Monday, December 14, 2009

Trailblazers: Charting A Course for the Future

I'm excited to be a Host Committee Co-Chair for the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (a program of the League of Women Voters - Minnesota) Annual Conference! It's slated to be a spectacular event for collegiate women and emerging professionals featuring a broad range of topics spanning personal and professional issues. Read on for details and register online by March 1st to get early bird pricing. Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I hope you dance . . .

"Life's not about waiting for the storms to pass...
It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Photo credit: George Eastman House

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Resolved, that we'll take 2010 by storm!

Last year's new year's resolution-making event was a certifiable blast, so we're giving it another go! The plan is to get together with some ideas, questions and people who can challenge us to think about what we want out of life, clarify goals for the new year, and have a good time hanging out with good people. Feel free to invite friends and we'll see what plans we can make for a fantastic 2010! Email to let us know to expect you or RSVP on our Facebook event page. Resolved, 2.0 Sunday, January 10, 2010 2:00pm - 4:00pm Common Roots Cafe 2558 Lyndale Avenue South Minneapolis, MN As a conversation starter, here's the 95 year plan exercise from Barbara Sher's "I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was"
To create a ninety-five-year plan: 1. In the first column, start at birth and number up to 95, by fives or as you like. 2. In the second column, list "Major Events" that take place during those years (getting born, starting school, moving, whatever seems important) 3. In the third column - share "What I Learned" and write the the most important thing you learned or expect to learn at each age. 4. In the fourth column - list, "The Most Amazing Thing I Saw," during those past years or anticipated future. 5. At the bottom, share, "What I Would Like to Tell Young People" and proceed to write what this imaginary walk through ninety-five years has taught you about the meaning of life.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advice for Life After Yale (or finding your footing in the real world)

Published by Yale College Undergraduate Career Services, Life After Yale: A Survival Guide for the Class of 2009, features information regarding taxes, health insurance, the transition to the "real world," and career resources available to the class of 2009 after graduation. While this type of information is critical for the recent graduates who wonder if it's important to keep receipts, don't understand how credit cards work, or how to balance a checkbook, I'm convinced that the more compelling wisdom in this survival guide is the advice shared by recent alumni about making the transition to life after Yale. One particular gem comes from Steven Klein, Class of 1998:
"It is confusing to go from a world with identified authority figures who regularly give you grades to keep you aware of the status of your accomplishments…to enter a world with no consistent metric of success and no clear authority figure to ask for your grades. You are not the only one feeling this and a million other fears, insecurities, confusions, doubts, etc. My five-year reunion was a profoundly uplifting experience as I listened to old friends with myriad interests and career paths all share the same sense of wandering and learning and fear and joy. We all laughed at how much easier our past five years would have been if only we’d been strong enough to admit we spent a lot of it feeling unsuccessful and small. Don’t think that your over-achieving self needs to have it all figured out all the time—none of your classmates do, either! And there is much joy and growth to be had in sharing your difficulties and learning from those of your peers.

One of the most important adjustments I’ve had to make is one of timeline. In your years as a student you are accustomed to measuring growth and progress on what are in reality very short timelines. In college you are expected to be 25 percent through your Yale learning curve (or, culturally, even more) in just one year. And I know that I and many of my classmates expected to make similar leaps of achievement, learning, and growth in each year of our life in the real world. It’s more accurate to suggest that each decade of life (or even more) is equivalent to one year in college. You’re going to be a freshman in the real world for all of your 20s. (After all, your ‘senior’ citizen years don’t come until 40 years after college!) Rather than bemoaning this in the name of wanting to reach your highest goals now, try to focus on the joy and ease of this idea. Take the time to learn and value the journey along the way to your goals and focus on building your wisdom along with your résumé. You cannot rush wisdom, and it’s the wisdom that deepens life and its meaning. It’s easier to say than do, I know, but it’s a lesson I’ve learned through cracking a whip over myself for a good four or five years before figuring out it was neither necessary nor particularly effective.

...In fact, I’ll even go further and say I started achieving more as soon as I started focusing on learning over achieving per se. (And I want to attribute a lot of these lessons to my friend Tyson Belanger, also MC ’98, who was featured in Yale’s magazine. He’sa first lieutenant in the Marines, and his journey in the military has taught me much about this. In the military, you cannot rush up the ranks, no matter who you are. You must pass, rank by rank, up the ladder, and you will not move up without first learning very concrete lessons at each level.) There is much wisdom in this... as smart people, we often think we can reason our way into the wisdom of someone considerably older. We cannot. We must make the journey. So we might as well enjoy it."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Apply to join the 2010 Emerging Leaders Network of Minnesota!

Minnesota's Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) is a program that identifies potential leaders in public health and provides them with information and experiential learning opportunities that enhance their leadership skills and help build the confidence needed for leadership roles. ELN goals focus on building a diverse workforce and providing the stimulus for emerging leaders to expand professional networks to accomplish public health goals. While most leadership training programs recruit people already in leadership positions, the ELN intentionally seeks those with leadership potential, regardless of their current job title.

As a 2007 graduate of the Emerging Leaders Network and a current member of its governing Collaborative Council, I'm excited to announce that we are recruiting for our 2010 program! The ELN program is unique in that it seeks those who have leadership potential but who may not yet be in leadership positions. It also seeks diversity in its applicants in race/ethnicity, professional background, age, gender and geography.

Application materials and a short recruitment video can be found on ELN website. Please consider applying for this program and/or encourage colleagues, staff or others with public health leadership potential to apply. This is a great opportunity to develop future leaders for public health in Minnesota. If you have any questions about the application or its submission, please contact Nicole Parsons at or at 651-201-3890. The deadline for applications is 4:30 pm Monday, December 7, 2009.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Call for Applications: Young Turkey Young America Professional Exchange

The Young Atlanticist Program is currently seeking applications from exceptional Turkish and American young professionals, aged 22-30. The program targets individuals who have started careers in the fields of public policy, business and journalism, who possess a strong passion for international engagement and have demonstrated leadership abilities. Academic or professional experience in Turkey (for American applicants) or the United States (for Turkish applicants) is helpful, but not required. The program will be paid in full, and participants will not need to incur any costs.

Young Turkey/Young America: A New Relationship for a New Age

The Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS), in partnership with the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC) at Sabanci University, is administering a dynamic exchange program designed to connect and build constructive relationships between future leaders from the United States and Turkey. This initiative, the Young Turkey/Young America: A New Relationship for a New Age, will work towards the vital task of renewing and reinvigorating the important bilateral relationship between the two nations.

The exchange will take place in mid-2010, and will last for nearly one month. Most of the two-week U.S. segment will be held in Washington, DC, and will also include a visit to a major regional center with strong international connections, such as Atlanta, Georgia. The Turkey session will open with two days in Ankara, and following a homestay weekend, move to Istanbul for three days.

We are currently seeking applications from exceptional Turkish and American young professionals, aged 22-30. We are targeting individuals who have started careers in the fields of public policy, business and journalism, who possess a strong passion for international engagement and have demonstrated leadership abilities. Academic or professional experience in Turkey (for American applicants) or the United States (for Turkish applicants) is helpful, but not required. The program will be paid in full, and participants will not need to incur any costs.

Program participants will build enduring connections through hands-on activities, vigorous discussions, web-based interaction (facilitated by, and joint follow-on projects. Meetings with government officials and independent experts will prompt serious explorations of foreign policy issues. Through seminars and small working groups, along with a crisis management simulation, the participants will build leadership, negotiation, and mediation skills while delving deeply into complex policy matters and processes. Social events with other young leaders’ organizations and alumni of past exchanges will encourage the building of wider networks, while home stays will provide participants with an intimate glimpse of life on the other side of the Atlantic. This combination of activities will help to forge lasting personal and professional relationships between participants.

To be considered for this program, interested parties should contact David Kirk, Associate Director of the Young Atlanticist Program, at, for more information.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Overcoming Adversity: Stories from the headlines and stories from the field

In the midst of the current economy and challenging political environment, we could all use a little bit of good news. I invite you to join the National Association for Asian American Professionals - Minnesota (NAAAP-MN) for a timely and exciting conversation with HLN news anchor, Richard Lui, and local community leaders. RSVPs requested to Diane at by Friday, November 13.

Overcoming Adversity: Stories from the headlines and stories from the field
In these challenging times, examples of past perseverance inspire hope for overcoming adversity. HLN news anchor, Richard Lui, will share about his personal and professional leadership journey, which spans several sectors and continents. The panel of community leaders to follow will speak about local stories of leadership and overcoming adversity in the midst of this challenging economy.

Friday, November 20, 2009
4:00PM - 6:00PM
Free and open to the general public

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Campus
2701 Wells Fargo Way
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Richard Lui is a news anchor for HLN, serving as an anchor for the network's late morning programming and as a news correspondent for "Morning Express with Robin Meade." Based in CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta, Lui joined CNN in 2005 as an anchor for Prior to CNN, Lui worked at Channel NewsAsia, an English-only news network reaching 21 Asian countries and territories. Before joining Channel NewsAsia, Lui spent 15 years in business, most recently serving at Blink Mobile, where he and his co-founders developed a patented process for the launch of the first bank-centric payment routing network. Since 1985, Lui has volunteered at community organizations including the American Indian Family Healing Center, the Red Cross and the YMCA. He is also a pro bono management consultant to non-profits through an organization called Community Consulting. Lui received his bachelor degree in rhetoric from the University of California-Berkeley and holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Minnesota's number one rankings: More to the story

By all accounts, Minnesota is number one. Released November 2, the Minnesota Civic Health Index 2009: Integrating Civic Engagement into Community Life, indicates that Minnesotans vote, volunteer, attend public meetings, donate to charitable organizations, and more, in higher numbers than the rest of the country. 

Number one in more ways than one 
 On Monday evening, I participated in a panel discussion about the report's findings with Gary Cunningham of the Northwest Area Foundation, Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and Harry Boyte of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. The conversation in the room centered around the stories that are untold merely by looking at the numbers. Despite Minnesota ranking so high in so many indicators of health and wealth, we also rank high in the disparities between the mainstream population and people of color or of lower socioeconomic class. These achievement and access gaps are social and racial justice issues that aren't brought to the fore in the midst of celebrating our first-place rankings. In this vein, I shared that the first Citizens League event I attended was a breakfast meeting in 2005. From what I could see, I was the only person in the room under the age of 40 and the only person of color other than the videographer. What kept me around and encouraged me to join the Citizens League that morning, however, was the fact that in response to the state demographer and state economist's presentation about the changing demographics of Minnesota, I heard genuine concern amongst members in the room about whether or not Minnesota would be able to provide for its increasingly diverse children as it had its older citizens in the form of good jobs, affordable post-secondary education options, and a high quality of life. I was convinced those people, the members of the Citizens League, were truly interested in tackling the issue. Four years later, I've come to learn that the Citizens League is not only a think tank, but also an action tank. I'm now co-facilitating the Quantum Civics leadership development course for emerging leaders, active with the young adult Action Groups, and a member of a board of directors that more and more resembles the diversity of our great state. We have much more work to do in becoming the kind of organization that can help shape the kind of state we envision, but if the past few years have been any indicator, we are well on our way. 

Perpetuating the civic tradition 
 Much has been made of the rising Millennial generation. We’re closer to our parents, want to ensure that the work we are paid to do is connected to our life’s purpose, and have been engaged with service-learning and community service opportunities through school and religious organizations since we were young. This seems to translate, among my peers, into pounding-the-pavement activism, joining book clubs, volunteering at nonprofits, or fanning causes on Facebook. And if not that much action, then at least socially conscious discussion and decision-making on issues ranging from recycling to what kind of coffee to buy or whether to eat organic and how large a carbon footprint one would leave as a result. Page 8 of the Minnesota Civic Health Index states, “One important finding of the national Civic Health Index points to the importance of widely communicating stories about civic traditions and current practices. Knowledge of the existence of a civic tradition turns out to be a powerful predictor of civic engagement. People who know that there is a civic tradition are much more likely to be civically involved.” If a sense of a strong civic tradition and actual civic engagement are truly linked, I'm compelled to keep sharing my perspective of our local history. I spoke positively on Monday evening about the community of young people that I see engaged in Minnesota and working to develop its citizens and civic infrastructure. While that put me at risk of sounding naive or overly-optimistic, I'm proud to be a part of this great civic tradition in Minnesota and want to continue telling that story. This story, of course, celebrates the fact that our civic tradition now includes a whole host of new cultures, ethnic groups, and ways of engaging across them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Integrating Civics & Public Policy in High School STEM Classrooms

The Citizens League & SciMathMN Invite High School STEM Teachers To A Roundtable Discussion:
Integrating Civics & Public Policy in High School STEM Classrooms

The Background
With a critical achievement gap in math, new standards in science, and continual emphasis on STEM curriculum, high school math and science teachers are facing new challenges. How can achievement in STEM be improved and maximized for students? Integrating civic skills and citizenship education into STEM classrooms is a unique approach that has the potential to enhance STEM instruction and at the same time revitalize declining high school civic education. By utilizing civic and public policy issues as a context for math and science problems students would not only understand technical concepts, but improve communication and team work skills, realize their individual political power and develop a deep awareness of the real world interconnectedness of STEM and policy.

The Roundtable
If civics and public policy are something you would like to integrate in your math or science classroom please join us for this roundtable discussion where we hope to create a casual atmosphere to discuss, exchange ideas, share lesson plans, listen and learn. Our aim is to further reflect on the possible benefits of integrating STEM subjects and civic education, brainstorm curriculum ideas and discuss how this concept fits with existing academic standards and how it could be incorporated into future standard revisions.

If you are interested in participating or have questions please contact Erin Larson at or (952) 210‐9197.

Monday, November 2, 2009

GiveMN launches today to transform the way Minnesotans experience giving

They say it costs money to make money. Today, 16 Minnesota foundations and the United Way launched GiveMN, hoping to reduce how much local nonprofits need to spend in order to support their charitable operations.

GiveMN touts itself as "the smart way for Minnesotans to discover, support, and engage with charities." The new website, powered by, offers individual donors the opportunity to support their favorite local nonprofits through online giving. Dollars donated through GiveMN go directly to the charity of choice, while the gift of the philanthropic partners is to cover the $4.75 (Network for Good) transaction fee to process each donation. GiveMN offers Minnesota nonprofits an online fundraising vehicle that effectively reduces the amount of overhead required for individual organizations to raise and process donations.

Individual donors will benefit from several features of the online community, including:

-Tracking gifts and donation history through an online charity portfolio

-Organizing individual fundraisers, such as requesting friends and family donate to a favorite nonprofit instead of giving birthday or wedding gifts

-Assisting donors with assessing charities through providing links to Charity Navigator, Guide Star, and the Charities Review Council

As stated on the GiveMN website, "Minnesota has long been a leader in philanthropy and civic innovation, and we believe it is poised to revolutionize e-philanthropy." Check out GiveMN today to stake your claim in the next phase of collaboration and giving for the common good in Minnesota!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Treat yourself and Kids 'n Kinship, too!

Burnsville Women of Today invite you to Spa-ahhh!!, a fundraising event to benefit Kids 'n Kinship. Treat yourself or someone you know to pampering, relaxation, and fun!

Kids 'n Kinship's mission is to provide friendships to children ages 5-16 who are in need of a positive role model.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Join the conversation about Minnesota's civic health!

On the eve of the Citizens League Annual Meeting, I'm honored by the invitation to take part in the ongoing conversation about Minnesota's civic health.

The "Minnesota Civic Health Index 2009," co-authored by Harry Boyte and Nan Skelton in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship, is slated for release next Monday. Following the press conference earlier in the day, the public is invited to join in on a conversation reflecting on the report's findings in relation to their own experiences. See below for more details and to register - I look forward to our discussion!

The Next Minnesota Miracle: Building a Living Democracy for the 21st Century

Monday, November 2
4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Markim Hall, Institute for Global Citizenship, Macalester College
1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul
*Space is limited. Please RSVP to by Friday, October 30.

co-sponsored by
-Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College
-Citizens League
-Minnesota Campus Compact
-Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration
-with support from Target

Minnesota comes out ahead on many measures of civic engagement when compared with other states, according to a recent report produced by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship. Please join Harry Boyte, co-author of Minnesota Civic Health Index 2009, Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Gary Cunningham of Northwest Area Foundation, and Diane Tran of Grassroots Solutions for a discussion on the state of Minnesota's civic health and what we can and must do to move from civic activities to civic engagement grounded in the fabric of communities.

Copies of Minnesota Civic Health Index 2009 will be available at the forum.

The report will be released earlier on November 2 at a press conference with Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, David Smith of the National Conference on Citizenship, and Harry Boyte of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

Earlier this week, I started a new position with grassroots solutions, a grassroots consulting firm headquartered in Minneapolis. Having worked with and received technical assistance from a number of their staff in a couple of my previous consulting projects, I'm excited to be coming on board with such talented, passionate, and fun people!

In honor of Blog Action Day 2009, I thought I'd just share a bit about one of the projects I'll help to manage, which is the Clean Energy Works (CEW) coalition. Their tagline is "More jobs. Less pollution. Greater security."

Clean Energy Works is a diverse coalition of more than 60 grassroots organizations representing more than 12 million Americans. This unprecedented grassroots coalition includes faith leaders, labor labors, veterans, environmental activists, sportsmen, farmers, business leaders, youth, community leaders, and many other groups, all calling for urgent action on a comprehensive clean energy and climate plan that delivers clean energy jobs, less pollution, and a more secure America.

Comprehensive energy and climate policies will:

• Create and protect millions of good American jobs by spurring investment in the nation's growing clean energy economy

• Improve our national security by enhancing America's energy independence, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and getting America running on clean energy

• Reduce the carbon pollution that's harming our air and water, and endangering the health of the planet
I look forward to advancing these objectives on behalf of national security, job creation, and environmental health and thank Blog Action Day for their focus on such a critical and relevant issue!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Agents and Architects of Democracy: The Struggle for the Future of Higher Education

It's been an absolute pleasure for me to serve on an International Public Achievement working group these past few months because of the people involved and the possibilities for growth of an amazing program! I want to pass on word about an upcoming and similarly-focused webcast that Professor Harry Boyte, of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, will be moderating next month. To explore the history and future of civic agency as an organizing theme for higher education, the panel is prompted by this provocative question:

How can higher education reverse the disturbing trends we see occurring:
pressures for higher education to become increasingly a private good with
students as customers, institutions as industries, and competitive success
measured by how many are refused admission?
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
3:00 PM–4:00 PM Eastern
2:00 PM–3:00 PM Central
1:00 PM–2:00 PM Mountain
12:00 PM–1:00 PM Pacific
An emerging focus on agency—how people develop the skills, confidence, and
outlook to become shapers of their lives and communities and agents of change –
can help. Civic Agency is visible across the world. It appears in development
efforts in Africa; in the writings of development scholars reflecting on World
Bank and UNDP experiences; and in pioneering work around the world on public
health, resource management, global climate change, and education reform. Higher
education has been slow to focus on this issue. Yet promising signs are
emerging, particularly in the effort by scholars to define an emergent “civic
field,” and the first Institute of Civic Studies this summer at Tufts. Could
civic agency become a core focus of higher education in the 21st century?
Learn more about the webcast and registration details here. The fast-paced one-hour program will offer an opportunity for questions and answers during the program. If you have a question now for presenters that you recommend they address during the program, email your question to

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seeing with Ugandan Eyes

In study abroad opportunities, students are often prepped, before leaving, to experience culture shock in the new country, and upon returning, for smooth re-entry into the home culture. This explicit discussion of expectations and transition readies the traveler to more fully enjoy the journey by mitigating and preparing for otherwise unforeseen and disturbing experiences. While I had read up on Nigeria society in preparation for traveling to Abuja, I hadn't anticipated that I would receive such a fascinating and effective re-entry program upon my return to the U.S.

For the past two weeks, I have had the remarkable opportunity to come on board with a Ugandan delegation of entrepreneurs at Southern University. Spending time in class and in community with the group of 14 Ugandans, I had a unique opportunity to see the U.S. through Ugandan eyes. I went with them to their first football games, explained what hot dogs are, and tried my best to translate the American experience into Luganda.

The first distinct cultural difference I came across was in the questions the Ugandans raised during a finance class module. The instructor urged the importance of businesspeople paying themselves first in order to maintain a functioning and financially viable venture. The Ugandans pushed back, stating that this couldn't be done when family members, neighbors, and other relations still needed food or other basic necessities in their economy of affection. The sense of community and responsibility for one's neighbors was so prevalent that paying oneself first seemed an incredibly selfish concept to the group of Ugandans.

The Ugandans were further startled by the grandiosity of marching band halftime shows, ample resources to support college graduates as exemplified by career fairs, and the amount of electricity used to light buildings during daytime hours. But nothing could prepare them for the extravagant RVs that filled the parking lot of A. W. Mumford Stadium before Southern University Jaguars football games. Touring one complete with bathroom, bedroom, and bar, they, obviously overwhelmed, exclaimed, "You have these and houses? It's too much!"

Certainly, the grandour and glitz of the U.S. is in stark contrast to much of the developing world, particularly from where I've just returned in Nigeria. The infrastructure, wealth, and government operations function at completely different levels. While the unexpected revision of our program unfortunately forced us to leave Nigeria early two weeks ago, I'm of the belief that my group members and I ended up exactly where we needed to be. Despite having our program schedule completely revised and our flexibility tested time and again, thanks to the questions and curiosity of the Ugandans, we had the opportunity to re-enter the U.S. more deeply conscious of our home country's attributes, culture, and global perspective than ever. It's amazing what you have to go through to get to where you're meant to be.

And I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to connect with such intelligent, passionate, and fun people from the other side of the globe. To my dear Ugandan friends: Waybale nyo!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

You're Invited: Citizens League Annual Meeting!

I'm a proud member of the Board of Directors of the Citizens League and my favorite event of the year is coming up - and you're invited! Our Annual Meeting is always fun, engaging, and the place to be and be seen if you're into community-building, politics, or helping build a better Minnesota!

Naked Civics: Uncovering the Path to the Common Good
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Pantages Theater
Doors at 5:00PM; Program at 6:30PM
FREE to attend!

The meeting is incredibly timely – and relevant. Nate Garvis, Citizens League Boardmember, will talk about both the tremendous need to find common ground amid all of the polarizing political/policy conversations around us, and the new opportunities we all have to do so.
  • How can Minnesota be the “Civic Capitol” of the country?
  • How can we reinvent policy-making and civic engagement in a new era?
  • How can you become involved, whether it is through your workplace or your community -- anywhere?
  • How do we “’uncover” new paths to the common good?

The meeting is social, interactive – (and short). There will be receptions both beforehand and afterwards at Seven Restaurant and Lounge next door, where you can learn more about the Citizens League’s priorities and accomplishments and how to contribute to our work.

  • It will be a great place to meet old and new friends.
  • You don’t have to be a member to attend, although we might ask you to join.
  • We know you are busy, and have planned a program that does not go more than an hour, while still providing opportunities for interaction.

Social media:
You can invite your friends from our Facebook page for this event.
Our Twitter hashtag is #CL09.

Friday, September 18, 2009

4th Annual Northland Bioneers Conference on October 24-25!

Since the planning committee has made special efforts to make the conference very affordable this year in order to ensure young people and young leaders can be present, I wanted to make sure to publicize this upcoming conference. In registering, conference attendees are also making a commitment to help keep the event zero-waste.

The 4th Annual Northland Bioneers Conference will be held on Oct. 24-25, 2009, at Willey Hall, University of MN. Bioneers Conferences inspire a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.

This year's event will include keynote speakers Dr. Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of MN, and Susan Hubbard, Co-founder and Co-president of Eureka Recycling, as well as local workshops and national plenaries. The conference will feature a youth issues panel and several of the plenary presentations (DVDs of lectures given one week prior in California) are by youth leaders of the environmental and social justice movements in the United States. Don't miss your chance to be part of this amazing conference!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't make plans, make options.

"Don't make plans, make options." I saw this quote in a magazine during my layover in Frankfurt before the last leg of our trip into Abuja. I didn't realize at the time that the very nature of international development work and our exchange trip, in particular, would be so wisely foreshadowed by that admonition.

If you've been following my tweets or Facebook status updates, you know I've been back in the States for a few days already. We flew into New York City on 9/11 after a few changes related to our program itinerary in Nigeria. It has been a bit like the amazing race.
• We learned upon arrival in Nigeria that the public universities had been on strike for the past 3 months. The guest house at the University of Benin had then written to our program coordinator explaining that our group's safety could not be guaranteed due to the security concerns. It was agreed by the State Department and US Embassy that we should not proceed with our original plan to stay 3 weeks in Benin City.

• We extended our stay in Abuja, visiting with additional businesses and civil society organizations. We were also able to travel further north in Nigeria, to Kaduna state, to visit Jos Wildlife Park and the national history museum.

• We were able to visit Lagos, which was not part of our original program, and realized how much more developed and wealthy the former capital city is compared to Abuja. Typical signs of modernization, including paved roads, shopping malls, and a healthy night life, abounded. This was, of course, in sharp contrast to houses on stilts in the Lagos Island Lagoon, people urinating freely on the streets, and extreme impoverishment. It felt at times, however, not so different from Manhattan.
Speaking of, we spent our first day back in the U.S. in New York City and then drove that night down the coast to Washington, DC for a weekend of rest to recover from jet lag. From there, we headed to Baton Rouge, LA where we have joined on with a Ugandan delegation focused on entrereneurship and business at Southern University for 2 weeks. The final component of our program will then kick off at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

One peculiar thing I remember about making payments in Nigeria was that they were quite comfortable operating on trust. If they didn't have a 50 naira bill for me when I paid for my Internet service, they'd tell me to use my half hour of time online and that they'd have my change ready for me before I left. And they always did. No doubt that philosophy permeated throughout our trip. At one point after we had veered off the original schedule, our group stopped making plans and focused daily on navigating the available options. And the Nigerians did not fail to give us the meaningful hospitality and experience we requested before we left the country.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is there a vaccination for Dutch Disease?

I'm taking malaria pills weekly and I was vaccinated against typhoid and yellow fever before traveling to Nigeria. Studying Nigeria's development during our exchange program, I've learned of a new disease for which it doesn't appear a shot can be prescribed.

The Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), one of George Soros' open society programs, published "Natural Resource Management Capacity in West Africa," in 2008. They define Dutch Disease as referring "to the phenomen, first observed in the Netherlands, where, partly because of the discovery of oil or minerals, a country's economy is de-industrialized to the extent that its local production capacity including agriculture and manufacturing becomes non-competitive. Imports increase, exports fall and there is a general shift of resources away from tradable towards non-tradables like construction. Farmers suffer most as cheap agricultural imports make their produce less competitive." Indeed, Nigeria is poorer today than it was before oil production began.  The report mentions that three types of effects occur with Dutch Disease:
1. Resource Movement, whereby the natural resource sector drains away talents, capital, public spending, etc. from other sectors of the economy
2. Spending, as (a) revenue windfalls create demands that cause inflation in other sectors and (b) tradables have fixed international prices, the country becomes non-competitive in those sectors globally
3. Exchange Rate, refers to increasing flows of foreign exchange, especially in boom times, and if the foreign exchange is sterilized, it can cause an appreciation of the local currency, damaging exports. 
The Nigerians we met with shared a few symptoms of Dutch Disease from their own perspectives:
• Nigeria imports petroleum since despite its oil wealth (the 5th largest producer worldwide, with proven reserves of approximately 30 billion barrels), it lacks the manufacturing capacity to refine its own crude oil. 

• Nigeria imports food since, despite being the world's largest producer of cassava and ample arable land, the protectionist West dumps its subsidized agricultural commodities with ease due to free-trade agreements like the African Growth and Opportunity Agreement (AGOA). 

• Nigeria aims to repair its image as being infamously corrupt. Over $400 billion has been siphoned off from the national coffers by politicians and the military. Despite introduction of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), lawlessness appears to be the rule. Dayo Olaide, of OSIWA, insisted in our meeting that the rhetoric around corruption needed to change. "Stop fighting corruption and start fighting impunity." 
It is a paradox of plenty that the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa (earning over $340b in the past 40 years) still leaves 70% of its citizens living on less than a dollar per day.

Minnesota is also blessed with countless natural and human resources, ranging from the mighty Mississippi to the miles of farmland to our Fortune 500 companies. In many ways, the generations that have preceded our own set up innovative mechanisms to build our thriving community. Are we taking our prophylaxis or getting our shots these days to make sure all the good we've got is immune from being lost? Can we imagine and implement strategies for a strong and sustainable Minnesota in the decades to come?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seeking exceptional young women for Leaders of Today and Tomorrow Fellows Program!

I'm a proud alumna of the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow's "Women Making a Difference in Public Policy Conference," and am thrilled to be part of scaling up the program to include a mentoring component and an expanded conference in 2010. LOTT is an amazing resource for young and emerging women leaders in Minnesota and I hope you'll consider applying or passing the word on to an exceptional young woman you know. Thanks for your support!
League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVMNEF) is seeking dynamic young women to become fellows for the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (LOTT) Fellows Program. The LOTT Fellows Program is an expansion of the very successful LOTT Women’s Leadership Conference, designed to inspire young women to become active citizens and envision themselves as future leaders.

Young women in their final year of college who take initiative at their school and in their community are encouraged to apply. Candidates for the LOTT Fellows Program will have demonstrated academic achievement and leadership behaviors, enjoy collaborating with others to accomplish goals and have a commitment to community and civic involvement.

The program will involve activities from January through May 2010 including four monthly workshops on January 30, February 20, March 13, and April 24, at least one additional informal one-on-one mentoring session, and the annual LOTT Women’s Leadership Conference (April 9-10, 2010). Additionally, LOTT Fellows, supported by Mentors, will plan and lead a civic engagement project for attendees of the LOTT Women’s Leadership Conference.

Women interested in applying for the LOTT Fellows Program should go to the League of Women Voters Minnesota website for more information and application materials. Applications are due by October 15, 2009.

The LOTT program is made possible by generous support from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. For additional information on the LOTT Fellows Program please contact LWV Program Director, Allie Moen, at 651-224-5445 or at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Citizens League Action Group: Poverty

For the second installment about the Citizens League Action Groups, I'm excited to feature guest blogger, Meredith Salmi. Meredith and I first met while organizing non-partisan legislative candidate forums in Dakota County during the 2008 elections. Meredith is a 25-year-old Minneapolitan who works in public policy at Arc Greater Twin Cities. She is also co-chair of the Citizens League’s Poverty Action Group and shares her insights into poverty and her experience of civic engagement below. 
This past January a group of twenty or so of us young(er) adults looked across the table at each other with one single passion:  Poverty. We didn’t necessarily agree on what causes people get in or out of poverty or even the definition of poverty, but what we agreed upon is that we wanted to make an impact, however small, on the lives of Minnesotans in poverty. In the coming months, our meetings dwindled in attendees and grew in the number of reasons people live in poverty, but the theme of food access seemed to be a constant interest of the group’s.
We came up with a purpose statement to guide our work:  The Poverty Action Group is working towards reducing food disparities as a medium to empowerment in lower-income communities. With our purpose statement in mind, we set up many one-to-one meetings with leaders in food access in the Twin Cities to get an idea of how our group could make an impact. Turns out, trying to make a difference is a tough nut to crack.
One thing that I (and many other people) have noticed about our generation is that we like instant gratification. We text fast, we like our food fast, and gosh darnit, systems changes better be fast too. Our group had a commitment to work through this fall which, as we looked at creating a project on our own, seemed unreasonable. These things take years…people dedicate their lives to systems change. So we decided to latch on to something someone was already doing—give them the people power that they might be lacking.
So after another round of community interviews, we got connected with NorthPoint in North Minneapolis, a health and human services center. NorthPoint is one organization of many who are part of a grant to examine and make a difference in the health disparities on the Northside. NorthPoint’s role is to ask Northside residents how they get their fruits and vegetable and what produce they’d like to see accessible on the Northside. Our group has surveyed Northside residents at various community events about their healthy food access and will have the chance to assist in holding focus groups with Northside youth.
Although our project is short-lived and might not create the systems change that we had dreamed about back in January, my involvement has given me many benefits. Probably the most important is that I feel more connected to my community. I was able to take time with my neighbors on the Northside just by surveying them on their daily lives. I also feel engaged in the food policy occurring in my city and my state, something that does not intersect with my typical policy interests. For example, I’ve become educated on Homegrown Minneapolis and have been examining our zoning policies around farmers’ markets and home gardens. Our group will be done this fall with our project with NorthPoint, but we’ve already been braintstorming some ideas of how to stay connected—and maybe debunk the idea that young adults only stick around for the short-term.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dispatch: Waking up in Lagos

Waking up in Lagos is sort of like waking up in New York City. You hear the horns honking and people yelling on the street. Then comes the cock-a-doodle-doo. And you realize where you are isn't the home of Wall Street, the Upper East Side, or the Brooklyn Bridge. It is, however, home to Broad Street, Victoria Island, and Third Mainland Bridge, the longest bridge on the African continent. It is the commercial heart of West Africa and spans the bewildering social and economic complexity of Nigeria.

Honking is a language of its own on the streets of Nigeria. The diversity of moving objects on the road ranges from coach buses to motorcycles to wheelbarrows. Drivers make three lanes out of two, with motorcyclists and pedestrians cutting in on all sides; their only aim to get where they're going as quickly as possible without hitting something. Honking helps facilitate the myriad activity on the roadways. Two short honks means something akin to "On your left!" whereas one long beep is a sign of anger or warning. Honking is the mediating interpreter when traditional driving laws are not the norm and allows what developed countries might consider unsafe driving to become de facto traffic law. In Nigeria, it appears the only law is that there is no law.

The thing to remember is to do what you can, when you can. Go to the bathroom when you can, because you might get stuck in infamous Lagos traffic. Buy what you like when you can, because the next time you visit the market the vendor may be out of business. Use the electricity when you can, because it might go out before your food is fully cooked. When resources are this scarce and undependable, the power of now is undeniable. The only moment that matters is this moment. Right now. So use your iron, buy what you need, and go to the bathroom. But please, not in the Lagos Island Lagoon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A little less text and a lot more snappin'

Just wanted to share a quick round-up of snapshots from my time in Abuja the past week and a half. I'll stop with my words for now, since these pictures should be worth several thousand of them. Enjoy!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Heartland Democracy seeking P/T Community Educator

This search announcement came across my wire and I wanted to pass it along for any interested readers and their networks. Thanks for spreading the good word!
Organization:  Heartland Democracy
Categories:  Public Policy, Education
Title:    Community Educator
Location:  Twin Cities Area, Minnesota
Compensation:  $15-17/hr
Deadline:  9/10/09
Type:  Contractor, 10 to 40 hours per week, mid-September 2009 through
January 2010

Heartland Democracy is a 501c3 research, educational, and charitable public interest group winning over Midwestern minds and hearts to progressive goals through regional public engagement on values, facts, and ideas.  All for One, a project in Minneapolis, is a public engagement program funded by donors and the Minneapolis Foundation.  It works primarily with African-American adults in North Minneapolis and with Twin Cities high school students who are overcoming economic and other disadvantages.  The program uses discussion and individual and group work to lead participants through a discovery of their own values, shared values, the relationship between citizens and government, and the fruits of community involvement and politics.  It aims to help inactive and young citizens become active, savvy, progressive citizens.  See for additional information.

This is a flexible, part-time, temporary, contractual position responsible for leading and facilitating adult discussion groups and high school groups.   The Educator will help design a curriculum and discussion guides, facilitate and lead discussions, and create multiple means of guiding participants through a multi-session program.  The Educator will be responsible to the President and will work with the Project Director to uphold program standards and ensure a rewarding, stimulating learning experience.  Other related duties may be assigned. 

A zeal to lead people in discussion-based and active learning designed to help them participants discover the benefits of active citizenship is crucial.  At least one year’s experience teaching, facilitating, or leading discussions among high school students and/or adults is necessary.  Excellent communications and interpersonal skills are necessary.  A background in the Twin Cities’ African-American community would be very valuable.  A good knowledge of government, politics, and history would be desirable.  Experience with community organizing, politics, government, and/or public policy preferred.   Four years of college preferred.  Must be at least 21 years old.  Must share a progressive approach to public policy.  

Email Resume and cover letter to:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Citizens League Action Group: Education

While in Nigeria, I want to continue highlighting some of the great work being done in Minnesota. One of the Citizens League’s initiatives are its Action Groups, which engage young adults in developing a policy question and pursuing action to address corresponding issues. In its second round this year, there are three Action Groups focused on Education, Poverty, and Financial Literacy. This week, I’m excited to feature guest blogger, Rebecca Lahr, who shares her insights below about the progress of the Education Action Group, which she co-Chairs.

Rebecca started her involvement in the Citizens League after quitting her job, looking for a different path. Her participation in the action group project has opened other doors for her, and she is currently working part-time supporting the growth of a youth development program for Latino youth, as well as working part time as an office assistant at a specialty school within the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Our policy question focuses on the integration of civic skills into areas outside of the social studies classroom. We define civic skills in its broad sense, such as effectively communicating ideas, knowledge of the worlds’ events, and an awareness of individual power within a group. We are interested in understanding how these skills have the potential to be manifested in math and science classrooms, and undoing the common knowledge that civic education is a “unit” within social studies. It is the responsibility of every subject matter, and of the public school system as a whole, to teach these skills to students to create a responsible, capable, and educated citizenry.

During outreach, we have focused on speaking to civic leaders, speaking to STEM leaders, as well as those who may have experience in integrating the two. Civic leaders, although very excited, have had mixed feelings about the possibility, some expressing great enthusiasm and some having cautious reservations. In regards to STEM leaders, there is quite an interest in the promise of connecting civic skills into STEM curriculum; the more relevant the subject is to the students’ lives, the more interest, the more connections that are made, and the more learning that can take place. In the final group of outreach, we have found people and organizations that are connecting STEM and civics on the higher education level. They have mixed feelings on the feasibility of transferring their curriculum to the high school level, as high school (and the K-12 system as a whole) are guided strictly by the No Child Left Behind legislation, as well as individual state standards that must be fulfilled.

With all of these perspectives in mind, we have decided to focus on developing a type of pilot project, which can incorporate civic skills into a math or science classroom. We are currently searching for a teacher who is already interested and committed to this idea, and desires extra resources to fully support his/her development in the classroom. In this way, we hope to partner with a teacher, and offer to connect them with Department of Education staff who understand the standards, civic leaders who can help make community connections, and also to connect them to the students’ desires through a social networking website, Students Speak Out, to create further curriculum relevance for the students. We are excited at the prospect of also closely working with the Minnesota Department of Education’s STEM specialist, who has shown an exceptional amount of interest in this idea. After the unit, we will develop a policy brief describing the pilot project, and distribute it to policy makers to create awareness on the subject.

If you are interested in learning more about the idea of how civic ideals can (and should) be integrated into classrooms other than social studies, here are a few of the general resources that we have found to be great background resources:
SENCER – Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities
Rethinking Schools
National Youth Leadership Council
Radical Math
Pennsylvania and New York Campus Compact: service learning and STEM summit
Students Speak Out
Project Tomorrow

If you have any suggestions or comments, you may share them with me at

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Don’t change lanes, make a new one!

It’s been almost a week since I first arrived in Abuja and Nigeria has not disappointed! It is a beautiful place with a wide diversity of people, languages, food, and resources. We have visited the Guara Waterfalls, Usuma Dam, and several villages, including Ushafa (also known as Clinton Village because of the former President’s 2000 visit) to learn about Nigerian culture and the country’s vast natural resources.

Along with our cultural visits and group work, we have met with groups like the Abuja Enterprise Agency, Farms to Markets Synergies, MedicAid, EWT Microfinance Bank, ActionAid, Frez Worth Investments, the Open Society Institute of West Africa, and ECWA Evangel Nursery/Primary School. Meeting with entrepreneurs, NGOs, and other organizations has highlighted a few of the distinct challenges of underdevelopment and the lack of basic infrastructure. A few energy and transportation related examples:

*Electricity can (and does) go out at any given time

*Traffic signal lights go unused due to the undependable power supply and police are used to direct traffic

*Street lights are present along the roads and highways but go unlit at night so drivers need to use their headlights and those of neighboring cars to make their ways
When this is your modus operandi, what happens? An economic analyst at the U.S. Embassy informed us in her briefing that the test of how long one has been in Nigeria is what happens during a conversation when the electricity goes out. Those who stop talking and wonder out loud what event has caused the power outage are new to Nigeria. In the event that a person continues talking like nothing has taken place, s/he has been in Nigeria for a while. Flexibility and making the best of the circumstances seems to be the name of the game in Nigeria:

*People hawk sugar cane, gum, disposable razors, bananas, and more on the street corners and along the roads in order to capture the captive market of drivers and passengers in slow-moving traffic.

*On our first day driving around Abuja, traffic slowed to a standstill on a four-lane divided highway. Waiting under the hot sun for a while, we noticed cars starting to move past us on either side, creating an additional lane alongside the two headed westbound. Then, cars started driving on the sandy shoulder of the road to the right of us as well as cutting across the highway partition to drive forward against oncoming traffic to our left. They took two of the three “lanes” on the other side (where there should have only been two lanes) and then ventured onto that side’s shoulder as well. What had originally been two lanes to each direction of traffic eventually became eight lanes, seven of which were heading west!

*55% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and 70% of currency (naira) is kept out of the banking sector. Bank branches are not located in villages, financial literacy is a challenge, and costs are high for banks to develop infrastructure to allow the type of savings rural and poor people would access. To address the needs of the middle class and poor, groups like EWT Microfinance Bank offer micro-savings, micro-credit, and micro-insurance. They provide financial services to a niche market with value-added, including financial training and skill development. Based largely on the model of Muhammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank, EWT Microfinance Bank is helping provide life-changing credit and loans to Nigeria’s middle-class and poor.
Mr. Soloman Agamah, a businessman and sought-after consultant, shared his philosophy with our group that obstacles and opportunities are the flip sides of the same coin. No power? Set up work to be done offline. Governmental policy change? Create a Plan B that allows for an easy switch regardless of what measures are changed or reversed. Frustrating commute? Sell goods to those on the road, making everywhere the drive-thru. Nigerians use their entrepreneurial instincts to innovate. They create new lanes of traffic in order to move forward.

In the midst of the recent economic crisis, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, urged that US citizens, businesses, and organizations not waste a recession. The opportunity to face challenges, overcome hardships, and emerge with new and revised institutions and practices is still afoot. Have we been able to support this mindset in Minnesota? At the first sign of a spending deficit or declining quality of schools, do we all of the sudden stand up, startled, and stop our conversations? Or are we prepared to keep working on our civic infrastructure even while the power threatens to go out? If not, maybe the road isn’t wide enough and we need to create a few more lanes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nigeria Bound!

I'm excited to be a member of the inaugural cohort of the Collaboration to Strengthen Young Professionals in Business Management and Global Entrepreneurship Program (I agree that they should probably work on an acronym). Hosted by the Institute for International Public Policy, where I was a 2004 Fellow, and funded by the U.S. Department of State, the program is an international exchange between young professionals in the U.S. and Nigeria. A bit about the program from the website:
"The exchange will consist of three components: training, experiential learning and cultural enrichment. Areas of training include international economic trade and relations, globalization and small business development, business management and marketing, establishing sustainable global partnerships, and other related topics. The overall goal of the exchange is to increase the entrepreneurial and business management skills of U.S. and Nigerian participants to enable them to have successful business ventures in the future. U.S. participants will be trained in Abuja, Nigeria’s capitol and the University of Benin in Benin City, Edo State. The Nigerian participants will receive training in Washington, DC, Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, OH."
While I fancy myself a social entrepreneur and am passionate about cause-driven work, the problems society faces today are multi-faceted. The AIDS epidemic, global economic recession, and poverty are exceedingly complex issues. Businesses support innovation, provide jobs, and drive the economy. They are necessary stakeholders for solving serious and complex community issues. My experience in the nonprofit world suggests organizations rely too heavily on grant funding to sustain their mission-driven activities. More and more, ventures are recognizing these untenable circumstances and developing sustainable business models, such as for-benefit organizations, which integrate social and environmental aims with business approaches. I have been inspired by the Nonprofits Assistance Fund's Social Entreprise Network, GOOD magazine, and numerous other examples of powerful, profitable, and life-changing work. I have some ideas about what I'm hoping to create but am excited to learn a lot more through professors, academic materials, and local business people and entrepreneurs throughout this program.

I'll be posting updates, as mentioned in my previous post, about my time in Nigeria, but I have also lined up a great slew of guest bloggers for my time away to keep you up to date on great Millenial effors and nonprofit work in Minnesota. Check back often and please keep in touch!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Packing for Global Citizenship

I'm packing. On Thursday, I'll be on a transatlantic flight to West Africa for a 6-week study program. While I pack my suitcase in preparation for spending time abroad, I figure I can also pack my blog to prepare for the new insights and perspectives I'm bound to brush up against. People have asked me if I will create a separate travel blog for the occasion and after some consideration, I think it makes most sense to share about my experiences here at @MinnesotaRising.

In 2006, I was invited to write "Global citizenship in the making: The process of putting pieces together," (below) in honor of the 20th Anniversary of National Campus Compact. Prompted by the theme of global citizenship, I reflected on my undergraduate studies abroad and the efforts I made to connect my international experiences with my local community upon my returns home. I found over and over again that what I saw abroad wasn't so different from that with which I was most familiar.

As such, my hope in keeping up with you all here in the next month and a half is to synthesize my experiences and reflections in real time. I expect my lessons learned during the program will be equally applicable here in Minnesota and moreover, that I will enjoy the challenge of figuring out just how. I invite you to follow along and help me do so!

Global citizenship in the making
I went to college considering my time in activities outside of the classroom to be the more practical and useful education I received, but with every intention to sync my studies with parallel practical application in order to continue engaging in what I now learned was referred to as “service-learning.” Already a student of the Humanities, I self-designed my International Social Policy double major by taking advantage of the opportunity to cross-register for courses at neighboring state universities as well as studying abroad and away. The local institutions provided me enhanced studies of policy and politics and my time with outside programs helped me develop cross-cultural competencies both domestically and internationally.

Being previously able to move from group to group without accountability to a single core organization in my prior activist experiences, I lacked mechanisms to analyze how I was growing or benefiting as a result of the overall experience. When I studied abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico, however, I shared my reflections and insights on my experiences, asked others their opinions, and shared how I was changing based on what I was learning, as part of the living and learning community the other students and I made up; I suppose I learned to speak English during my time in Mexico. Through structured classroom discussion and free time with friends, I found my voice while studying abroad and questioning what I was then experiencing versus what I already knew.

Participation in that service-learning based program with a focus on social justice informed my decision to pursue a year away from my home institution, first as a Citizen Scholar at the Institute for Civic Leadership at Mills College in Oakland, CA, during the fall semester of my junior year, and then with the Center for Global Education’s “Nation-building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind” program in Namibia and South Africa in the spring. The similarly styled service-learning based approaches underlying each of these programs gave me an ability to compare and evaluate their varying structures and components. After all, to be able to see across trends is to be able to assess and critique comparatively.

While the semester in Mexico focused heavily on issues of social justice and U.S. hegemonic practices towards their neighbor to the south through structured time spent listening to speakers in the community and site visits, my time with the Institute for Civic Leadership emphasized intentionally building a community of women students engaged with democratic leadership and group process and work. My experience with the Center for Global Education focused on nation-building after civil wars and apartheid. We visited museums, toured neighborhoods, and spent time with our internship organizations to get a sense of the institutionalized racism that we could see not only in the slums and townships in which the black Africans have continued to dwell since their initial residential segregation, but also in the lack of power the government had when negotiating with the wealthy Group of 8 nations.

My home stays with families in Namibia and South Africa opened my eyes to the fact that perhaps our lives, families, work, and dreams aren’t all that different. I cooked with my auntie by helping grind millet into a fine powder to be made into mahangu porridge and clapped along as my meme (mom in Oshiwambo) and younger sister danced to traditional Namibian drumming, but I also played soccer with my younger brothers when they arrived home from school, watched television with tate (dad) after we finished supper in the evenings, and my Namibian family and I celebrated my birthday with a delicious cake from the local store. While the language was new to me and the national challenges unique, several of the flavors and aromas reminded me of my own mother’s Vietnamese cooking and somehow, the joy of family road trips next to siblings in the back of a large vehicle seemed to transcend cultures.

My return home at the end of each program consistently imparted a deep personal desire to ensure I could integrate the new learning, understanding, and habits I came away with. From the moment I walked into a new situation, I became hyper-observant, more acutely aware of the differences in lifestyle, culture, speech, and more, between this new place and that from which I came. I became mindful of the impact of the words I chose to use, the clothing with which I presented myself in certain situations, and the type of attitude I portrayed. Traveling, whether to a new city or a new continent, illuminated that which I didn’t know to appreciate or recognize previously in my home life. Not only did my experiences abroad and away deepen my intercultural competency, they also highlighted my understanding of what shaped my own country’s norms and values.

I began to see how my home culture defined my view of reality and how that reality is produced. I realized that I, being exposed to several distinct cultures, now had the opportunity to compare the varying lifestyles and personally choose how I wanted to live. I realized if I chose some of the values I saw more prominently in Namibian culture, it might be difficult to maintain those practices at home, because U.S. culture would not necessarily be already in support of this value. I knew though, through my work with activist groups, that as long as a community exists to support the valued practices, it is possible to carry out values in cohesively. I would need to make sure I found such the people and places to support my ideals.

The beginning of my senior year in college was also the beginning of my commitment to being in the country, at home, for an extended period of time, and acting on the recognition that I did not have to leave home in order to change the world. I once again took the post of Reading Buddy to a kindergartner and a fifth-grader at a nearby elementary school collaborative, which I viewed as an extension of my work on international children’s health and rights issues with the Student Campaign for Child Survival. I resumed volunteering with the English as a Second Language program local to my school community, and in listening to the stories of immigration, heard insights into what may have characterized my own parents’ arrival in the U.S.

Oliver Wendell Holmes asserted, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” As a proponent of service-learning, I argue that once education and practical application are integrated, they can never be disintegrated for a student. We recognized that the programs we had taken part in combined an active reflection that analyzed our changed environments as well as changes within ourselves. We learned we are only as important as we are in this world in relationship to each other and to the communities in which we dwell. The support we had in the programs we participated in were a group of students committed to engaging in a semester-long experience of growth and challenges. In continuing our local and international activism, we wanted to take the time to transform our beliefs and new insights into mindful, daily action. We sought to intentionally create a similarly supportive and globally-minded community in our own college home.

Putting the pieces together
I intend to detail the process we undertook in putting this community together, in this part of the paper, to demonstrate that it was with specific intention that our program looks precisely the way it does. It asserts that where we sit now is merely the experience of being on others’ shoulders. The recommendations at the end of each paragraph can be viewed as part of a brief lesson plan on creating a globally-engaged and student-centered learning community. These can also be seen as key ways for higher education to revision the scope and components of their service-learning and international programs.

1. Recognize students as key stakeholders in the success of the learning community.
While we knew up front that certain factors could not be accounted for while trying to meet our objectives, we realized that developing a strong core that invites dialogue in response to conflict can help to foster equity in access and group cohesion. Planning a group to be open, honest, and responsible to one another, we decided a student-led program that went beyond a traditional discussion or writing group would meet our objectives. Global citizenship education would be an inherent part of the process, as students shared their different perspectives and paradigms, giving voice to their concerns and engaging each other in dialogue.

I remembered a professor who presented an agenda before the beginning of each class and asked for amendments before asking for agreement. Once she had unanimous approval she would begin class. Though the agenda is generally a tool of meetings rather than classrooms, it struck me as democratic and participatory that she included every student as a key stakeholder in their own engagement and ultimately, learning.

2. Trust students to take action if you foster the questions and provide support as they work to answer them.
One of my college professors on the study abroad program in Mexico admitted she was also learning alongside us. She shared that she used to teach elementary school and would have the students read older children’s level books and they would respond with so many questions. Then she started teaching university students and they would never have questions. She wanted nothing more than to work to recapture whatever was lost in between childhood and college for those university students.

We thought back on courses we had taken and the mechanisms they had provided us for learning. After our initial service-learning experiences, we all realized that we asked more questions and thought twice about whether or not to immediately accept what a professor — or any other authority figure, for that matter — told us. We asked ourselves who had the power and privilege to write the texts and newspapers we read. After all, that determined from whose perspective and biases we were receiving information. We intended to make sure we would support paradigm-shifting, as well as basic learning questions, and allow them to be asked in a non-confrontational setting.

3. Give them context and history and they will give you the vision.
Without larger comprehension that the world has been changed many times over, that it is still continuously changing, and even that the change they make will someday likely be changed by another, how is a young person to realistically understand where to use his/her energies most effectively and meaningfully? Students benefit most from an understanding of how to learn themselves.

The most important instrument in coming years recognizes the increasingly globalized and cross-cultural society that shapes politics and international relationships. This tool is of cultural competence. Students must be able to work with any groups they come across, ethnically and culturally, but also be able to cross sectors and be able to get along in business, academia, public, and governmental sectors. Given a context, they’ll get you a vision for how to foster those relationships into a meaningful collaboration.

4. Schools must be open to dialogue; they must respect and genuinely respond to critique. They must give serious attention and funding to student-initiated projects.
There is a tension I have perceived, from both angles, in working to empower a disadvantaged group by providing them with tools, critical thinking, and movement-building skills. This tension arises since it may lead to providing the newly empowered group the power to restructure or critique the organization. Critical thinking, however, is one of the desired outcomes of higher education. It seems that there is a paradox within the institutional education system that in order for its students to fully realize its teachings; it must ultimately give up a share of its power.

At the end of a one day, student-led conference on campus, a professor attended the afternoon student-led panel sessions and remarked that students giving papers to each other in such a manner prompted him to ask the question, “What do they need us [professors] for, anyway?” His words demonstrated acknowledgement that faculty can place trust in students they teach by giving them ownership over their own education and the ability to advocate for themselves.

For universities to seriously invest in service-learning and student empowerment, however, it will take much more than mention in the college handbook or a couple more activities each school year. Students must have support and tools available to them, as well as money to fund their endeavors. If students surmise a meaningful vision to enhance their local or global community, the university’s role is to provide for their genuine contribution to bettering society. Students can no longer be given an unfunded and unserious mandate to volunteer in the community; they must be funded and acknowledged as a real way in which the college relates to the community in which in dwells.

Setting the course
The student-led Social Justice 101 course was housed in and served as a program of the Center for Just Living in the fall of 2005. 9 students met weekly for one hour for 10 sessions. A regular format of: agreement on the agenda, announcements about members’ activism events, personal check-in, critical analysis of reading, personal reflection and application of the reading and a skill demonstration or exercise was democratically led each week by a different member of the group. Short essays and articles challenging commonly accepted notions around community service and social justice engaged students in discussion and critique of current social change work.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s mantra, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” the course evolved from its original title into a more appropriate fall Be the Change: Seminar and a spring Be the Change: Practicum. The fall Seminar focuses on analyzing specific examples of social change in readings and critiquing the motivations for and methodologies of social activism. The spring Practicum is a further exploration of the theology and motivations behind social justice, combined with an active implementation of learned reflection techniques in an Action Project. Housed in the Honors Department, the courses were approved by the institutional Curriculum Committee by the end of the school year.

The Big Picture
Students graduate to positions of change-makers and leaders of the U.S., and the world. Whether they are nurses or managers or teachers, they must agitate to create a world that we envision and believe should exist. Schools must teach their students how to vision, how to imagine a world different than one in which they currently live. As the global reality in which we live continues to change, so too, must teaching be transformed in order to accommodate the new competencies required for intercultural and inter-sectoral exchange. It is hard to equip students with the tools to ask critical questions or visualize something new when they have only ever been told how things work and have been. Students must be fully supported in learning that persons in power or many people with collective power created the past. Similarly, they can now gain power, not necessarily through money or force, to be able to, in community, create the world in which they wish to live.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The @MinnesotaRising Story

Coming up through the ranks of Target Market, the Dakota County Youth Planning Committee, and THE GARAGE in my high school days, I developed a strong appreciation for Minnesota, youth activism, and social justice issues. I continued practicing and learning in my undergraduate work through involvement with Global Justice's Student Campaign for Child Survival, V-Day, and the Center for Just Living at The College of St. Scholastica. These experiences of peer-to-peer organizing and collectively envisioning a world we thought we should work towards led me to believe in the power of a generational identity as a common uniter for social change work. I questioned the notion that young people need to wait for some appointed time upon which they should take on the mantle of leadership, whether that be college graduation or becoming more seasoned in professional work. I reasoned that if our generation was to inherit the circumstances, be they good or bad, that current practicies and policies were forming, we should have a hand in their co-creation.

So I strove to be the change I wished to see in the world. I participated in several Citizens League committees, served as a Racial Justice Facilitator for the YWCA of Minneapolis' "It's Time to Talk Forums," and was a citizen lobbyist on behalf of RESULTS' advocacy to end poverty and hunger. In the meantime, I engaged with my local peers through the Emerging Leaders Network, serving on the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow Advisory Board, and by organizing Book Club Bash discussions. Yet the conversation I wanted to be having about our common generational identity and leadership still wasn't manifesting itself. I turned, then, to Twitter and Google, and found a whole community of 20-Something Bloggers, Brazen Careerists, and Millennial thought leaders. I went from 0 to 60 in wondering if people wanted to have this conversation to being overwhelmed by the dialogue from and about the Millennial generation. After following along for several months, it became apparent to me that the field was thoroughly saturated. There didn't appear to be need nor room for additional voices.

After further reflection, though, I began to recognize that these conversations were largely happening at the national level. The issues were relevant, but the people and places were not part of my own community. My passion is for Minnesota and for my peers here. Thus @MinnesotaRising was born. At this point, it's nothing more than me, a Twitter handle, this blog, a gmail account, and of course, you. But I've got plenty of ideas of what more it could be. And I'd assume you do, too. They say you've got to build a network before you need it. Given the complex and unique work that lies ahead, it's obvious that we're going to need each other in the future, so I suggest we start building that network now. Are you with me? If so, I've got just a few questions to get the conversation going:
How do you cultivate a group of peers, that over time and shared experiences, comes to power together with a shared vision for the common good? How do you prepare to do this ahead of society's appointed time for you to get to work?
Thanks for your support and I hope we'll have the chance to work together!
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