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A Brief History of IRIS

During our 25th Anniversary Year, we plan to take a walk down Memory Lane by sharing highlights from our history at IRIS. Our organization wasn’t always what it is today; in fact, our name used to be International Center for Community Journalism! ICCJ was started in 1993, and was founded by former Lt. Governor of Iowa, Bob Anderson.

Last spring, Bob sat down and gave an oral history of IRIS to our Board of Directors. We will be using Bob’s history of the organization and the collective memory of staff, host families, and participants to guide our timeline over the next 11 months. Here is a brief outline of our history:

RIS’s founder, Bob Anderson, addressing a room in Nigeria (2002).

1993 – International Center for Community Journalism is created in response to the belief that the legislature was looking for programs to fund peace initiatives in the former Soviet Union. Bob believed that the connection to Iowa’s three journalism schools at Drake, University of Iowa, and Iowa State University, positioned ICCJ to take a strong lead in this initiative.

“I believed that after the Soviet Union, the most important people in each of those countries were going to be journalists. Because the people in those countries had one picture of the u.s. Before the Soviet Union and it was up to the journalists to get a more accurate picture of life in the united states. And I think that theory proved successful.” – Bob Anderson

1993-1996 – ICCJ hosts 260 of guests from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Hong Kong on various journalism and related programs.

1996 – A decision was made to expand beyond journalism programming, so the name of the organization was changed to IRIS, Inc.! IRIS, later called Iowa Resource for International Service, had a more broad vision of providing programming opportunities ranging from education, business development, agriculture and technology, journalism, government, and human rights.

Members of a Georgian Independent Media Development program (1994) at St. Pete Times.

1997-2001 – IRIS hosts 401 adult participants from Ukraine, Korea, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Taiwan, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and more.

2001 – IRIS begins programming in African countries. Shortly after 9/11, a group of five Muslim and five Christian Nigerians come to Iowa for a program focused on religious tolerance.

“They arrived in October of 2001, right after 9/11 . So in a way, it was our Muslim participants helping Iowans understand what Islam was all about.” – Bob Anderson

2002 – IRIS wins a contract within the newly created Youth Exchange & Study program to recruit and place high school students from Nigeria.

2003 – First Nigerian Youth Exchange & Study students arrive in Iowa!

2007 – First TanzanianYouth Exchange & Study students arrive in Iowa!

2009 – IRIS opens an office in South Sudan

2011 – Global Kilimanjaro Bowl takes place in Tanzania with football players from Drake University and Tech de Monterrey in Mexico.

2012 – IRIS diversifies YES program participants to be placed in Iowa. Students representing 9 different countries are placed cross the state.

2001-2013 – IRIS hosts almost 1000 participants from all over the world on both youth and adult programs.

2013 – IRIS celebrates its 20th Anniversary!

2014-2017 – Over 400 participants hailing from 37 different countries come to IRIS on various programs. Almost all live with Iowa host families from across the state.

Connis and John Dayton with their YES host daughter, Naja’atu, from Nigeria (2008-2009).

“Each host knows so much more about their participants because they keep in contact–more than I’ll ever know. It’s what [IRIS has] created that keeps going on forever and ever… We’ll never know the real impact of the things that have happened.” – Bob Anderson

2018 – This year, IRIS is excited to continue to be a member of the YES program, selecting students from Nigeria and Tanzania, and placing students from over 20 different countries. We are excited to announce that we will be hosting yet another adult program from Belarus at some point in the year, and we hope to announce some more exciting programs, too.

As always, we couldn’t do our work of creating peace via citizen diplomacy without the open hearts and homes of our host families. If you are interested in hosting one of our participants for a school year or for a short term program, please contact IRIS today. And if you have friends who would also be interested, please let them know about the exciting work we are doing–and have been doing for 25 years!

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