Mohamed Hussein ’17 is a CSE fellow who spent a month in Cuba as part of his Ambassador Corps assignment.
As part of Ambassador Corps’s (AC) first cohort, I had the pleasure of conducting a month-long research project on social entrepreneurship in Cuba. From the very first day, the island taught me to reconsider my assumptions and keep them in check. After a two-hour delay in the flight, I arrived in Havana at 4:00 pm and had to wait for more than three full hours before the luggage had arrived. This incident highlighted the polychronic nature of Cuban culture; time here is slow and thick, like viscid honey pouring down sulkily from an unattended jar.
Even before I arrived, the culture started humbling me in unexpected ways. While waiting in line for my flight, the woman ahead of me in line called my attention to the fact that I was the only person whose baggage was not wrapped in plastic. I asked why such wrapping was necessary. She laughed, explaining how, otherwise, some of my personal belongings might get ‘lost’ on their way to Havana. This showed me that the existing social capital is minimal between inhabitants of the island and their expat counterparts on the mainland.
The third initial lesson was my over-dependency on the internet and electronics. Since internet costs $10 an hour, I have kept my use to a minimum. It was quite hard to not know what is happening in the rest of the world and have very limited and little access to information. At first it was stressful; later, it just was.
After one week of living in Havana, I calmed down after my initial ‘spasmodic’ reaction. The city grew on me with its chaos and crowded buses that cost 5 cents. There is something oddly trancing about the feeling of solidarity aroused by melding into a desolate background with hundreds of people going about their lives. To a passerby, I was just another Cuban. This visual reality eased my life, encouraging strangers on the streets to open up to me, albeit my foreignness. These encounters allowed me to draw a more detailed image of Havana and life under a socialist regime. The stories I gathered interweave to form an intricate canvas that makes no sense. I see contradictions everywhere.
During the third week, my know-all attitude got me sick. Thinking that I would save money, I bought ingredients from local markets and started cooking. An eggplant, some chicken, onions, and carrots—nothing too fancy. The vegetables and fruits were 100% chemical-free (by product of necessity than environmentalism but that’s beside the point) so they tasted fresh. With these simple ingredients, I started making an Egyptian dish that I have perfected over the years. I ate to my heart’s content but got quite ill that night.
You see, even though the vegetables looked the same, they were variations of the same species, which changed some of their essential characteristics. The eggplant, for example, was too absorbent of the oil in which it was fried and the chicken’s muscular tissue needed longer to be cooked. My impulse to apply my culinary knowledge to a different context without adapting has resulted in a failure that harmed me. Instead, I gave money to my host mother, who prepared delicious food for me within a tight budget.
This incident has made me realize that the future of development for Cuba may have a very similar reality. Like me, idealistic international organizations may come in, ready to apply their skills and knowledge. They will want to get their hands dirty and do things themselves, distrusting the Cuban governmental agencies and existing structures. A better approach would be to find their ‘host mother,’ a local structure that do more than counsel them on culture. Cubans do not need skills and knowledge—their biggest asset is their human capital, since the government spends more than 10% of GDP on education, compared to US’s 5.2%. The island is in need of material support, the money to buy the ingredients that makes sense to them and their context, more than anything.
The CSE Friday Speaker Series: Eric Archambeau
May 1, 2015 | by Otto Nagengast ’17
Before getting into social entrepreneurship, Eric Archambeau spent over 20 years working in technology. After finishing his studies in Engineering and Computer Science, Eric got his start by working on product design and manufacturing, a move that he recommends to anyone starting out in any field. He later launched numerous ventures, before moving into investing in 2000. Eric is currently a General Partner at Wellington Partners, a pan-European venture capital firm with around 800 million Euros under management.
Eric has also long worked in social entrepreneurship. In fact, his work with Social Impact International, which he co-founded in 2003, played a role in the coining of the very term social entrepreneurship. On Friday, Eric talked about two of his latest projects.
In 2010, Eric co-founded Quadia and is currently chairman of the company. Quadia is an impact investing firm with around 100 million USD in assets. Although still a small firm, Quadia is growing rapidly, and Eric hopes that they will be significant player in the next five years.
At the heart of their investment strategy is to seek out companies that have abandoned all-together the corporate social responsibility approach to social impact and instead have made social responsibility part of their core business model. Many companies make profits their only criteria for success, and to mitigate, to some extent, any negative externalities of their operations, they devote some money to projects that have positive social impact. But Quadia is seeking out firms that have positive social impact in their DNA. And while many impact investing firms gravitate toward investing in developing countries, Quadia also aggressively seeks out opportunities in developed countries.
Eric says that a major constraint for market growth of impact investing firms is impact measurement. How do you quantify the positive social change of investments? Eric explained how before the Great Depression, there was no common accounting system. This made it difficult, if not impossible, for investors to compare companies. The field of impact investing faces a similar obstacle today. Eric says that “measuring impact is the synthesis of many small parts,” which makes constructing a reliable metric a challenge. Quadia employs three full-time analysts that work to build the company’s multi-dimensional impact metric. This enables them to track companies’ progress in terms of impact and to compare impact across companies.
Eric also serves as the Global Chairman of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. Eric met Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef and food activist, at TED 2010. He was struck by the passion and vision that Jamie shared in his TED talk, and afterwards Eric approach him. He asked Jamie if the supply chain of his 80-plus restaurants adhered to the same principles of ethical food sourcing he advocated for in his talk. Jamie didn’t know. A few weeks later, Jamie got back to Eric, after speaking with the chefs and managers of his restaurants, and told him, no—his restaurants did not live up to the standards he preached. He asked Eric to help him change that.
As Global Chairman of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Eric is not only leading the philanthropic arm of the Jamie Oliver Group, Jamie’s for-profit company, but he is also helping the company to put strict ethical standards in place. Soon, all of the seven million meals served at Jamie’s restaurants will be made with food that was sourced adhering to Jamie Oliver’s Food Standards. Because of this transition, the Jamie Oliver Group will soon be an “impact-grade” company for impact investors. And Eric is optimistic that the Jamie Oliver Group could even become one of the first European companies to become B-Corps certified.
Over the past couple of years, there has been a sea change in impact investing. Before, companies couldn’t talk about impact without other companies looking at them like they were crazy. Now, it’s becoming increasingly normal for businesses to talk about impact. Eric said that Quadia does not have to go look for clients; the clients come to them. This is a heartening sign that impact investing is entering the mainstream in the investment world. With his experience in social entrepreneurship and investing, Eric will continue to lead the push among businesses to make positive social impact not just a public relations tool but a fundamental component of their business model.
The CSE Friday Speaker Series: Robin Pendoley, Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders
by Otto Nagengast ’17 | April 24, 2015
In his junior year at UCLA, Robin Pendoley travelled to Bolivia on a study abroad program centered around development. He had long been exploring questions relating to development, privilege, and the obligation to serve. This exploration, however, had been solitary. But in Bolivia, surrounded by the twenty-two other participants on his trip, Robin finally had a space in which he could share with others in exploring these challenging questions. “I finally found my tribe,” Robin says.
During the semester, the group travelled to Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru. They chartered a small boat and went to Isla del Sol, an island that lies in the middle of the lake. On the island, there is a small, natural spring that the Incas believed that everyone Incan should visit because it is the source of all life. When the group arrived at the spring, Robin sat down, pulled out his journal and began to reflect. Over 100 million Incas had lived across what is today Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Just one hundred years after the Conquistadors arrived, the Incas numbered less than ten million. He had come thousands of miles to the mecca of an ancient civilization that was all but wiped out after the arrival of Europeans. In this moment of profound reckoning of past and present, Robin heard his group mates swimming and splashing around down in the lake. The juxtaposition of their attitudes deeply troubled Robin.
For the next three days, he buried himself in his journal and dwelled upon what happened on Isla del Sol. When the group arrived back in Potosí, they had to present on their trip to Lake Titicaca. In the middle of the presentations, Robin could not bear it any longer. He ran out of the hotel and through the streets. He ended up sitting on a stoop, head in his hands, sobbing. He had found his tribe of people, a community in which he thought he could find some answers to the questions that had troubled him for so long, only to lose this community. Any answers he felt like he had found in the past months all vanished. He was back to square one in his journey.
At the end of his undergraduate years, during which he majored in International Development Studies, Robin’s advisor and director of the International Development program at UCLA gave him a book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. Robin says that the book taught him that society is like a net that we sit on. We can question some assumptions of our society, and undo some lengths of the net, but it remains intact. But once we question enough assumptions, the net is undone, we feel through, and we experience a social death. Robin realized that his moment on the stoop in Potosí was his “grieving of his own social death.” He realized that pretending that he had the answers was not a privilege he was comfortable having.
Years later, Robin watched on television as two planes crash into the twin towers on September 11. He went to his local bookstore in Eugene, Oregon and left with 2,500 pages of reading on “great agents of change,” like Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A few years later, Robin co-founded Thinking Beyond Borders. Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) is in many ways a culmination of Robin’s long personal journey toward finding his place in the global society. TBB runs semester and year-long exchange programs for gap-year students. Students spend every five-weeks in a different country; TBB has programs in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and South Africa. At the end of the program, students spend time in Washington, D.C. with development policymakers on Capital Hill and at the World Bank and the IMF.
At Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB), they embrace Dr. King’s belief that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and they believe that it bends because there are people who bend it. There will always be people with good skills and good intentions, says Robin, but he thinks that “Do-gooders aren’t very good at doing good.” The reason is that they lack the right balance of love and intellect. Too much love results in entrenched support for one group of people and blindness for other perspectives. Too much intellect results in the abstraction and dehumanization of people.
To accomplish this, TBB aims to build Higher Order Empathy Capacity among their students. This enables students to see the value in connecting with everyone, even enemies, on a common, human level. Students realize that they don’t have the answers to everything, but they can have lots of questions and humility enables them to explore the questions with others.
Robin is emphatic that TBB is “not a volunteer or a service organization.” TBB is an education organization. Students are expected to humbly embed themselves in a different context, not in the hopes of improving the place but of improving themselves.
Since its inception seven years ago, TBB has 164 alumni, and it is growing each year. Last year, 34 students were part of the full-year program, and 20 were part of the semester programs. But Robin says that at TBB they “believe in the scope of the impact, not the scale of impact.”
As TBB grows, Robin says that he has to learn something new everyday. For Robin, TBB is part of a greater project of bending the moral arc of the universe, and his personal part in that project is intertwined with TBB. His role, he has found, is helping others to find theirs.
The MCSE Friday Speaker Series: Chris Howell ’04.5, Founder, Vermont Farm Tours
by Otto Nagengast ’17
Chris Howell’s work in Vermont agriculture began when he was a student at Middlebury. During his time here he was involved with the college’s organic farm, and he helped it to grow into the integral part of campus, and our community, that it is today. After graduating in February 2004, Chris and his father founded a five-acre farm in New Hampshire. Chris says, with a chuckle, that it was an adjustment going from Midd where he could spend three hours in the dining hall with friends eating dinner to sharing parsnips with his dad on the farm each night.
Chris’ interest in agriculture eventually took him abroad, and through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), he “WWOOFed” in France, Spain, and Italy. In Italy, Chris worked with a cheese-maker who was famous in northern Italy. The man, Chris says, “was so connected” to the cheese that he crafted. The cheese also connected the man to his town, which in northern Italy became synonymous with excellent cheese. In Italy, Chris came to more fully appreciate that food can deeply connect people to a place.
After brief stints as a carpenter and a logger, Chris launched Vermont Farm Tours in 2009. The company offers a range of trips, from vineyards to maple sugarhouses to artisan cheese makers, all in Vermont. Edible Green Mountains Magazine says: “There is no one better qualified to take you behind the scenes to experience the story and flavor of our unique culinary landscape than the charismatic owner of Vermont Farm Tours, Chris Howell.” Chris says that his clients are after “a cool Vermont experience.” He builds his trips on personal connections with farmers, some of which he made during his time at Middlebury. This personal touch requires a lot of planning, but it sets his trips apart from the rest. “From a business standpoint,” Chris says, “it’s a terrible idea to have all these logistics. Could I streamline it? Yeah.” But the fact that his business model is not scalable is because his work is incredibly personal, which is what Chris loves about it.
Chris says that the biggest “why” about his work is that it matters. Vermont agriculture is at a crossroads. In 2009 the Farm to Plate Investment Program Legislation was approved, codifying a movement that had already been underway at the grassroots level and getting millions in government funding behind the initiative. The goal of the Farm to Plate movement is to help preserve Vermont’s agrarian identity. Chris is a leader in this movement. The Vermont agro-tourism industry is already about a 10 to 20 million dollar business. The industry, however, isn’t new, Chris says. In the 1890s, a member of the Vermont Board of Agriculture, Victor Spear, said that “The summer boarder is perhaps our most profitable crop.” Chris envisions that within 10 years hospitality training will be widespread among farms and a sizable portion of farms’ incomes will come from tourism.
One of Chris’ latest initiatives is promoting Vermont spirits. He sees enormous potential for Vermont spirits, because they can be 100 percent Vermont-made, including even the grains. He even hired a public-relations consultant to help promote fully-Vermont distilled spirits, and the story got national attention.
In just ten years, Chris went from pulling his first weed at the Middlebury organic farm to being a leader in a movement to preserve Vermont’s agrarian identity. By searching and ultimately finding his passion, and seeing the opportunity to turn it into a livelihood, Chris is connecting people to Vermont through farm and food. His work is not only meaningful to him but its helps farmers to sustain their livelihoods and preserve a Vermont way of life.
April 3rd, 2015 – by Otto Nagengast ’17
The United Nations estimates that 150 to 200 species go extinct every day. Much of this is due to the staggering scale of deforestation in the world today, which is also responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Over one half of the world’s forest have already been destroyed, but the Rainforest Alliance (RFA) is fighting to stem the ever-increasing rate of global deforestation.
Seventy percent of forest removal is for agriculture. The RFA’s model is built on creating sustainable livelihoods for farmers around the world, so that the farmers don’t need to chop down precious forests to make a living. With around 400 staff working in over 100 countries, the RFA works to promote supply chain sustainability from the ground up. At the farm level, the RFA collaborates with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) to evaluate farms along 10 criteria, ranging from Ecosystem Conservation to Fair Treatment and Working Conditions for Workers to Community Relations. Richard Donovan, Senior Vice President and Vice President of Forestry at the RFA, says that for farms “the baseline is not injuring [the environment]…we want to push them to improve.”
At the corporate level, the RFA works with companies like Hershey’s, Unilever, and Dunkin’ Donuts to help them source their products more sustainability, not only for the sake of the environment but also in the interest of profits. When the banana producer Chiquita transitioned to more sustainable sources, they reduced costs by 12 percent and increased productivity by 27 percent. Unilever reduced paper costs by $5 million by switching to a sustainable producer. Both Lipton and McDonalds increased market share by over 6 percent by offering sustainably-sourced products. Thanks in part to the RFAs work, firms now expect to be able to trace their sources back all the way, whereas before the RFA had to convince firms why traceability mattered.
There have also been enormous economic benefits for indigenous communities thanks to the work of the RFA. By helping 1.1 million farms in 43 countries gain certification for their sustainable practices, the RFA has helped indigenous communities earn around $38 million dollars. Today, over 30,000 households are supported through community forest operations.
But deforestation still occurs on a massive scale and the RFA is constantly evolving to address the ever-changing challenges deforestation presents for a sustainable environment. The very word “sustainability,” says Richard, has become stale and the RFA is still debating using more language like “eradicating deforestation” instead of “promoting sustainability.” The RFA is among the first wave of NGOs to use matrix management. Instead of siloing talent into separate departments, the RFA has teams of people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise that work together on projects. This allowed Carly Fink, who graduate in May 2014 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Geography, to smoothly transition into her position at the RFA. She has spent the past year working with RFA president Tensie Whelan on exploring new initiatives. Richard says that today it is becoming increasingly important to have an area of expertise, but also a broad understanding of how your expertise fits in with others that you’re collaborating with.
Carly says that at Middlebury she learned about the countless problems that ail our world, but that it is “exciting to work with the Rainforest Alliance on actually solving those problems.” The RFA has already done hugely consequential work, and they’re striving to do even more.
Friends and extended colleagues:
We are honored to invite you to Middlebury’s Fourth Annual June Forum on “Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts” from Tuesday, June 9 – Thursday June 11, 2015 at our beautiful Bread Loaf campus (see this video and more here).
Our theme this June will be “Design and Social Innovation.” Building on the leadership of kindred spirits on many campuses, we will give Forum participants the opportunity to ask how design and social innovation, broadly defined, can help to improve what they do for their students. To put it mildly, we think that the timing for this conversation is ideal: three articles here illustrate the liveliness of the current conversation about the role of design in the liberal arts.
There’s more good news. This year the June Forum will overlap with the annual Ashoka U Retreat (Wednesday June 10 – Friday June 12) for their 30 Changemaker Campuses, which we will also host at Bread Loaf. This means that dozens of faculty and staff leaders from these top schools – the list now includes Brown, Babson, Cornell, Tulane, among many others – will be with us in Vermont. The Ashoka leadership team is thrilled about this opportunity to, in their words, “support and draw energy from this fabulous convening of passionate educators.” Our team at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship ( CSE) feels the same way.
Join us! These June gatherings at Bread Loaf have been smash hits in the last three years. Participants, many who become returnees, praise the beautiful setting, the flexible schedule, and above all the opportunity to share challenges and opportunities with fellow travelers. Around an evening bonfire, on a morning hike, or reclining in Adirondack chairs with glasses of red wine, June Forum participants find joy in connecting.
We invite you to register here.
– Early Bird (deadline May 1) — $475
– Regular (deadline June 1) — $575
This all-inclusive registration covers retreat lodging; delicious locally-sourced food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, an opening reception (with some of Vermont’s celebrated beers), and other activities sprinkled throughout the agenda. If you have any questions please reach out to Mustafa Babak at email@example.com.
The Bread Loaf campus, the location of our retreat, is in the small town of Ripton in the heart of Central Vermont. We are a four-hour drive from Boston, five hours from NYC. If you plan to fly, we are one hour from Burlington VT (the closest airport) and two hours from Albany NY (the next closest). (We recommend at least allowing for 2 to 2.5 hours of flexible time between landing in Burlington and the 2:00 PM beginning of the retreat on Tuesday the 9th.) If you want to take advantage of the New England setting, renting a car makes some sense; otherwise, we can arrange pickups at the Burlington airport.
If you’d like to come to the area on Monday or stay into Friday, which we encourage, please contact the Middlebury Inn and ask for the Middlebury College rate. We will arrange for an informal reception in Middlebury on Monday night for those of you who come early, most likely at our good pub Two Brothers. (And note that Burlington has also become a go-to destination for lovers of good food and drink. Hotel Vermont is a complete delight.)
We can’t wait to gather everyone in June, both new and veteran Forum participants, for this annual gathering. We cherish this time for collective action as well as collective rejuvenation. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.
With best regards,
The CSE Team
Welcome to the CSE June Forum and Ashoka U Change Leader Retreat Registration! The following instruction will help you navigate the registration process. Please review and click the registration link at the end of the page.
- In the box labeled “Enter # of Registrations,” type the number 1 and then click the “BEST AVAILABLE” button below.
- On this page, there is information about each of the registration options.
- Note that there is only one option (Tuesday 06/09/15 – 8:00AM) for “Select Preferred Date and Time.” Even if you are registering for the Ashoka U Change Leader Retreat which begins on June 10, you still want to have the Tuesday 06/09/15 – 8:00AM option selected. You will be able to select which registration you want on the next page.
- On the next page, there will automatically be a “1” entered in the first option, “June Forum Early Bird – deadline April 1.” If that is not the registration that you want, then delete that “1” and put a “1” in the box which corresponds to the registration that you want. Once you have chosen your registration, click the “CONTINUE” button at the bottom of the page.
- This page will review your order with you before you add it to your cart. If the registration looks correct, then choose “Box Office Will Call Window.” You won’t need to pick anything up – your name will just be on the registration roster. Then choose “ADD TO CART.”
- You will now be asked to “Login” or “Create a New Account.” If you would rather not create an account, there is an option under “Login” which says “SKIP LOGIN AND PROCEED TO CHECKOUT.”
- The next page asks for your payment information. When you have entered your Credit Card and Contact Information, click “FINALIZE ORDER.” You should get an email confirmation shortly.
Please note that the 2015 Ashoka U Change Leader Retreat is specifically for Change Leaders at current Changemaker Campuses. People registering for the Retreat from institutions outside of the Changemaker Campus network will not be admitted.
by Otto Nagengast ’17
During Ekow Edzie’s senior year at Middlebury College, he sent off application after application for internships across the country and abroad. By the time he graduated in May, with a degree in Environmental Studies and Biology, he had accepted three internships in San Francisco. He spent the next year zipping around the Bay Area on his bike going from the Antenna Theater where he researched for an environmentally-focused art initiative, to 826 Valencia where he tutored kids and built programs, and at night he would across the Golden Gate Bridge to Oakland where he taught swim lessons.
Although the work he was doing in San Francisco was exciting, Ekow says that he didn’t see how it was helping him to do the kind of work he really wanted to do. He applied to the Peace Corps, and a year later, he was off to the Dominican Republic. When Ekow arrived in March 2011, there was great political change underway. The president at the time, Leonel Fernández, appointed a new Minister of the Environment, Jamie Mirabal, son of Dedé Mirabal who is a national hero in the Dominican Republic. Part of Jamie Mirabal’s task was to reclaim control of the country’s natural resources that had long been exploited by wealthy land-owners. One of his first steps as Minister was to change the National Forestry School into the National School for the Environment in order to groom a generation of young Dominicans that would protect their country’s environment.
Ekow was assigned to work with the director of the new National School for the Environment. Professor Jon Isham, who spent three years with the Peace Corps in Gabon, raised his hand during the talk to add that Ekow’s assignment is a “dream post” for a Peace Corps volunteer. For two years, Ekow taught at the school and worked to expand programming. In the summer of 2012, Ekow’s high school Spanish teacher and current Director of Curriculum and Program Development at Education First contacted Ekow to explore the feasibility of collaboration with the National School of the Environment.
Education First (EF) is the largest private education company in the world. For 50 years, they have enabled people, particularly young people, from around the world to travel and discover the world. One of their staple programs are student trips. George Stewart wanted to expand EF’s programming to include service-learning trips. Ekow knew that the interest and opportunity were there in the DR, but he didn’t know about the scalability and profitability. He reached out to other organizations, and found several more who were interested in partnering with EF. In May 2013, he was hired as EF’s Program Manager in the DR.
Ekow says that his time in the Peace Corps enabled him to see what his four-year investment of college was really worth. It also taught him key skills of social entrepreneurship, like how to get to know a place by listening to the local people. Drawing upon these skills, Ekow saw that trips built on detailed itineraries, the standard format for EF trips, was not possible in the DR. Instead, he is designing trips centered on themes, like youth empowerment or the environment. Ekow also saw that he may not be able to guarantee that a group can work on a theme because the opportunity may not exist all the time, but he can guarantee that they can learn about it through educational programming while in-country.
Ekow loves that his work not only helps the trip participants to travel and learn, but the trips also help local organizations financially, they creates jobs, and they have a positive impact on pressing issues in the DR. Ekow is transitioning out of his role with EF in order to pursue further studies, but he is grooming the current field director of the DR program to replace him. After their success in the DR thanks to Ekow’s work, EF is now expanding their service-learning programs throughout Latin America.
Many in the international development community focus on the education of women and girls, sometimes to the exclusion of educating men. While I believe it is vital to educate women and girls, I also believe it is a mistake to leave men out of the process.
My father was a successful businessman, well respected in the community. Though he was illiterate, he insisted that his children attend school. As the eldest child, I began learning to read at a local mosque. Soon, I was attending school.
I loved learning. After high school, I had the opportunity to attend a university in the United States, and my father was my biggest supporter. Though he was not what most people would think of as “educated”, he was knowledgeable, wise, very open-minded, and a just and honest man; because of this he was often chosen to mediate disputes.
After completing my studies in the U.S., I returned to work with my people in the Pakistan refugee camps. I found my people struggling with a lack of education, knowledge, wisdom and open-mindedness. Years of war had devastated our culture and torn apart the education and health systems, leaving people unable to adequately care for themselves and their families. The only thing they knew was survival and war.
Helping Afghans improve their lives through education
Working with refugee camp leaders, we began to train teachers and establish schools for boys and girls. I founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) and began supporting secret home schools for girls inside Afghanistan. Once the Taliban fell, we were able to operate openly and began working closely with communities to establish Learning Centers for women and older girls.
Our goal is to help Afghans improve their lives. In our schools and centers, students not only study the established curriculum, they also learn critical thinking skills, open-mindedness, wisdom and ethics – all qualities that my father, an “uneducated” man, had in abundance.
My father’s insistence on education forever changed the course of my life, and so I believe that a well-rounded education is the best way to improve people’s lives and to make lasting change for everyone – women, girls, men, boys, young, old. Educated, wise women help their families financially and raise educated, wise children. Educated, wise men do not abuse women or children and recognize the worth and value of women and children.
Boys demand education too
Let me tell you a story. One day in early 2002, I went with my female staff to visit one of our Women’s Learning Centers in rural Kabul. Suddenly a group of teenage boys with weapons appeared, blocking the road.
Our driver stopped the car and asked what they wanted. Pointing to me, they said, “We want to talk to her.” Although my heart was pounding, I opened the door, got out of the car and asked them what they wanted. Their leader said, “Every day we watch your car come and visit your centers for women and girls. They are learning to read. What about us? We have been fighting and living in caves since we were little boys. Now we are too old for school, but we want to study. What can you do for us?”
At the time, we only had funding for females, and I had no idea where to find funding for boys education, but I said, “Give me a week.” They said, “We will be waiting.”
I went back to my room, praying and wondering what to do. Suddenly my phone rang. It was a donor who was very supportive of our work. Listening to my voice, she asked, “What is wrong?” I told her. She said, “Start your center for boys. I will find the funds.”
And she did. Those boys went to school, studied hard and also learned about human rights, cleanliness, manners and ethics. Their parents were so happy! Soon they were able to transition into regular school.
All graduated from high school. Many went on to university or to study computers. Then and now, they have made sure that AIL has no security concerns in their communities. Today their daughters are going to school.
Open minds will make lasting change
There are those in Afghanistan who do not want women and girls to be educated. If we are to make lasting change, we need to open the minds of all who are still ignorant. They need to see that an educated girl or boy is not a threat to their culture, but is someone who will help to improve the whole community.
The women who come to our centers feel the same way. Men and boys need to be educated, not ignored. They need to be included in workshops and seminars with women and girls so that they can listen and exchange ideas and know that education is not a threat to them but is something that improves the lives of
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
The CSE welcomed a new member of the team this semester, Elana Dean. Elana and her husband, Professor Adam Dean in the Department of Political Science, come to Middlebury from Chicago. Although new to the Center, Elana is not new to social entrepreneurship.
After college, Elana joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Honduras working on youth development projects. In this time, she says, “The same questions always came up. How do we know if this program is working?… It wasn’t clear how what we were doing was making an impact.” After the Peace Corps, Elana pursued a Masters Degree in Public Policy. She says that they were learning “how to leverage social science research” for positive social impact.
After graduation, Elana worked for the University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative. After that, she joined the University of Chicago Crime Lab as a project manager. The Crime Lab describes their work as “ [using] insights from basic science to help government agencies and non-profit organizations develop innovative new approaches to reducing violence, and work with them to test new innovations using randomized trials.” Elana was responsible for coordinating projects that involved the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Public Schools, and researchers at numerous universities.
This fall at the Center, Elana has been working with Professor Jon Isham, Director of the CSE, to assess the Davis Projects for Peace. Founded nine years ago, the Davis Projects for Peace offers $10,000 grants for students who have a project that “promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties.” Projects range from youth programming like camps to microloans for low-income families in developing countries to business development projects like cooperatives for artists. To date, over 800 projects have been funded, and they span the globe. Elana says that with the assessment they hope to better understand “what is a successful project and what makes a successful project.”
Elana also volunteers at the Open Door Clinic in Middlebury. The clinic aims to provide healthcare for all, regardless of someone’s financial circumstances. The Clinic, Elana says, helps many migrant farm workers in the Middlebury area.
Elana says that the CSE is “asking really great questions.” She finds “the level of collaboration [at the CSE] between students and staff really impressive…[it’s] a really dynamic place and everyone is really passionate.” She added “the really cool thing about the center is that it works both in local and global spheres.”
The CSE is thrilled to welcome Elana to the team and to the Middlebury community. Her work will hopefully enable the Center to answer some of those really great questions.