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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...