Practicum

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Soliya sought to evaluate their global and educational impact through multi-year evaluations in collaboration with the Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania; Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict, University of Oxford; and University College London. See evaluation report listed under the Media section of this entry.

See Also

Information and Communication Technologies - method

Roundtable Discussion - method

Dynamic Facilitation - method


[1] "Our Story," Soliya, 2021,

[2] Schall and Ashenfarb, Certified Public Accountants LLC, "Soliya, Inc. Audited Financial Statements, June 30, 2020," 7.

[3] "Soliya," United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, 2021,

[4] "What is Virtual Exchange," Virtual Exchange Coalition, 2021,

[5] "Search for Common Ground and Soliya to Join Together: Groups to Work as One Team Under Leadership of Shamil Idriss," Washington, DC, USA; Brussels, Belgium; and New York, USA; February 5, 2014,

[6] Schall and Ashenfarb, Certified Public Accountants LLC, "Soliya, Inc. Audited Financial Statements, June 30, 2020," 7.

[7] Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service, "Soliya 2019 Tax Return Form 990."

[8] "Our Community," Soliya, 2021,

[9] "Our Institutional Partners," Soliya, 2021

[10] "Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange: Social Circles," Official Website of the European Union, 2021,

[11] Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service, "Soliya 2019 Tax Return Form 990."

[12] "What is Virtual Exchange?" Erasmus+: EVOLVE, 2021,

[13] Robert O'Dowd, "From Telecollaboration to Virtual Exchange: State-of-the-Art and the Role of UNICollaboration in Moving Forward," Journal of Virtual Exchange, vol. 1 (2018): 1-23.

[14] Soliya Network, Exchange Portal Video, 2020 Youtube video, 2:01. Uploaded August 11, 2020,

[15] "Connect Program," Soliya, 2021,

[16] "First Year Connect," Soliya, 2021,

[17] "Global Circles: Unfold World Perspectives," Soliya, 2021,

External Links