Building Future Leaders for SustainABLE Peace
“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world”. –Jack Ma
What I wanted out of an Applied Field Experience (AFE):
Upon the completion of my Masters in Global Studies, with a Certificate in International Development, I plan to work in the international development sector. My topics of interest in International development are civic engagement, democratisation, and economic and sustainable development. My capstone thesis will focus on leadership, so finding an internship that included it, would be ideal for giving me the best of both my career and academic life. I wanted an AFE that would address one or all of these. As I did my search, I found a few that addressed these, but Change Institute touched on all, excluding democratisation. Because I have only worked in Africa, I was specifically attracted to the opportunity of working in both Greensboro and Barbados, which added two very different countries and another continent to my growing global experience. That shift of context alone was enough to address gaps in my career, but through my AFE, I achieved so much more.
The Change Institute (CI) is a Global Leadership Training & Travel Exchange Program for Youth aged Grades 9-12. Founded by Social Designs, this is a two-week long study abroad program, where youth from Greensboro, North Carolina travel to Barbados to learn about; culture, conflict resolution, sustainability, food justice and equity. The world is in a sustainability crisis. Projects like Change Institute slow the growing problems by upskilling youth to remedy them. Fostering an entrepreneurial and leadership perspective in young people will ultimately lead to international communities that are fully engaged in ensuring the world can meet the United Nations 2020 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals, while ambitious, are embodying everything the world aims to do in achieving that shiny unicorn of “world peace”. I very much appreciated the links between Rotary’s own work and focus areas and what my AFE offered.
Why I chose Change:
“Leadership requires the courage to make decisions that will benefit the next generation. –Alan Autry
If there is anything my career has proven to me, it is that I have a penchant for adding new or transforming initiatives. There is something energising and exciting in helping organisations forge a path for their future work. In working both with CI and its Barbados based partner, The Sojourner Foundation (TSF), I had the amazing opportunity to work directly on the growth direction of the organisations, as well as influence which future projects they would consider doing in Africa. In working with both organisations, it was highly appealing for me to have the opportunity to help shape our future leaders. As a change agent whose vision is “creating an impact by inspiring, encouraging and developing the world”, the alignment of both organisations, with this plan for the future, made the choice easy of all the opportunities that were presented to me.
My role at CI and TSF
Below is a brief description of my role as an International Program Development Fellow. In two months, I stretched myself by sharpening existing skills while at the same time, challenged myself in a very new terrain.I worked in Greensboro, North Carolina for one month, supporting the development of Change Institute. I spent the second month in Barbados, where I continued to work for CI and TSF, implementing similar procedures, with the welcome addition of going to multiple sites and partner visits, which helped me to see the operational components of this work, including:
- Strategic Development –recruitment, expansion and funding
- Supporting organisational capacity development
- Research (Academic and Market related)
- Investor and potential investor relations/partnership work
- Developing Programmatic Measurement Tools
African-American knowledge exchange
“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards”. –Theodore Zeldin
The above quote, best describes what it was like for me working with the CI team in Greensboro, NC. Amazingly, it felt like even though I stood as an African woman talking to African-American women, it was clear we could have been neighbours raised in the same community, because of the alignment and connection we made with each other. It was magical when we would arrive at similar conclusions, request similar information from one another and question certain facts, as if we were of one mind in many or many minds in one. The interactions gave me hope, if there can be so much harmony between us as strangers, the same can be done for many other people who feel isolated in the development journey.
The Sojourner Foundation (TSF) is a charity and a non-governmental organization (NGO) which exists to become a catalyst for community cohesion. The foundation has been facilitating this by running sustainable farming projects, especially geared at youth and women development at Kamp Deed; a 30-acre farm in St Andrew’s Church Parish in Barbados. It is currently busy with the UNDP funded Operation Eradication Project and soon to begin Operation Kultivation – thanks to the support of the Marie Holden Memorial trust.
While I was there, it was harvest and hurricane season. The dynamic team of farmers and project managers were happy to benefit from the rain of Tropical Storm Don. Growing everything from cucumbers, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and various trees, the farm boasts some of the freshest, fully organic vegetables, and will also create organic fungicides and pesticides this year.
One of the most interesting discoveries I made over my trip in Barbados, was that of how Bajans view Africa. People took a keen interest in me, as someone from the continent. There seemed to be a hope that if Africa can make it out of “dark continent” status, there is, even more hope, for those in the Caribbean. Many local people reiterated this in various ways, and the music was one of the ways they did this. This is why my colleagues at TSF felt it would be great to collaborate on songs and I featured on two. Due to their appeal to youth, in particular, the use of music was a profound way of relaying messages of the world they dream of. I enjoyed the experience and especially enjoyed acting as a bridge between Barbados and Zimbabwe.
Putting the inability in sustainability
“The nature and structure of belief systems are important from the perspective of an informational theorist because beliefs are thought to provide the cognitive foundation of an attitude. In order to change an attitude, then, it is presumably necessary to modify the information on which that attitude rests. It is generally necessary, therefore, to change a person’s beliefs, eliminate old beliefs or introduce new beliefs.”— Richard Petty and John Cacioppo
If there is something I have learnt about sustainability, it is that the ability to perform it, is steeped in opposition. Most people are unwilling to unlearn habits that affect the environment and this is further compounded by the contexts and circumstances of individuals. Someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from, is hard pressed to care about the effect of their accumulated plastic being dumped in the ocean. The Future Centre Trust works tirelessly to convey educational messages as well as legislation around the effects, but the largest opponent to remedying the problem seems to be a change of mindset.
There is a level of privilege associated with sustainability, as green living itself is expensive. As an example, the ease and efficiency of plastics or dryers versus the inconvenience of recycling bags, drying laundry on a washing line are key challenges to this endeavour. There is a need to get smarter about how we can encourage ‘responsible convenience’. I will discuss this more in my concluding thoughts.
While in Barbados, I met with Rotarians who invited me to the installation dinners of the 2017-2018 Rotary Club of Barbados (RCOB) and the Rotary Club of Barbados South. At the RCOB installation, I was fortunate to meet amazing people like Barbados’ President of the Senate Kerryann Ifill. She became the first woman to hold that position, and the first person with a disability, as well as the youngest ever holder of the position, at the age of 38. I also had great conversations with PDG and Assistant Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator, David Edwards who seemed to know every Rotarian on the planet. It was delightful getting to know PDG Milton Inniss and his wife, as we attended a few events together. These connections were valuable, as I facilitated the future involvement of Rotary affiliated Bajan youth, in Change Institute’s future cohorts, as well as discussed project ideas. I hope to see TSF connect with Rotarians in Barbados, as they are a growing organisation, but share synergies in opportunities for community development. RCOB president, Paul Ashby was busy with a Global Grant on Sustainable Lives, which TSF and CI will definitely benefit from.
In my last week, I was a speaker at the RCOB meeting and I enjoyed networking with Rotarians there. When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Barbados, the message of Afro-Caribbean connections continued, and we ended up planning an exchange trip where their members can visit Zimbabwean Rotarians so that they could see for themselves the amazing work Rotary is doing in Zimbabwe.
Lessons learnt and final thoughts
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”— Niccolo Machiavelli
A recurring theme in my conversations with fellow “soldiers for peace” in Barbados was that around lip service. Many people felt like sustainability and environmental preservation were hot topics to discuss and deliberate about, but they never dared to act on them. There was very little action to follow the popular talk. This is what drove groups like TSF to literally get their hands dirty and walk the talk of sustainability. My uncle volunteers weekly with Future Centre Trust and has taken sustainability as a type of religion. One can’t merely like or promote it. It is a lifestyle and very few people are capable of practising it.
As much as I love new adventures, challenges and endeavours, I have learnt the mammoth task involved in working in sustainable development. Beyond the daily concern of climate change, I found that the minds of people; myself included are a bigger challenge. Without the buy-in of ordinary people in changing their daily behaviours, convenience and self-serving actions continue to overshadow the hope in remedying the situation. How do we get beyond plastic, beyond electricity abuse, beyond water wastage, beyond pollution, when they are reliant on the daily actions of individuals? We need to get smarter about making impactful laws that make it difficult to remain compliant, redesign how we access these via technology and innovation, but no doubt, the road to solutions will not be a smooth one. Thank goodness people like us are up for the ride!