Transformative Travel Plus

Last summer, I sat in Pioneer Square with Jennifer Spatz, founder and owner of Global Family Travels. Though we had met before, that day in the sun on the steps of Occidental Park confirmed our intention to work together. Over the next couple of months, we were joined by Lisa Merrill and Jennifer Geist to co-create a program we call Transformative Travel IMG_1384Plus, or TTP. I am inspired by the way our different skills and experience came together; a travel professional, a photojournalist, a digital storyteller and a global education facilitator each bring our expertise to this unique and fascinating project.

As Jennifer Spatz said in the recent article on her in Parentmap magazine, she created Global Family Travels when she experienced a void in the travel industry: meaningful service and immersive programs for families. All of her programs are designed for families, and for this particular experience in Nicaragua, we added elements before and after the travel itself to enhance the learning for all participants. As we worked on this project together, we found ourselves collaborating at a high level and ever more excited about the opportunities this kind of experience will provide for families. Once we met the families who had signed up, it all became that much more real, and we plunged into the first workshop with enthusiasm.

unnamed-1The twelve of us (five adults and five teenagers participants plus Jennifer and me), met at the Bellevue Impact Hub which, as a coworking space for people creating social impact, was a fitting spot. We began with an opening exercise and a review of the goals of the workshop, and then dove into the meat of the educational session. We each created a cultural self portrait, discussed what we had chosen to represent ourselves culturally, and had so much fun learning about each other. After a break, we played a game called Building Utopia, created by Jennifer Klein of World Leadership School. In the exercise, participants work in groups to put the United Nations 6797e66c-93cf-4b8c-82cc-16c918628cf7Sustainable Development Goals in order of which issue they would solve first. After fifteen minutes, we walked around the room and visited the other groups’ work and asked them to explain their thinking process and choices. In our final debrief, we all agreed it was much better to try and solve the impossible puzzle together than it would have been to do alone, and we loved seeing how each unnamedgroup came up with a different solution, all of which were correct.

We closed out the evening with a “Nicaraguan Nugget” — this time an overview of the country’s history — and a closing exercise. I came away with an even greater enthusiasm for this kind of experiential learning and a new excitement for how much fun it was to work with a multi-generational group. I can’t wait for the next workshop!

Global Education in a Local Context

779f973c8590689ae4af87ca447468fcThis week we honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, activist, preacher and hero whose actions, words and beliefs inspired millions of people when he was alive, and continue to do so today. One of my sons works in a public K-8 school in Denver as a playground and leadership coach for the national organization Playworks. When reflecting on the importance of honoring Dr. King with a national holiday, he asked himself the following question: is a day off the best way to honor Dr. King?

The question made me think. King fought hard for equal access to education for all children, regardless of race, class, or religion. He valued the kind of diversity that is still rare today, and believed that hope for the world lay in people of all types coming together and sharing their lives. Schools are places that can support that vision of unity, and Playworks is one organization that is working to move King’s dream forward. The Playworks coaches who bring the spirit of cooperation — solving problems through serious play, teamwork, and fun — to public schools all over the nation, therefore, spend their day “off” in other kinds of communal service projects. All around the MLK_IMAGEnation, they join people who honor Dr. King’s legacy by serving their communities, a movement that calls for a National Day of Service in place of a day off. Other people choose to assert their civil rights and honor Dr. King by taking part in marches and rallies for causes important to them. Some choose art as an expression of their respect, seeing movies like Selma or the plays about King’s time in history such as All the Way and The Great Society which recently played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

These tributes and this time to reflect on what Dr. King stood for —  the importance of putting actions behind words — inspire me to think about how global education can be played out on a local level. I am asked this question often in my work: Why do we traipse all over the globe when there are so many issues to deal with close at hand?

The answer is that I do not see these things as mutually exclusive. We need active, engaged citizens at all levels. Although I will always advocate for the transformative power of meaningful experiences in other countries, I see equal value in working in your own neighborhood. Getting involved in local communities with a global focus is a wonderful way to expand your mind, learn about another culture, share your experience, and work together with other people in service of this planet we all share. All areas of the country are becoming increasingly global, providing excellent opportunities to explore the world within your city boundaries.

Here in Seattle, many people participated in the National Day of Service — including Mayor Murray (pictured doing trail work with the Nature Consortium)

Here in Seattle, for instance, there are a number of organizations working to have a global impact. We have huge organizations like the Gates Foundation, which takes on global health issues, as well as many small neighborhood organizations like the Refugee Women’s Alliance, which helps newcomers escape horrors in their home countries. Some choose to focus on youth education and leadership, like Global Visionaries and One World Now. Others, such as the Horn of Africa Foundation, serve particular cultural groups. There are also organizations that emphasize adult education such as the World Affairs Council and Global Washington, which host speakers, develop curriculum, and put on conferences.

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Our schools, elementary, secondary, college and universities, public and private, are also wonderful resources for global-local connections. On any given day, you can hear a lecture, attend a performance, visit a museum, or take a class with a global focus. Universities bring visiting scholars who love meeting local people and sharing their culture, language and stories. The Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Washington, is one such program. Last year, our family had the wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know public service professionals from Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt who were part of the program. Many universities across the country have comparable programs.

As violence erupts in many parts of the world due to tensions born of ignorance and bigotry such as the recent attacks in France and Nigeria, it becomes more and more important to get involved in your local-global community. Get to know your neighbors, listen to their stories and help out where you can. Each of these connections is an opportunity to increase understanding and inspire action. Make Dr. King proud.

Design Thinking and Collaboration

This fall, my Program Development Associate Kaitlin Fisher and I took the opportunity to participate in a class called Human Centered Design. It was run by a non-profit called Acumen and grew out of Stanford University’s IDEO project. I learned about the course through my association with the coworking community I joined a year ago, Impact Hub Seattle.

Impact Hub Seattle

Impact Hub Seattle

The Hub is part of a worldwide network of co-working spaces for people creating impact in their local and global communities. It was started in Amsterdam and growing rapidly – there are currently 63 Impact Hub locations open around the world and 20+ in the process of opening. By joining, people like me who work for themselves can meet others, access a listserv full of opportunities, participate in weekly member lunches, and attend panel discussions along with any number of other interesting events. Members choose from a number of membership options, from two days a month to full time, with a couple of options in between. While there are many kinds of co-working spaces (such as WeWork and The Collaborative Space Alliance), the Impact Hub sets itself apart with its focus on community. Besides the coffee, tea, and snacks that come with membership, we get fun professional development invitations such as a recent one to join a design thinking team.


The ideation phase

Design thinking is something I have been aware of for some time, along with many people in education, as illustrated in this U.S. map of K12 schools using the concept in their curriculum. It grew out of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (known as the, where they realized that the principles of design in fields like business and architecture could also be applied to make successful contributions to human-centered problems. Acumen has offered the course free of charge every couple of months since 2013 (sidenote: it’s not too late, the next course begins February 9th). The coursework happens online, and groups must meet in person once a week to work on their design challenges. Although I was familiar with design thinking, I decided to take the course to become more familiar with the process and potentially use it in my work. We ended up with two Hub teams of five people each working over a 2 month period, and at the end we unanimously agreed it was a very worthwhile experience.

Sticky notes: imperative to the human-centered design process

Sticky notes: imperative to the human-centered design process

Our group consisted of three people working in global education, one in global microfinance, one in organizational consulting, and one in public relations. After doing some ice breakers and self-reflection, naming our group and creating our online presence, we selected one of three design challenges offered. Our group chose to tackle the question “How might we provide healthier food options to people in need?” Each week we completed class readings, watched videos, followed a study guide, and met in person for two hours to move through the three stages of the project: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. We had the opportunity to upload our assignments, see what the other 15,000+ people taking the course all over the globe (including several other groups in Seattle) were doing, join chat rooms, and learn from a variety of methods.

 After choosing our challenge, we spent some time researching the issue, interviewing consumers, and immersing ourselves in locations where people might need healthier food options or in organizations working on providing them. Our exploration included food banks, a middle school class working on an urban farm, and a grocery store. Ultimately we were moved by the suggestion that healthy food needs to be more “fun,” so we chose a 14 year old boy as our target audience and resolved to create an app, a game, and a contest for healthy eating that would be enjoyable to his demographic. We took our concept, the “FoodBit,” through the prototyping phase, involving celebrity endorsers in the sports and music world, and then had a great time testing it out on our family members and friends. Of course, when we finished, uploaded our prototype, and viewed others online, we realized there were many flaws in our design and it would require a good deal more work to actually bring to market. Probably not unlike the process for any other invention.

Our group with our “FoodBit” presentation

One important outcome of our participation in the course was that we learned how to use the valuable tool of design thinking in our work. Another was our increased awareness of food issues and those working to solve them. We all agreed the best part of the course was getting to know each other and working together. Online classes can be great, but having real people, in real time, counting on us was the single greatest motivating factor. Some groups who took the course clearly devoted more time to it than we did, but given other commitments in our work life, we were proud of what we accomplished, felt we learned a lot and benefitted greatly by working together.

I recommend checking out Acumen — they offer a variety of courses, many of them free — as well as Stanford’s IDEO platform and MakerSpace to get people in any field working together to solve problems that affect all of us. It’s instructive, productive, and fun!