Traveling WAY beyond Global Learning

Photo by Doug Levere

With less than three months into our new Project Portal, I am excited on so many levels. Student interest is high and new projects are coming in from all directions. Our digital badges are yielding important data and the resulting stories are already compelling. While there is much to dig into and explore as we build out our new model over the coming months and years, there is one facet that begs immediate attention; global collaboration.

To say that there has been strong interest would be a gross understatement. Inquiries have been coming in almost daily. The students are from diverse backgrounds and areas of study- engineering, communication, public health, psychology, statistics, and computer science; students from the local community and others from countries and regions around the world. But perhaps even more remarkable than their diversity, is the consistent manner in which they are asking to join the projects; articulating a genuine and moving interest in making a difference through their engagement; a desire to give something back or make lives somehow better.

What projects are attracting such strong interest? For now, they are all associated with my Tanzania collaborations. They involve clean water and sanitation, women’s empowerment, early childhood education, and an emerging community bicycle laboratory. They feature long-term partners who are on the ground in Tanzania, extraordinary people who are committed to the work and eager to collaborate with our students, to engage their ideas, talents, and opportunities, and the resources that may follow.    

If you visit these project profiles, you will find articulated learning outcomes that are both familiar and highly regarded. You will see cultural competence, global learning, communication, problem solving and other ideas that represent important skills and competencies valued by 21st century employers and deemed important for a well-rounded liberal arts education. While undeniably important, let’s be clear that these learning outcomes are not what is speaking to our students. Instead, it is the chance to connect with real communities and people, to touch the world, to make a difference, to fulfill a sense of purpose and hope, and to experience the challenges and rewards of collaboration.

I have been experimenting with the complexities of collaboration for over 16 years, and acknowledge its ambitious and perhaps aspirant nature. Even within our own communities, it is difficult to navigate the implicit power imbalances and differences in culture and perceptions that undermine our attempts to collaborate.  But as we search for goals that will challenge and stretch us toward innovation and relevance, I believe that global collaboration is worthy of our pursuit. Put simply, it is inherently meaningful and resonant with the best that we have to offer.

As I look ahead to the future of experiential learning, I am both inspired by the adventures in collaboration that lie ahead and reassured by the knowledge that our students are profoundly ready.

What I Know to be True

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I am back in Buffalo- having just returned from our 10-year anniversary trip to Mara Tanzania. And just like that, 10 years of my life and professional energies have been wrapped up in a bow; celebrated, honored and commemorated by my dear friends and partners who made me feel special and cherished beyond description.

And now I strain, eager to get my head around the many lessons and insights, allowing me to shift  into the next phase of my work, whatever it may be. Why the urgency- you might ask. Although our partnerships are in many ways impressive, I know that they are inherently precious, and perhaps still fragile. You see, our Tanzania project was never an institutional priority. I was never asked to develop or sustain it. In fact, over the years I have had to be tenacious, finding ways to keep it going, often under the radar, buying time until the landscape shifts and new opportunities emerge.

And even now, as the benefits are both obvious and resonant, I am still working to think ahead, identifying the next manifestation that will allow our investments to keep growing and multiplying. This work of continuously nurturing engagement is both taxing and frustrating, moving at its own pace and rhythm, always precarious, never secure. Perhaps in an effort to coax it along, or instead to simply grasp for those who understand the significance and struggle, I will share some resonant truths in whatever form they offer themselves.

Capacity building is real– both as a challenge and an opportunity, especially in developing regions like Mara. Literally everywhere we look there are assets and resources but if they cannot be harnessed and leveraged, their communities and people (especially women and children) will remain vulnerable. There are organizations and leaders ready and poised to have an impact. But without sufficient infrastructure, incentives, levers of change, they will remain alone and unable to activate their potential. Investments will not trickle down and lives will remain cruel. But if we can weave structures and networks around these assets and leaders, connecting them upward, inward and outward, we can leverage their individual resources toward greater impacts, eventually catalyzing growth and collaboration from within.

Grants and donors are not the answer– no one funding opportunity or single initiative will save our most vulnerable communities or populations. When I see new non-profits or small community organizations waiting and searching for the golden funder, or praying that it’s me, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I see the precious resources they expend trying to court the funder or win the grant- ready to pivot to whatever initiative or remediation is being endorsed. And when partial funding is offered, they eagerly accept, getting started right away, even when funding is insufficient to cover required costs. And then they are back in the weeds and the cycle continues.

Collaboration is key, but it requires strategic support. It’s amazing to see so many organizations and communities dealing with the same challenges and offering such similar programs. And yet they often fail to connect and certainly to collaborate. Instead they compete. Collaboration can be fostered and nurtured, but it needs to be facilitated by skilled mediators and designers. The best place to start (in my experience) is with new opportunities and themes that can add value to individual efforts while not competing, interfering or adding complexity. This can be achieved through identifying broader themes and commonalities that resonate with external trends and resources, and expanding and creating new opportunities rather than relying only on known resources.

Technology can be a game changer, but the “how” must be translated- everywhere we go there are computers and cell phones, and requests for more technology. But most of the computers are not working, and there is little understanding of how technology can be leveraged for individual and collective growth. We have had multiple requests for our students to design and manage websites and provide other critical support. But when we ask to work with individuals who have related job responsibilities and or skill sets we have had no success. Since technology and connectivity are featured in virtually every strategic plan for developing countries and regions, building capacity and expertise among key professionals and youth is absolutely critical.

Higher Education has a pivotal role to play– this is where it gets tough. Because I am part of this system, I cannot go too far. But I can say unequivocally that we can do much more. Our students want to get close. They want high-touch experiences. And our faculty have so much expertise and resources to offer. Our leaders must recognize that this work is not “extra” or outside our core mission. Instead it is the pathway to continued (or perhaps renewed) relevance- it is worthy of scholarship, research and innovation. It is inherently noble and important.

I hope that these insights are not construed as negativity or defeatism. On the contrary, I find myself more excited than ever to continue our relationships and our collective efforts to build capacity through collaboration and engagement. In fact, as I write this post, our students are formulating projects based on their own experiences with our partners in Mara. Their projects will be open to students from all backgrounds and majors who are eager to work on real-world issues and challenges, and to contribute their talents and resources in meaningful ways. What will come of these efforts and the foundation we have built over the past 10 years?  I have no idea- but am hopeful beyond words.

After 10 Years in Tanzania, What Next?

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photo by Doug Levere

In a few weeks I will be returning to Tanzania with my dear friend and co-instructor, Dan Nyaronga, and a new group of students from the University at Buffalo. As always, we will be visiting with our various partners, exploring community initiatives and the complexities of women’s empowerment in this challenged but magnificent part of the world.

While our itinerary will be similar to past trips, this one will be different. I will be celebrating my 10-year anniversary, and (hopefully) ushering in a new phase of engagement.

When I remember the very beginning, the first time we visited in 2009, I am reminded of this video produced by Kevin Crosby, and the model we initially set out to create. Even then, we dreamed of collaboration built on shared understanding and respect, and a commitment to adding value and building capacity, leveraging our vast UB resources, while building synergies with community-based organizations within the Mara Region and beyond. We hoped to seed interdisciplinary efforts, working across silos to develop innovative solutions to improve the lives of women and their families, while stretching our models for university engagement and outreach.

As I reflect on our accomplishments, there is much to celebrate. Over the years we have helped to support the emergence of community leaders, the creation of new initiatives, and the early stages of collaboration among partners. But how to go even further; to transcend the expectations and constraints of traditional support and partnerships; to elevate the notions of collaboration and capacity building both within the community and our own institution?

This time I will bring the promise of an exciting new initiative that we are busy building- so busy that I have yet to write about or introduce it. We are creating a digital portal that will invite students to engage in collaborative projects, mentored by UB faculty and/or select alum and partners around the world- including (and especially) Tanzania. We will construct profiles introducing our partners and their work, inviting students to browse through pictures, videos and reports, learning about challenges and complexities, towards engaging in projects that will add value while helping to clarify and support their academic and professional goals.

For our partners I dream of expansion and empowerment, building their internal capacity around strengths and resources, leveraging engagement with UB and other partners around shared and synergistic goals. For our students I wish them the fulfillment that comes with the knowledge that they are making a meaningful difference and the sense of agency and infinite possibilities ahead.

For me, the portal offers a path to access and equity, allowing students to engage at their own pace and at no additional cost. The idea that anyone can activate their talents and interests, clarifying their sense of purpose, and making a difference in ways that will extend well beyond their own professional success.

This July we will be harvesting projects for our new portal, laying the foundation for future students to engage through collaborative projects. This idea of project harvesting is both compelling and profound.  When we begin to see challenges and needs as invitations for projects and collaboration, opportunities will emerge all around us, and technology will be the transformative tool that allows us to build, catalyze and expand our impacts in ways that we cannot know.

As I return to Tanzania I cannot help wondering what lies ahead. And as I prepare to celebrate my 10 year anniversary, I can’t help feeling (hoping) that this is still the beginning.

 

Be Brilliant: Reflections and exercises for helping ourselves, and others, give and get more

 

Transforming Global Partnerships into Pedagogical Impacts

GPS Institute

Register for GPS Institute

On Monday October 1st we will welcome partners from Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Zimbabwe for our inaugural week of sharing, capacity building and networking toward the goal of creating new collaborations, projects and experiential learning offerings.

What will come from this exciting week of presentations, studio sessions and innovation modules?  Our website is ready to receive idea submissions  which will be synthesized and shared at our closing reception on Friday, October 5th at 4:30 pm in Silverman Library.

To expand the scope of possibilities, we are introducing a suite of learning platforms, resources, and opportunities that enhance students’ global collaboration experiences, through integrating them within their UB coursework while developing compelling narratives that will support their learning and professional goals, AND maximizing their impact within the communities they touch.

These evolving resources are now offered through our Global Partner Studio (GPS) and include:

  • COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning)- we invite faculty to add collaborative course content to an existing course or engage in the development of new offerings. Through collaborative course modules and exercises, students can develop cultural competences, communication and teamwork skills while completing core courses and projects.
  • Short-term study abroad. Together with our colleagues in International Education, we invite faculty to leverage their global relationships through the development of innovative high-impact study abroad trips during summer or winter session. Interested in reaching more students? consider integrating VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) in your next global adventure
  • Global Collaboration Digital Badge. Once students have completed a global collaboration project, we invite them to enhance their experience through guided reflection and integration exercises, towards the goal of developing compelling narratives that connect with their experiences with academic and career goals.
  • GPS Journal. Our new open-source journal hosted by the UB Libraries provides students with a platform for sharing research, insights and innovations. And to ensure active collaboration with partners and integration with coursework, student authors are required to provide testimonials from partners and subject librarians.
  • Mentored Independent Study A great way to prepare for or enhance a global collaboration experience is to delve into related research and frame specific  interests within broader questions and challenges. We invite students to engage in a semester long independent study in partnership with their respective department/program of study and ELN staff.

Global collaboration represents an exciting new frontier for high-impact experiential learning. I hope you will follow our work and consider joining us for our inaugural GPS Institute! – Mara

 

Marketing Menstrual Maintenance in the Mara Region

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It’s been just over a week since our return from Tanzania and I’m still working to process all that transpired.

We had no idea that sanitary pads would feature so prominently in this trip or represent such a galvanizing focus for social entrepreneurship. Both Danielle and Lyndsey had researched this topic as part of their ELN independent studies and were well aware of the connections with girls’ education and public health.

But seeing Danielle working on the reusable pad project was an emotional experience for all of us. The idea had come from her final study abroad project and when she discovered Dare Women’s Foundation’s model via an internet search, they had offered to train our partners in Musoma. Danielle quickly raised the funds needed to support Stephen Marwa’s (Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Foundation) travel to Arusha. And here we were, returning just one year later with sewing materials, ready to support the start-up of a Musoma-based reusable sanitary pad project.

Danielle sewing

To our surprise, the very next day Stephen delivered the first batch of reusable pads (see featured photo) and I was proud to be the second customer -Danielle being the first. Stephen explained that after the pads are certified by the Ministry, they will be manufactured and sold. Proceeds will sustain the sewing project while also supporting school-aged girls unable to afford appropriate menstrual supplies.

I was so pleased with the pads that I carried the prototype with me as we visited leaders and organizations throughout the area.When we were introduced to the Anglican Bishop of Musoma, Dr. George Okoth, he was so impressed with the project and our interest in menstrual management that he asked us to visit a Safe House in Mugumu Serengeti where village girls fled go to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He explained that they had acquired a disposable pad machine that was sitting in storage, without any institutional knowledge about how to operate or fix it. Although Muguma was a clear departure from our itinerary we were all eager to accept the invitation. With a recent Engineering grad (Mathew Falcone), our own Macgyver Librarian (Cindi Tysick), and resident pad experts (Danielle and Lyndsey), how could we pass up the challenge?

Our 2+ hour drive to Muguma was both fascinating and bumpy. We winded our way around the massive Acacia gold mine as we tried to anticipate what lay ahead. When we arrived at the Mugumu Safe House we received a brief tour of the facility while learning about the daunting challenges facing the girls. And then Melina (Director) showed us the pad machine.

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It was sitting in a a storage closet draped in plastic, obviously never touched or utilized. We all stood and stared at the impressive contraption, trying to comprehend what we were seeing. Then Lyndsey yelled, “It’s from the Pad Man!” We knew this to be a movie that our UB School of Management colleague, Debbie Grossman, who had visited Tanzania with us the last year had urged us all to see- but we hadn’t had had time. Within seconds the girls were texting Debbie and miraculously even though it was the crack of dawn in Buffalo, she immediately replied, confirming that the machine was indeed the same type and make of Indian apparatus featured in the movie.

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And then they were off- a quick assessment (with the help of YouTube) revealed that nothing was wrong with the machine. There was simply no Tanzanian adapter for the Indian power cord. Dan quickly surrendered his travel converter and the machine immediately purred into action. Between Cindi and Matthew the first prototype was produced in minutes and once the girls got the hang of it, the Muguma Disposable Pad Project was born before our very eyes.

But our biggest joy came as Melina recognized what she had just stumbled upon. Suddenly, her prospects for supporting and stewarding the Safe House and its girls were much more promising.

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How to celebrate the promise of girls’ empowerment in the Mara Region?  Early in our trip we were treated to unforgettable dancing and poetry by the new “Musoma Action, Girls Empowerment” group led by partner and friend Monica Achieng. These beautiful girls were gathering to celebrate their solidarity and share inspiring messages about education, self-empowerment and women’s health.

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As we reflect on the beauty and vibrancy of the young women we met throughout the trip and the promise of their collective futures we can’t help thinking about menstrual management and girls’ empowerment in a new way. Clearly, there is much to celebrate and infinite opportunities to learn, share and collaborate around this important topic.

Hope Revival Website

Musoma Action Girls Empowerment Website

 

 

 

How far will we travel with our international partners?

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Hello Everyone. I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been hard at work on some very exciting initiatives. And I think it’s finally time to share a sneak preview of what’s in store. Many of these programs and resources will be open to broad participation so I look forward to engaging in the weeks and months ahead, and would love to hear from you if these ideas resonate with your own work or interests. In addition to following my blog, be sure to visit our Experiential Learning Network (my center at UB) webpage and join our Student or Faculty/Staff Listserv to get monthly updates about related activities and events.

Global Partners Studio (GPS)

GPS is an evolving platform for cultivating deep and meaningful engagement with our international partners. Look for partner profiles and impact stories, but also opportunities to “harvest” student projects, COIL (collaborative online international learning) courses and travel-based engagement for faculty, students and community members. We will feature international partnerships that include both higher education and community-focused organizations to allow for deep and reciprocal impacts. With the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) as the foundation for GPS, we are excited to take our international partnerships further and deeper toward new possibilities for engagement and collaboration.

GPS Institute

The week of October 1st we will welcome invited GPS liaisons to UB/Buffalo for a week of sharing, capacity building and engagement. Our guests will represent partnerships in Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica and will engage through presentations, studio sessions, and programs with our UB and Buffalo communities. With a focus on social innovation, global health, and community development, we will have many opportunities to explore synergies and shared interest. And we look forward to introducing our global friends to the many cultural, entrepreneurial and civic gems that Buffalo has to offer.

GPS Journal

This fall we will be launching the Global Partners Studio (GPS) Journal that will be open to undergraduate and graduate students as well as our international partners. This open-source digital journal will be an accessible and dynamic place for sharing collaborative research and experiential learning projects, and connecting resources and opportunities. The journal will also be a repository for impact stories highlighting the points of connectivity and synergy that evolve from high-impact engagement. We will be open for submissions this fall with an anticipated spring release of our inaugural edition.

GPS Digital Badge (Micro-credential)

For those looking to build on recent collaborative experiences, we will be launching a new Global Collaboration digital badge (micro-credential) in the fall. Participants will be mentored through a series of reflective and integrative exercises, allowing them to gain deeper insights while developing compelling narratives to support their academic, career and/or civic-related goals.

10 Year Anniversary Community Trip and Book Release

Next year (July 2019) will mark the 10 Year Anniversary of my first trip to Tanzania, the genesis of our unique global engagement model. To honor and celebrate our extraordinary relationship with our partners in Tanzania, we will be hosting a community trip in collaboration with a local travel organization. We will also be releasing an updated version of our book detailing the evolution of our engagement over the past 10 years. Stay tuned for more on both of these exciting initiatives.