Friday Speaker Series: Conor Shapiro ’03, President and CEO of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation
Blog post by Otto Nagengast ’17
March 7, 2014
When Conor Shapiro landed in Haiti in 2003, he had just graduated from Middlebury College. He was in Haiti to teach English at a school run by a non-governmental organization, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation (SBHF), in Fond des Blancs. He planned to stay in Haiti for only one year. As Conor described, chuckling, “It was typical liberal arts. I didn’t know where I was going.” Soon enough, Haiti gave him a direction that he has followed ever since.
He first visited Haiti in January 2002, missing two weeks of J-Term to go with his neighborhood church parish on a service trip. After returning to campus, he went to a talk from the now world-renowned Dr. Paul Farmer. This talk convinced Conor to go to Haiti. During his year teaching English in Fond des Blancs, AIDS was tearing through the country. Due to the lack of health systems, AIDS became a “death sentence.” Seeing the devastation and lack of unified response inspired Conor to enter the burgeoning field of global health.
After earning a Master’s in Public Health at Boston University, Conor returned to work with SBHF. Conor was named Director General of SBHF’s hospital in Fond des Blancs in 2009, just weeks before the 2010 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, Conor helped to establish the SBHF’s spinal cord injury treatment center. In July 2011, Conor was appointed President and CEO of the organization.
Haiti has been called “The Republic of NGOs.” It is inundated with organizations there to make a difference, but often NGO work in Haiti is uncoordinated and redundant. In this environment, Conor and his colleagues are taking a new approach. Conor tries to provide the Haitian people with empowerment, not impose solutions. With this integrated approach, the people can have a large say in how the issues that affect their lives are addressed. Conor believes that the very core of sustainable development is empowering those being helped.
Here’s an example of Conor’s vision at work. Although the 2011 earthquake lasted only 55 seconds, it killed an estimated 250,000 people. When one looks at Port-au-Prince after the quake, it becomes clear why. Buildings collapsed into stacks of concrete pancakes, trapping people inside. Conor realized that after the earthquake workers still used the same unreliable construction techniques. Using resources close at hand, Conor reached out to one of the board members of SBHF who owns a construction company in Boston. Contractors from Boston now travel to Haiti to train contractors there.
Conor assesses the efficacy of development work on a straightforward notion: how has it helped the most vulnerable? By these standards, the SBHF is incredibly successful. In addition to founding what has become known as Haiti’s preeminent spinal cord injury treatment center, SBHF offers the only emergency obstetrics care (which includes the only three incubators) on Haiti’s southern peninsula, which is a catchment area of two million people.
Conor concluded with some advice to his fellow Midd kids who want to make a change in the world.
- “There is room for everyone at the table,” Conor said, “If everyone played the same role, that’d be scary…whatever you’re most passionate about can be brought to the most vulnerable.”
- Persistence is crucial, because development is not only hard and requires it, but “being there for the long haul builds up trust” with those you’re working with.
- Listen, learn, and adapt.
- Don’t get bogged down in traditional ways of looking at sustainability and cost-effectiveness. He cited the fight against AIDS as an example. Once people looked beyond the paradigm of treatment versus prevention, they saw that treatment was inherently preventative. The most important result of this was that ultimately “more lives were saved.”
Conor is the embodiment of what many Middlebury students aim to become. He is a broad-minded critical thinker who changes peoples’ lives day in and day out. It was a great pleasure to have Conor on campus, and we here at Middlebury wish him all the best in his work.
Written by CSE guest blogger Will Henriques ’16
The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship kicked off the Spring Speaker Series last Friday with a talk by Ashoka Fellow Alisa Del Tufo.
Del Tufo spoke about her life-long work with communities, families, and individuals affected by domestic violence and her experiences in pursuing change around domestic violence policies and perception in communities. She has founded three different nonprofits that focus on the issues surrounding domestic violence: Sanctuary for Families, CONNECT, and most recently, the Threshold Collaborative.
Del Tufo picked up the thread of her story – “a long, winding road, not at all a straight road,” she warned – with the creation of her first non-profit, Sanctuary for Families. It was an organization founded “to help women [in New York City] regardless of their income and provide non-residential services…[Sanctuary for Families offered] victims legal aid, services for their children, and a transitional housing program with job training.”
Looking to understand domestic violence and find new ways of having conversations about domestic violence, Del Tufo embarked on a project in the late 1980’s to collect oral histories from 45 battered mothers answering the question: What is it like to be a mother in an abusive relationship?
The collection of powerful stories that emerged from Del Tufo’s oral history project led to the creation of a policy task force in New York City. The task force produced a report, Behind Closed Doors, and the city later adopted every single recommendation put forth in the report.
Alisa stepped away from this experience with a strong sense that meaningful change around domestic violence could only be made if the change was embedded within the suffering communities, and not in services delivered to or for the community by an external party; the community must own the issue.
With these lessons in mind, Alisa left Sanctuary for Families and founded her second non-profit, CONNECT, in 1993. CONNECT was created as “a training institute with a mission to expand the number of professionals and community members who have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of violence in the family.”
Alisa eventually moved away from CONNECT to found the Threshold Collaborative, which “takes her work at the intersection of domestic violence, child welfare, and community well-being to the national level.” The Threshold Collaborative “focuses on the root causes of these problems (poverty and trauma, sexism, and racism) by working with communities to develop local strategies to support safety for individuals/families and to build community assets.”1 According to the project’s website, the “Threshold Collaborative uses stories to promote personal, organizational and community change.”
Alisa concluded her talk with some valuable advice for the assembled students poised and eager to foster social change:
“Once of the best skills I ever learned was how to write a grant proposal. I knew what my vision was, and I learned how to communicate it. So first, learn to communicate your vision. And second, do! Produce something, move forward with your project. Understand that you have a lot to give.”
ALA: Theories of Social Entrepreneurship in Practice by Debanjan & Prestige
The African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a two-year university preparatory institution that has been around since 2008, but was originally founded in 2004. It is situated in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. ALA brings in students from across the African continent for a two year entrepreneurial curriculum experience. Students also have to take subjects in the Cambridge A-levels curriculum during their two-year stay, including African studies. The institution has a clear goal: to generate a minimum of 6,000 leaders in Africa over the next 50 years.
On the 22nd of January, two days shy of the Middlebury CSE’s Social Entrepreneurship and the Future of Education Symposium, we had the opportunity to interview Faith Abiodun from ALA via Google+ HangoutOnAir (HOA). Faith works as ALA’s Communications Associate. During the hour long discussion we had, Faith shared with us his passion for seeing Africa’s future generations write a different story about a continent that has so often been portrayed as a place of perpetual misery, famine, disease and war. Introducing students to both the successes and failures of some of Africa’s 54 sovereign states is just part of the ALA. The institution’s educational philosophy is to introduce young people to the entrepreneurial leadership mindset. ALA believes that it is possible for people to be entrepreneurial in every aspect of their lives. The engine for this mindset is teaching students how to identify challenges and engage with those challenges to come up with solutions using the BUILD model.
The Believe-Understand-Invent-Listen-Deliver (BUILD) model is the heart of ALA’s Entrepreneurship curriculum, and this is how it works: 1) Believe you have the capacity to affect change; 2) Understand the field you are trying to affect change in and the stakeholders, and really tap into the nuances of the problem; 3) Invent (come up with) a proposed solution; 4) Listen for for feedback on your model of change from the community you are working with; and 5) After continuous iteration and dialogue, Deliver by implementing your project. Many ALA (as well as non-ALA) students have used this model as a blueprint for building their own entrepreneurial ventures. Jihad Hajjouji, Middlebury College ‘14 and ALA ‘10, co-founded and currently is a Director of the National Entrepreneurial Camp in Morocco.
During Faith’s Google+ HOA, he emphasized the importance of ALA in relation to how the world envisions the African continent. Faith believes that Africa will not develop in a vacuum. Instead, the world needs to see the continent in all of its diversity, beauty, successes as well as shortcomings. Allowing current and emerging world leaders to interact with some who will surely be the continent’s next leaders allows the world to meet and see the Motherland in her own terms. This made us think back to Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie’s famous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
Indeed, even as we gave our presentation on the Friday of the Symposium, we found ourselves drawn in a conversation about the notorious sad-story states such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, instead of focusing on the improvements in social, economic and political leadership in these parts of the continent since the late 2000s. We needed to understand as students of the class Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts that it was imperative to have an understanding of what the organizations we were presenting believed in. Indeed the work of writing and sharing a different, objective story about the continent will be a long and laborious one, but ALA is truly at the cutting edge of that movement as it shows the world the entrepreneurial and innovative side of the Motherland. It is a lesson that the ALA is not just employing from a standpoint of education, but also in the continent’s future of business, politics, health and leadership at large. The BUILD education model is exactly the type of theory of social entrepreneurship we saw throughout the entire symposium this past weekend.
High school graduation rates are abysmally low in low-income areas around the country, with crippling effects on the national economy. For those who do graduate from high school, college matriculation rates are also low and, for those who do enter college, retention past the first year is difficult. iMentor, which was founded in 1999, seeks to address this problem and, for low-income areas, increase high school graduation and college enrollment and matriculation. They do this through a unique mentorship model that incorporates both personal contact and technology by pairing students with adults in their community who have graduated from college.
While the mentorship model is not new, iMentor has implemented changes to make their program adaptable to the needs of both mentor and mentee. By changing the primary meeting venue from in-person to online (pairs email once per week, in addition to less frequent face-to-face meetings), they hope to appeal to busy working professionals who might otherwise avoid a mentorship program. This online platform also provides structure to these relationships, which in comparable programs are up to the mentors to dictate, in order to create a more uniform and replicable program. iMentor’s proprietary curriculum software facilitates the program meetings by having pairs participate in skill-building and college-prep exercises.
In addition, relationships facilitated by iMentor last longer — three to four years, depending on the program — than those of similar programs. Longer relationships allow for both more extensive programming and a deeper level of personal connection between mentor and mentee. The impact of this is clear: 85% of mentees in the entire program say that they can trust their mentor. Mentors are also able to provide their mentees with career advice, helping them envision their lives more holistically and incentivizing college.
iMentor’s curriculum software also forms the core of a secondary venture: a program called iMentor Interactive. In this program, iMentor partners with organizations around the country who wish to implement programs similar to iMentor’s NYC root organization. In addition to providing access to the curriculum software, iMentor consults with the partner organization to adapt the program to the specific needs of a new city. This platform proves that iMentor’s model is replicable and scalable across the country.
iMentor Interactive allows iMentor to scale up its mission and, ultimately, its impact. By spreading the program around the country (to 13 cities in 10 states, at this point), they hope to initiate a nationwide change in the way that students in underserved neighborhoods are prepped for college and beyond.
It is clear that this model works. Currently, in New York City there are 3,000 mentor-mentee pairs through the iMentor program. In 2012, 86% of high school seniors involved in iMentor graduated from high school and 69% enrolled in college. In addition to the iMentor program in New York City, iMentor helps match mentor-mentee pairs throughout the country, through their iMentor Interactive software and consulting services. Through this extension of their program, there are 2,700 mentor-mentee pairs.
We were fascinated to learn about iMentor’s work, and are confident that their brand of social change is both effective and replicable. iMentor’s real strength is in utilizing the latest technology to bring a dated mentoring model into the 21st century, and this core of technology should help them continue to drive change going forward.
James Whelton isn’t your typical 21 year-old. Hailing from Cork Ireland, James grew up tinkering incessantly with machines, deconstructing and reconstructing everything from toasters to laptops. As a young adolescent, he became a self-taught computer programmer with the aid of the occasional covertly-attended University class. At age 17, after winning a 6th Generation iPod Nano in a contest, he gained international notoriety by becoming the first person in the world to hack it, a feat he accomplished on the plane ride home “out of boredom.”
In the midst of the renaissance-like explosion Silicon Valley, it seems logical that Whelton would have jetted off to join some trendy startup and perhaps made a few million dollars. What he chose to do instead stands as a shining example of social entrepreneurship and has elevated him into the upper echelon of innovators in education.
Whelton first identified two problems in his home country: the dearth of tech education options for young people and the mounting youth employment crisis. His solution was a humble one: to form a coding club at his high school with the aim of providing support for kids who wanted to express their technical abilities while at the same time promoting an environment of creativity and collaboration. He set to work building the club and in the true spirit of the Internet designed it to be both free and entirely open source. No set curriculum, all volunteer taught; a democratic and empowering space tailor-made for innovation and effective problem solving.
The club, as you can imagine, was a rousing success, and before long Whelton attracted the eye of veteran entrepreneur Bill Laio. Leveraging Laio’s experience and resources, the two developed a model for scaling the club far beyond Cork, beyond Ireland, and even beyond Europe. Maintaining Whelton’s free and open source mentality, the pair added another feature to the club’s structure: a martial arts-inspired model of belts and achievements that would help kids feel a sense of accomplishment while ensuring that the clubs stayed true to their founder’s values and goals. In 2011, under the new name of CoderDojo, the dream finally became reality.
In only a few short years, CoderDojo has exploded to over 220 locations in 27 countries. All clubs are entirely volunteer-taught, and due to their open source approach to learning methods have been able to multiply while remaining blissfully free of the infrastructural issues of hiring and translation of new materials. Clubs grow organically out of communities and take on the characteristics of their cultures. Only the martial arts belt system remains consistent, with kids reaching new ranks by performing tasks such as teaching a peer a new coding language or developing an application inspired by one of their personal interests. The organization’s phenomenal successes have landed Whelton on the Forbes 30 under 30 and resulted in his naming as the youngest Ashoka Fellow in history.
Clearly James Whelton has much to be proud of. But when we (Maya Najarian and Nick Rehmus) had the opportunity to interview him via a live-broadcasted Google Hangout. we found him to be humble, unassuming,effortlessly charming. With affectless wit and enthusiasm, he espoused the successes of the CoderDojo students worldwide, the games they have created and skills they have developed, as well as their increased agency and happiness.
Though he admitted to being extremely busy, he hasn’t allowed the demands of the organization to dampen his optimism or resolve to push CoderDojo to new heights of possibility. His eyes gleamed as he relayed stories of the effectiveness of using coding as a tool for teaching kids with autism, of the latent power of the Internet to disrupt institutions that perpetuate systemic inequality. His pride was evident as he named his most pressing goals to be expanding CoderDojo into more and more developing regions around the world and aiming for gender equality in the coding arena.
Evidently, James Whelton is just getting started. His recently established Hello World Foundation will sustain CoderDojo’s financial future, and he’s just beginning an entrepreneurial residency in Boston. While the world waits for his next innovation, CoderDojo will continue to deliver upon its promise. If you are interested in starting a club in your area, you can check out the CoderDojo website here.
Reflections on a Conversation with Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Founder of the Study Hall Educational Foundation and Education Advocate
By Sarah James and Stephanie Soussloff
Dr. Urvashi Sahni, founder of the Study Hall Educational Foundation, is a powerful leader in the fight for equal access to education in India. Dr. Sahni leads with grace, empathy and energy. Raised by a conservative family, Dr. Sahni was taught from an early age that women should not pursue an education, but even so, Dr. Sahni sought out opportunities to educate herself. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and master’s degree in Philosophy. Later on, Dr. Sahni pursued a Ph.D. in Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Sahni asserts that this academic work shaped her understanding of power and the “meaning of life.”
Horace Mann, a prominent American educational reformer, once stated, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Dr. Sahni similarly believes in the power of education as the greatest tool for social change. She states, “We must educated others so that they might understand their oppression and have the ability to change their reality.”
Dr. Sahni has been a steadfast advocate for equal education, girls’ education and empowering others to create change. While at Berkeley, Dr. Sahni met Randolph Wang, a professor at Princeton at the time, who was also interested in looking at education as a tool to transform lives in India. Together they founded Digital StudyHall, an organization that uses digital media and DVDs to provide more accessible, higher quality education to rural and slum schools.
Soon after, in 1994, Dr. Sahni established the Study Hall Educational Foundation whose broadly defined mission is to provide high quality education to all children in India.
Dr. Sahni believes that any effective social change strategy must be comprehensive and innovative. Dr. Sahni always looks for creative ways to repair the broken education system. She says that she asks herself and her colleagues, “How do you take good innovation and use it in a bad system?” She continues, “The numbers in India are too large, but my taxes go to support this system, so it only makes sense to work to make that system better.”
These days, Dr. Sahni finds herself working on reaching out to the government to advocate for policy changes. She states, “I am not an agitator. [Agitating] doesn’t get you far. I believe in working with the government and working on a larger scale.” However, Dr. Sahni sees power in her work at the individual level as well. She reflects, “I help to show people that there is another way to think, another way to be, another way to let others be.”
With eloquence and wisdom, Dr. Sahni stated in closing, “India is a land of opposites, which makes it all more complicated, but I am patient. It is going to take a long time for [the education system] to be fixed. Maybe it won’t get fixed in my lifetime, but [my work] is about creating a path to a better future for [the children].”
On Friday morning of the symposium, Dr. Sahni participated in a Google Hangout with several other leaders in education who are also working to improve access to and the quality of education globally. Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi, representatives from Educate Girls Globally, another organization dedicated to girls’ education and empowerment in India, were also present. Dr. Sahni stated she hopes to work with Educate Girls Globally to combine their efforts and resources on future projects.
From our conversation with Dr. Sahni, we were inspired by her compassion, optimism and vision. Dr. Sahni acknowledges that social change may take many years or many decades, but with leaders like Dr. Sahni at the helm, we are confident the world is in good hands.
This January, students at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship had the pleasure of interviewing Middlebury alumna Angelica Towne, the Country Director and Co-Founder of Educate!, also recently named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list of Social Entrepreneurs. We were thrilled to speak with her and are excited to share our reflections on her work with Educate!.
Educate! is single-handedly spreading social entrepreneurship throughout Uganda, equipping students with the tools and resources to succeed as leaders in their communities. Educate! provides Ugandan youth from ages sixteen to twenty with “a leadership and entrepreneurship course, interactive teaching, intensive mentorship, experiences starting an enterprise, and access to out-of-school networks and resources.” Educate! has highlighted the lack of utility that a traditional Ugandan education of repetition and memorization represents and strives to provide its students with practical skills that will truly improve their lives.
Educate! believes that the best means of creating a generation of leaders and entrepreneurs is through existing education systems and is currently working with the Ugandan government to integrate its program into the national curriculum. In 2012, Uganda adopted a piece of Educate!’s model into its curriculum, allowing Educate! to extend its reach to 25,000 students per year. Educate! works directly supports 4,912 scholars its main program.
Educate!’s model is innovative and practical and has been replicated in over forty different countries. Educate! has embraced social entrepreneurship to the fullest and is harnessing education to generate ever-expanding positive change. Every student that Educate! reaches has the potential to impact his or her whole community, generating a positive ripple effect.
So far, Educate! has partnered with 56 schools in 10 Ugandan districts. 56 percent of Educate! graduates run a small business, and those who do earn an average of $40 USD per month compared to an average salary of $9 per month earned by non-Educate! participants.
81 percent of graduates have volunteered in their community, and students have created 632 social entrepreneurship or service projects to “address community issues of poverty, disease, violence, lack of education, and/or environmental degradation.”
We believe that Educate! is doing social entrepreneurship right. Educate!’s leaders are young and are dedicated to learning as they go along, to thinking critically about their work, and to constantly revising their plans to best serve Ugandan youth. We hope that they’re successful in their work to fully integrate their program into the Ugandan curriculum, and we look forward to hearing about their expansion to other Sub-Saharan African countries in the next few years!
On January 21st, Gabriela Fuentes ‘16 and Rabeya Jawaid ‘16 talked to the leaders of Educate Girls Globally, Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi via Google Hangouts. Visit Educate Girls Globally online, here: http://www.educategirls.org/index.html
This organization aims to educate girls all around the world, but as of today has done projects in Rajasthan, India and is expanding to Zambia and other countries in Africa through their partnership with Africare.
This Youtube video highlights the work that Educate Girls Globally does in the area of Rajasthan, India: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIhV7rTyoZM
The conversation started off with introductions of Lawry, the Founder and President of EGG and then Anjula, the Executive Director. Lawry, whose background is in public policy, says, “… [Typically] social entrepreneurship is done in independent schools by people who avoid government programs. We focus our entire program on reforming government schools and partnering with them, which allows us to operate at very large scales at very low cost, which has the prospect of making large change.”
Lawry would like people to view EGG more as an empowerment program that mobilizes communities as a whole and encourages them to embrace girls’ education. He emphasizes the importance of empowerment by making sure that EGG does not funnel money into communities but rather encourages them to maximize their resources. Through these strategies the program remains sustainable and progressive from within.
According to Anjula, “The most important thing for us was to create a sense of ownership within the community so that they start thinking about the school and that in belongs to them…The first question we would ask them would be, who do you think this school belongs to? It took them several minutes before they could think of the answer that we were expecting … The communities would say,This school belongs to the government or this school belongs to certain management, but they would never say this school belongs to us.”
What is EGG up to today? Watch the rest of the Google Hangout session, here:
On January 24th, the day of the second annual Center for Social Entrepreneurship Symposium, Lawry Chickering and Anjula Tyagi joined Middlebury College and several other entrepreneurs in the field of education on a Google Hangout session. In the Google Hangout session that was done on the day of the Symposium, Friday the 24th, Lawry Chickering talked about the importance of working through the government and using the current system to bring about change. He highlighted that Educate Girls Globally uses government funding to bring about change in the community. He also accentuated that the model that Educate Girls Globally uses pleases both the Left and the Right, and his ideology focuses on the idea that change can be brought about by using the resources of those in ruling. The students of the J-term course Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts recently read the article called Sam Spade at Starbucks in New York Times where David Brooks talks about the importance of using and reviving the political system to enable change. He highlights the same potent dangers of evang the political system that Lawry alluded to.
Both leaders are positive about their vision and are looking for more partnerships with students to work on their initiatives. It was a pleasure to talk to them and hear about their achievements and challenges thus far.
Gaby Fuentes aims to implement the strength of empowerment in her daily practices and in the work she has started in Chicago with young girls in her community. The sustainability of her program, Project BECOMING Pilsen, is her top priority. She looks to the principles of organizations like Educate Girls Globally to expand and sustain PBP which aims to foster self-actualized women.
Rabeya Jawaid has been particularly interested in the education of girls in areas where women have not yet had a chance to go to school. The event of Malala Yousafzai being shot in October 2012 was shocking and inspired Rabeya to look toward working for the education of girls and empowerment of women in Pakistan. Talking to the organization Educate Girls Globally inspired her further to work towards this cause.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11, Co-founder and president of SOLA, kicked off the third annual Social Entrepreneurship symposium on Thursday, January 23 in Mead Chapel, as approximately 375 students, faculty and community members gathered to hear the recent alum speak about her work in Afghanistan.
SOLA is a nonprofit that helps exceptional young Afghan women access education worldwide and jobs back home. SOLA is also the first, and perhaps the only, girls’ boarding school in Afghanistan.
Basij-Rasikh spoke about how her time at Middlebury influenced her work at SOLA. Elements of SOLA’s design bear resemblance to Basij-Rasikh’s alma mater: SOLA has a language pledge, which requires students to speak English at all times, as well as an Honor Code, which binds the students to a commitment of respect for their peers. While both of these are hallmarks of a Middlebury education, Basij-Raskih explained that at SOLA, the two pledges are intended to help overcome the endemic ethnic tension within Afghanistan.
“For the future of Afghanistan, in order for our students to grow into leadership positions, they must accept and embrace everyone,” explained Basij-Rasikh.
But Basij-Rasikh’s time at Middlebury inspired not only SOLA’s curriculum, but also her inspiration for founding the school. She quoted something her first-year advisor at Middlebury shared with her: “The greatest sin in this world is to have knowledge, to know, and then not to share that with others.”
This idea inspired Basij-Rasikh to return to Afghanistan to share her education with young girls in her home country, and to instill that same sentiment in her students.
“The idea is that once [SOLA students] finish their education, they will bring knowledge back to Afghanistan, and they can turn skill into action,” she explained.
“The future of education – how our ideas and hopes and dreams can be incorporated in education – we must use our education to do something. Not just for ourselves, but to bring changes in our world.”
Friday was a full day, with Google Hangouts in the morning, workshop sessions in the afternoon, and our final keynote address on Friday evening.
To hear about Friday morning, check out a summary of the Google Hangout here, or watch some of the footage from the conversation on the MCSE’s youtube channel.
Friday afternoon featured workshop sessions led by Jihad Hajjouji ’14, Cofounder and Director of Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge; Elsa Palanza ’01 from the Clinton Global Initiative, Laura White, Manager of the Ashoka Changemaker Schools Network, Ashoka’s Empathy Initiative and Jeff Digel ’78, from Covenant Preparatory School. The workshops facilitated discussion among Middlebury College students and faculty as well as community members and local high school students. Attendees mingled between sessions while enjoying cups of Runa Tea
Friday night marked the final event of the third annual symposium with a keynote address by journalist David Bornstein.
Bornstein is the author of the New York Times’ “Fixes” column, which focuses on social innovations and solutions to major global problems. He also founded the Solutions Journalism Network and Dowser.org.
He began his address by noting that the mechanism behind much of the global change in today’s world was one of increased power: more people have more power, but it remains to be seen whether that power will be constructive or destructive. “So, the question is: how do we educate people so they have the ability to being powerful positive agents of change in this world?” Bornstein asked the audience.
He pointed out that humans have a natural fascination with problem-solving: “The Fixes column articles are among the most emailed columns in the New York Times So why are people reading wonky, nerdy, heavily reported solutions stories that run 2k words and are the most emailed? We think its because people love problem solving. Just like they love Harry Potter and detective stories and CSI and House – we’re gripped to problem solving.”
And yet, despite this, our education system is not focused on problem-solving. Ask any college senior to name as many serious global problems they can think of, and they could list hundreds — but ask for solutions, and they could only give a handful.
“Why is it that students at a great university don’t have more ideas in their head to solve a problem?” Bornstein asked the student-filled audience. “My gut is it’s because we’ve prioritized critical thinking. We think critical thinking is the thing we should be doing, but actually, critical thinking pushes us away from constructive thinking.”
He urged students and educators alike to prioritize constructive thinking over critical thinking. He proposed students shift away from analytical, absolute questions and towards a more holistic and constructive approach to global problems by asking ourselves, “How could you…” and “How might we…” Questions like these will produce more proposed solutions and reduce polarization, and will train students to build constructive solutions to global problems.
He concluded by urging the students in the audience to be brave enough to become changemakers. Bornstein concluded, “Capacity grows. If you take into your heart, then beginning is the most important step. As, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, ‘A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.’”
By CSE Guest Blogger Will Henriques ’16
The McCullough Social Space buzzed with excitement on the morning of January 24th as the crowd conversed over breakfast and coffee, waiting for the start of the second day of the third annual Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s January Symposium. An anxious undercurrent rippled through the crowd; the day’s event centered around a panel of six innovators in education gathering together on a live-stream Google+ Hangout. It had never been tried before; curiosity reigned.
Laura White, Manager of the Changemakers Schools Network, an Ashoka Empathy Initiative, opened the morning with an empathy workshop. She asked the assembled crowd – a mix of Middlebury students, professors, town residents, local high school students, Hamilton College students, and SOLA students – to think about “three moments that profoundly changed the way you see yourself.” The participants reached a consensus: very few proud, life-changing moments were tied to formal education. Professor Jon Isham, Faculty Director of the CSE, chimed in to encourage more time for reflection at Middlebury.
Transitioning to the Google+ Hangout panel, students of Jon’s January term class, Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts, presented about the six global innovators in education.
As the six innovators popped up on the McCullough projector, Midd alum David Hopkins opened the panel detailing four pieces that he sees as critical to the opportunities available today for innovation in education:
1) Technological advances
2) Emphasis on empowering girls and women
3) Reconnecting with nature
4) Free access to empowering tools.
The panelists followed suit, one by one giving a brief synopsis of their work. James Whelton, the 21 year-old founder of CoderDojo — an “open-source, volunteer-led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people,” – emphasized the value of “self-teaching.”
Urvashi Sahni, founder and chief executive of Digital Study Hall, discussed how the foundation is taking advantage of advances in mobile technology and increased access to electricity in impoverished communities by distributing lecture DVDs.
Anjula Tyagi, Executive Director of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), shared her insights on the definition of success: “Success happens the moment a community begins to take ownership and initiative over the education of its members.” EGG Founder and President, Lawrence Chickering, chimed in to encourage more conversation about the “demand side” of education: “What are communities looking for in education?”
In a seamless transition from Chickering’s proposition, Faith Abiodun of the African Leadership Academy voiced his goal to “transcend [mere] political leadership” and instill in the students “an entrepreneurial mindset in every sphere of life.” Abiodun noted that ALA students, if they choose to attend university abroad, are expected to be back on the African continent, working in their communities, by the age of 25.
As the hour-long session drew to a close, the room hummed as the panelist vowed to collaborate with the others. In this moment, the true power of the symposium became apparent. The power is most aptly explained through the Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s own motto: Reflect, connect, analyze, and engage. The panelists and assembled thinkers have been reflecting on the role of education in society and how to make improve both access and quality for years. The January Symposium was an opportunity for these thinkers and innovators to bring these reflections to the table and look for opportunities to connect.
As Hopkins mentioned early on in the panel, advances in technology are opening up doors that simply did not exist before. Thanks to new technologies like Google+ Hangout and a cohort of people willing to use them, new connections are being forged. And these new connections provide new avenues for analysis and engagement that will ultimately – hopefully – lead to a revolution in the way education is viewed and delivered.