Being open to new ideas is important to me, and I love it when learning new things changes my perspective. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy being a member of the Impact Hub Seattle, because the community provides ample opportunities to expand my worldview. Last week, I attended an event there hosted by the Young Professionals International Network branch of the World Affairs Council. The event was a panel discussion of “Voluntourism,” and it was a lively exchange of ideas about the pros and cons of volunteering while traveling, student and family service learning trips, and how working in another country affects the traveler and the host.
I was especially impressed by an organization called Omprakash, and its founder, Willy Oppenheim. By what I am learning is an ever-more-frequent “coincidence” in my life, Willy and I have people in common — we went to the same college a generation apart — and have been meaning to meet for a couple of years now. Willy’s passion for his work was evident, but I was even more struck by the Omprakash model of using an online platform to match volunteers with organizations that need them, removing the middleman. By vetting the organizations and training volunteers, they destroy the common “pay a lot of money for the privilege of volunteering” model. I also love that they focus on a social justice mission and offer resources such as grant opportunities for volunteers, a donation platform for organizations, and college credit through the EdGE program. I got an extra testimonial from Awamaki, an organization in Peru I have served since its inception, whose Executive Director said their best (most thoughtful, well-prepared, hard-working) volunteers have come through Omprakash.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to learn about another organization at the Hub with a somewhat similar mission: Moving Worlds and the concept of “experteering.” Instead of going abroad to build a school when you have no building skills and the country you are about to visit has a job shortage, what if you looked at the skills you have and could match them to an organization that actually needs them? Moving Worlds helps individuals and company employees use skills like financial modeling, accounting, and impact assessment to help entrepreneurs get the help they need as they launch their businesses. My work in school service learning has taught me how challenging it can be to find meaningful, useful projects that “do no harm,” so I look forward to learning from these organizations.
Finally, my son sent me a link to an article describing a different way to help alleviate extreme poverty around the world: give cash. An organization based in Silicon Valley called GiveDirectly identifies individuals living in poverty and uses mobile banking to give them a year’s income, often around $1000. Read the article to learn about their methods and impact. Some analysts say they have been remarkably successful in a short period of time, and I am intrigued with the notion of giving enough that people can take care of basic needs and then invest in their future in a way that makes sense to them. There is so much respect implied in that action.
My brain is spinning with these new ideas and methods and I can’t wait to learn more about them. I will have the chance to engage others in these and other similar topics next week as I help facilitate ISEEN’s experiential education teacher workshop in Santa Fe. I welcome the advent of more active experience in the classroom — less sitting and absorbing — that I believe will be the next revolution in education. Re-thinking the way we do everything, including service to others, is a significant part of this kind of experiential pedagogy and practice.