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!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

@MinnesotaRising Meets: Trisha Hasbargen Reinwald

Hey everyone! I'm excited for @MinnesotaRising to have our first vlog interview with Trisha Hasbargen Reinwald, a Millennial leader supporting other emerging and young leaders across the state! Please check it out and share your feedback below.

@MinnesotaRising Meets: Trisha Hasbargen Reinwald from Diane Tran on Vimeo.


Contact Info:, @mnjaycees, @trishahas, MN Jaycees Facebook
Year of Birth:
Resides in: St. Paul, MN
Favorite thing about Minnesota or being Minnesotan: "The summer culture - everyone scrambles to get out and do things and enjoy the outdoors when it is beautiful out, it makes the summers in most Minnesota communities both lively and laid back at the same time."


1:17 | How did you first become civically engaged?
"I didn't really become someone who was active in community until after college, which is kind of atypical, I think. I started looking around at different issue areas that I found interesting. I knew that I was interested in working in nonprofits or a political field of some sort so I started looking at what organizations were present in the Cities that I could get involved with. I walked into an annual meeting of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and luckily found a bunch of other young women that were really exciting and got me engaged."

2:26 | You've been involved with a lot of organizations that incorporate volunteers; what is your professional background and some of the organizations you've been involved with?
"Right after college, I got a job with the MN Council of Nonprofits as a program support position and got to see really broadly the landscape of nonprofits and realized very quickly that this was the industry that I wanted to be working with. It fed my interest in being civically active and I felt like professinally, working in civic organizations was a really good fit for me."

4:29 | At this point, you're with the Minnesota Jaycees. Can you me a little about them and what you do?
"The Minnesota Jaycees are a membership organization and have been around about 75 years. It's an organization that's kind of like a hybrid of a community organization and a fraternal organization. The mission is to engage young people in leadership development through community service."

6:25 | I feel like there's a trend here with you working with younger folks and emerging leaders. And it sounds like you've also created a few organizations or their Twin Cities counterparts, from the Emerging Leaders Network to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. I'm curious what your draw is to Millennials or to your peers?
"I think it's energy. Working with and for young people and people at a similar age. I think energy and commitment to service is something Millennials have that I need to be around. I need to be around people who have that same sort of commitment."

7:49 | You have just graduated from graduate school and recently got married. Congratulations! In the midst of going to school full-time, planning a wedding, doing the work that you're doing and being an active volunteer in your community, how do you feel you've worked to balance your personal and your professional lives?
"That's a tough question and I don't know if I have a really good answer for that. One of the things is really having a partner who is understanding. I think he knew that when I decided to go to graduate school and I was going to go back to work full-time, through the end of my time in grad school, he knew he was going to be having to do a lot more in our relationship. I think it's just a give and a take."

10:10 | Any last thoughts you want to share with our viewers?
"I'm excited to be here in Minnesota. Obviously, we just got the number one ranking here in the Twin Cities - three years in a row now? I'm so glad to be living here - it's just an energizing community!"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards: Call for Nominations

Equally as important to the common good as calls to volunteering are calls to nominate and recognize volunteers who have made significant contributions to their commmunities. This year marks the 8th Annual Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards which "honors individuals that have made demonstrated contributions to the common good through public leadership and service." Past local winners of note to @MinnesotaRising for their nonprofit and community-driven work include Jennifer Godinez, Pakou Hang, and Sean Kershaw.

Nominations must be postmarked by October 1, 2009 and must show how the nominee has:

*Contributed significantly to the common good through public leadership or service in elected office, the nonprofit/non-governmental sector, community service, and/or the private sector.

*Such contributions could include altering the political landscape through a lifetime of public leadership, sustaining a major positive influence through a career of public service, fostering a sense of community, demonstrating social entrepreneurship, furthering active citizenship, and/or demonstrating a significant act of courage in the face of opposition, pressure, or challenging circumstances.

*Special consideration will be given to nominees who have blurred political boundaries—whether working across party lines, crossing geo-political borders, or bridging other traditional divides. Nominees need not be from Minnesota.
The Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards were inaugurated in 2003 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Institute taking the name of Minnesota's most famous public servant. The 8th annual awards will be presented at the Humphrey Institute Public Leadership Awards dinner in May 2010. Nominators have until October 1, 2009 to help raise up and recognize individuals in their lives who are serving the common good, which, in its own way, also furthers the common good.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My First Recession

I recently heard about MPR's "My First Recession," project and received a request (below) to help expand outreach to the younger demographic. As they tell it, "For young people, recessions can be formative experiences, marking them for the rest of their lives. As part of a special project, MPR News' Public Insight Network partnered with the Neighborhood House and local artists to help teens tell the stories of their first recession." Explore the project online and feel free to contribute or pass it along to your fellow Minnesotans!
I’m writing today because we just launched a project called My First Recession.

The goal was to give kids a creative outlet for expressing the toll of the recession in their lives -- and to use the teens' stories as a catalyst for a deeper conversation about how recessions shape our lives.

As someone who works with teens, you are in a unique position to help us gather more stories from teenagers to feature on our website.

We’ve created this form that kids 13 and older can use to share their experiences with us:

We’d really appreciate if you could help get this in the hands of as many teens as possible, and encourage them to participate. Stories can be submitted as short essays, songs, videos or in any format of their choosing.

With your help, we can give kids a creative outlet for expressing what’s happening in their lives and to see that they’re part of a larger story.

Please feel free to call or email with any questions. I look forward to hearing from you and to hearing the teens’ stories.

Many thanks,
Molly Bloom
Analyst, Public Insight Journalism
Minnesota Public Radio News // 651-290-1370

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blue Zones: Minnesota Edition

A native Minnesotan, Dan Buettner wrote about Blue Zones for National Geographic in 2005, which is his term for "the regions on Earth with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100." Buettner published, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest," in 2008 and has since received funding from United Health Foundation to launch the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

I heard Dan speak in May 2008 about his research of centenarians (people aged 100+) who not only live long lives, but more notably, live these long lives in good health. What he proposed is that while the typical recommendations to eat well and exercise play a part in a healthy living, lifestyle and culture are also key. Numbered below, from bottom to top, from left to right, this pyramid composes the Power 9.

1. Right Tribe (developing a health-conscious and supportive network)
2. Belong (religious community allows for faith and help in times of need)
3. Loved ones first (benefits of living near multiple generations of family)
4. "Hara hachi Bu" (stop eating when you're 80% full, as the Japanese do)
5. Plant Slant (more veggies, less protein and processed foods)
6. Wine@5 (a glass of wine a day with antioxidants is good for your heart)
7. Purpose or "ikigai" (know your purpose in life)
8. Downshift (prayer and meditation)
9. Move naturally (find ways to move mindlessly throughout the day as part of life)

1-3 are about connecting, 4-6 are about eating wisely, 7-8 are about the right outlook, and 9 is about moving naturally. These findings about the lifestyle, diet, and culture of centenarians may seem simple but can have a lasting impact: "The average American could live up to 12 more good years by putting these habits to work."

While we won't know the results of the Vitality Project in Albert Lea until October 13, 2009, there's no time for Millennials to waste in incorporating some of these tips and working on shaping a more supportive local culture. While we're far from being centenarians, we've got a lot of change to make and we'll need those additional 12 years to get things done around here!
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