President Clinton’s Food Poverty Challenge Inspires Student Team’s 2013 Hult Prize Entry

A regionally diverse team of four Wagner students — David Margolis (West Bloomfield, MI), Jacqueline Burton (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.), Laura Manley (Westfield, MA), and Ellen Nadeau (Clearwater, FL) — have been selected to advance to the prestigious Hult Prize regional finals in March.

The Hult Prize, in its fourth year, is the world’s largest student competition and crowdsourcing platform for social good. Recently,  it was recognized by former President Bill Clinton and TIME magazine as one of the top five new ideas for changing the world. In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize’s crowd-sourcing platform identifies and launches social ventures aimed at some of the most pressing global challenges. Student teams compete for the chance to secure $1 million in start-up funding to launch a sustainable social venture.

The 2013 Hult Prize focuses on global food security, and how to get safe, sufficient, affordable, and easily accessible food to the more than 200 million people who live in urban slums. This focus was personally selected by President Clinton, and it inspired the Wagner team.

The team is developing an initiative called Rootstock. It is a digital service-learning platform that unites students from various disciplines and countries to collaborate on global food security issues, and implement their learning directly in the field. The pilot curriculum is about urban agriculture.

This year’s Holt competition generated a record number of entries, totaling more than 10,000. The regional competitions take place on March 1 and 2 on Hult International Business School’s five campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai. The Wagner team will compete in San Francisco.

One team from each host city will be chosen for a summer business incubator, where participants will receive mentoring and other assistance as they create prototypes and prepare to launch their new social ventures. A final round of competition will be hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative at its annual meeting in September, where the winning team will be selected and awarded the grand prize by President Clinton.

Stay tuned!

— Ellen Marie Nadeau


Kenya’s new constitution faces toughest question yet: “Now what?”

Three decades, two constitutions and one “Committee of Experts” later, the people of Kenya have voted on a document to govern the country.  Piece of maandazi (like cake, but better), right?  Now all that’s left to do for peace and stability in the east African country is…well, all of it.

Kicking off the spring 2013 Conflict, Security and Development speaker series, NYU Wagner Professor Paul Smoke let us in on just a few of the challenges Kenya faces in its efforts to achieve state reform.  Kenya’s government and authority structure is redesigned. The newly decentralized system empowers county governments and relies more heavily on these localized structures for service delivery.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well for one, argues Smoke, the counties in Kenya’s new system have disparate levels of functionality. Some work; many don’t. This divide begs the question: should the national government invest its limited resources supporting those counties it knows to be capable of actually dispersing these resources to its people?  Or, should it spend more on the counties in greatest need in the name of equity (which the new constitution explicitly promotes)?

If the question of federal resource distribution doesn’t bend your brain, then consider the new internal structure of the counties themselves.  Most of the financial resources in this county system are generated in urban areas, while the seats of government power and decision-making lie in the hands of the rural populations.  Smoke offers a hypothetical illustration: “It would be like Baltimore being sucked up into Maryland; Maryland is now entirely responsible for all of the operations of the city.  The problem is, Maryland has no elected officials, no resources of its own, and it would have to vote funds away from itself to keep Baltimore going.”

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “didn’t we just say that all the money is coming from Baltimore?”  Why, yes.  Yes we did.  Now you see why the business of implementing an entirely new constitution that calls for an entirely redesigned system of government might not be as quick and painless as you thought?

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 12:30 PM IN RUDIN, Mark Foran, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, will discuss on the nascent field of Information and Technology in Humanitarian Action, and provide an inside look at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ new flagship publication about the role of technology in global humanitarian efforts.

– Ashley Nichole Kolaya

Gordon Brown on his feet, NYU Wagner on its toes

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke candidly with policy students about, well, everything he was asked at NYU Wagner.

“We submitted your list of questions to the Prime Minister so he could choose from among them which to answer,” began Wagner policy professor and organizer of the well-attended Dec. 5 event, Shankar Prasad. “And, well, he said he’d take all of them.”

The longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain’s history did just that: he took every last question the full house of Wagner policy students had to offer. And he didn’t take them sitting down, either. Brown, a former university lecturer and no stranger to a mob of eager students, moved casually around the room as he engaged directly with each questioner, holding eye contact and offering responses that were at once direct and informative.

In tones both dulcet and grammatically elegant, the former Prime Minister offered his frank insights on the broadest possible range of subjects. Here is a (paraphrased) bit of what he had to say.

• On the effectiveness of the G-20: “They prevented a global depression—and then retreated back into their national silos.”

• On Europe’s role in the financial crisis: “Though they were happy to blame it on the US for a while, Europe had its own, even bigger banking problem.”

• On Rwanda: “The international community cannot say ‘We will not tolerate torture,’ and then do nothing when torture occurs.”

• On Greece’s position in the EU: “We know now that Greece should never have been permitted to join the EU, because they produced incomplete, misleading financial information to the Council.”

• On Afghanistan: “The theory was right. We needed to facilitate ‘Afghanization’ [i.e. build the capacity of the Afghan armed forces] and then get out. The strategy is a different story, and the jury’s still out on the final outcome.”

• On whether or not self-sufficiency politics can work in today’s global society: “No.”

• On the push for open data and open government: “It’s always the most uncomfortable for the first generation, but people learn; then they know the rules when they write emails.”

• On the fate of the EU: “Albert Einstein has this definition of insanity…”

Wagner students sat with rapt, polite attention, despite Brown’s insistence that we “fire back” at him if we disagreed or felt compelled to challenge his assertions. Alas, the tacit consent of the crowd precluded any reenactment of a House of Commons debate, which perhaps would have made Brown feel more at home.

On the whole, the former Prime Minister was incredibly well-received by a grateful Wagner audience. At the very least, Gordon Brown did his part in combatting the image he ascribes to today’s politicians: “so many of us have lost the art of communication, but not the art of speech.”

Prime Minister, consider this audience one who hears your message loud and clear.

– by Ashley Nichole Kolaya

Panel Examines Role of Social Media During the Storm

The Rudin Center for Transportation convened a panel of experts to look at the role social media played in disseminating information for New York City’s transportation agencies during Hurricane Sandy. (This came on the heels of a Rudin Center report examining impact of the storm on transportation across the city, “Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy). The Nov. 27 panelists consisted of Aaron Donovan from the MTA, Robin Lester Kenton from NYC DOT, Ben Kabak of Second Ave Sagas, Tyson Evans of the New York Times, and JP Chan also from the MTA. Each of the speakers confirmed that they utilized social media such as Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and Youtube to help spread updates on the conditions of New York City’s trains, bridges, tunnels and subway lines.

Kenton of the DOT (where she is director of strategic communication) said the Department of Transportation is most proud of its Tumblr site due to the versatility it affords, and relied, too, on Twitter for reaching out during Sandy. The DOT faced a similar problem in 2011 when Hurricane Irene hit and there was great demand for information from the public; the DOT website crashed then, and officials used Twitter as their sole means of news updates. Still, this news outlet presents some interesting challenges for the DOT. The first was message coordination between agencies: who would post what, should there be duplication between different branches of the government, do certain informational tweets need prior approval?

Simultaneously, DOT faced the problem of establishing a communication culture during a time of crisis. Ordinarily t he release of internal agency information would take days to reach the public, quite the opposite of the minute to minute updates on social media sites. People on social media sites expect quicker news feeds and answers to their questions. Nolan Levenson, research assistant at the Rudin Center and coauthor of the report) added that Sandy presented an unprecedented shift in how the public searched for updates. “During the storm, residents turned to social media through smartphones and the internet to access the latest information both from transportation providers and fellow citizens,” Levenson said.

Aaron Donovan of MTA followed up Kenton’s presentation by detailing his agency’s efforts in releasing information as quickly as possible. The press office of the MTA was asked to be transparent, timely, and not conservative. There was a preference of speed over quality, a bias toward action that resulted in the MTA’s positing pictures and videos no matter what type of camera the images came from. Photos got the agency’s message out quicker and better while simultaneously showing the devastation being caused by the storm. Without the images, most New York transit users would have no idea of the challenges facing the MTA. With this newfound transparency, the MTA estimates it reached more than two-thirds of their Twitter followers during Hurricane Sandy.

Ben Kabak of Second Ave. Sagas said the dilemma he faced during the storm was ensuring the spreading of correct, relevant information. He walked a tight rope between speed and accuracy. While press conferences from officials provided sources of pertinent and accurate information, some things careening around Twitter were blatantly false. Kabak added that deciphering what was real and what was contrived was difficult, as Sandy presented some situations that would appear imaginary, yet were quite real — for instance, Governor Mario Cuomo’s request for $600 million in federal assistance to restore the South Ferry subway station in lower Manhattan, a total greater than the cost of building the station.

— Alexander James Powell

Election Night Live! at Wagner

As the tallies of predicted Electoral College votes climbed above 200, the energy at Puck built to a crescendo; the anticipation, anxiety and curiosity that had simmered throughout the evening bubbled to the surface.

It was the moment everyone was waiting for at the Wagner Election Night Live! party with its more than 400 students, faculty and friends — a night that mixed issues and fun and reflected NYU Wagner commmunity’s passion for public policy in all its complexity.

Though it only happens once every four years, the Wagner ENL! party is one of the most anticipated events hosted by the school. In the week leading up to election night, the Wagner Events Team was firing on all cylinders, preparing a kind of celebration of democracy. The night was infused with election-themed activities, libations and décor. Guests were invited to craft patriotic stickers to support their issue or candidate, write a message of encouragement or critique to the election victor, grab a red or blue marker to help fill in an electoral map as each state was called, or to compete for prizes in the Electoral Scavenger Hunt.

With “red state” or “blue state” beverages in hand, attendees mingled with friends and colleagues watching the returns on big screens, each TV tuned to a different network, and listening to the pundits and predictions. In addition to hearing from Wolf Blitzer and David Gregory, Wagner Election Night Live gave participants access to political experts of a different sort; Wagner faculty on hand, including Professors Chan, Prasad, Elbel, Fritzen, Noveck, Gershman. Each led a conversation on the implications of the election for a particular policy or social issue:

• Professor Chan discussed economic policy issues, particularly fact checking some of the economic claims made in campaign advertising.
• Professor Prasad’s social policy discussion imagined what social policy priorities would be paramount in a Romney or an Obama administration, as well as the many social issues up for grabs at the state level that night.
• Professor Fritzen discussed the election from a global perspective, noting how other countries view the U.S. democratic process. Conversation quickly transitioned to the narrow scope of foreign policy in the election debates, and the focus on China as a “common enemy” for both campaigns.
• Professor Elbel discussed the implications for healthcare in the election. Questions around how Romney might change the ACA were a common thread, along with hopes that broader public health efforts will rise to the top of the agenda in the coming term.

As the night continued and food options transitioned from sushi to Hawaiian pizza, the volume of people and noise in the Rudin Family Forum grew. President Obama was the clear favorite in the room, and cheers erupted as each network called a state for the President, an emotional roller coaster evident throughout the night as guests exchanged high fives and frantic glances at the televisions and Twitter to see how the electoral numbers were adding up.

As MSNBC became the first to call the election for President Obama, a cheer rang out, the high fives turned to embraces and all eyes then scanned the remaining networks to see wehther they would join in. The conversation turned from one of “what ifs” to that of “what now;” many guests stayed past midnight, discussing the election contest that was, and what the start of the next four years would look like.

While Election Night Live gave the Wagner community a brief respite after a long presidential campaign and harrowing hurricane, ENL! was first and foremost an expression of what it means to be a part of one of the nation’s top schools of public Ssrvice. As Wagner events administrator Scott Sowell put it the morning after the election, “Last night I was reminded once again what extraordinary people make up the Wagner community. From leading conversations and mixing cocktails to hanging decorations and managing tech, not to mention numerous other tasks, each of you rolled up your sleeves and served however you could.” Now, the Wagner community and the rest of our fellow citizens will wait to see whether our newly elected or re-elected officials will do the same: roll up their sleeves and get to work on issues that really matter.

– by Catherine Dangremond, Angela Dooley, Courtney Jones, Ashley Kolaya, Alex Powell

Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees

MANY OF US know that conflict displaces people.

Most of us know that Iraq has been a conflict ridden area for quite some time.

Many of us know that violent leaders commit atrocities in certain parts of the world.

And most of us, by now, have heard of Joseph Kony.

So why bother spending your Tuesday lunch hour at the Puck Building listening to experts in the field of refugee humanitarian assistance and African news coverage discuss these topics?

Consider that even these well-publicized topics have hidden sides that don’t often make the headlines. As the number of displaced people from post-conflict areas rises, new refugee populations begin to change the landscape of the places they inhabit. Some wish to return home. Some wish to start fresh and build a new version of home. Each individual contributes to the shifting needs of a new population.

Adam Sirois, director of Global Development and adjunct faculty for the NYU College of Nursing, has spent years studying refugee populations in the Middle East. As an October presenter in NYU Wagner’s “Conflict, Security, and Development” lunchtime speaker series, Adam brought his on-the-ground experience interviewing Iraqi refugees in Jordan to the table. He spoke candidly about what the UN and NGOs in Jordan are doing effectively (targeting the neediest individuals, focusing on comprehensive wellbeing-healthcare that includes attention to mental health and directing resources toward psychosocial community development programs that build community in the long term), and what they’re not (communicating available resources to populations that need them and hiring competent workers in local offices to implement programs).

Then, in another October speaker event, the Conflict Series traveled 2,000 miles south with Blackstar News editor-in-chief Milton Allimadi, who discussed the evolution of African news coverage that brought us to the age of KONY2012. Referring to the internet sensation as “the most brilliant propaganda strategy we’ve seen in years,” Allimadi took us through the nooks and crannies of the most important game-changing stories that don’t get picked up by the major news outlets. He offered insights on the role of both the US government and Invisible Children in the 2008 Garamba Offensive (codenamed “Operation Lightning Thunder”), carried out by Uganda’s government against the LRA. “How do I know about this? I was there; I didn’t hear. No one talked about it. I know because of the revelation from Wikileaks!”

Allimadi’s perspective on the strategy behind KONY2012 paints a picture of a brilliantly-executed manipulation with many puppet masters. “For it [the video campaign] to have been effective, it means many people had to go along with it—with the falseness of it.”

Though many of us believe that social media has ushered in the dawn of a new “Citizen Media,” both objective and transparent, Allimadi facilitated a dialogue that calls into question our most basic assumptions about this notion. “This video is not a mere video,” says Allimadi, “it’s a part of US foreign policy, paving the way for a new White Man’s Burden.”

Pick up with the Conflict Series again on Tuesday, October 23 , the final installment of the Fall semester. Joey Ansorge, consultant, Security Sector Governance) and Andrew Michels, senior civilian advisory, Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell, Joint Chiefs of Staff, will lead a discussion entitled, “Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan: Case Studies in Security Coordination.”

When: Tuesday, Oct 23 12:30pm
Where: The Rudin Forum for Civic Dialogue, Puck Building, 2nd Floor

Tech Innovation, Presidentially Speaking

By Ashley N. Kolaya

INVITATIONS BEARING the White House Seal found their way to several NYU Wagner in-boxes last week. The illustrious occasion? At this time of year, you might be tempted to think: campaign event, fund-raising gala, or perhaps more likely since graduate students made the invite list, a grassroots small donor initiative. In fact, the White House partnered with 92Y Tribeca to host an open house discussion on several of President Obama’s key technology and innovation initiatives.

The Sept. 28 event began with Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President energetically taking the stage to introduce the newly launched Presidential Innovation Fellowship program. “I’m gonna give you a quick run-down of why you’re here; then, I’m going to put you to work.” And, Todd Park is a man of his word.

The aim of the Presidential Fellows program is to give government a bit more of an edge in the realm of science and technology policy. Think: an image that revolves around fewer dull, difficult-to-manage Kafkaesque documents, phone numbers, and websites that drag you from one wrong government office to the next. Instead, imagine a more innovative, user-friendly, well-branded enterprise (no, not Google) that answers today’s toughest policy questions with creative design and implementation strategies.

As Park puts it, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program aims to connect top technology innovators from outside the government sector with top policy shapers inside the US government to “create real and substantial changes that will in a very short time frame benefit the American people, save taxpayers money, and help create new jobs.” Fellows embark on a six-month “tour of duty,” during which they work to develop a “game-changing” response to policy concerns set forth by the administration. “That’s why you’re here,” said Park, “to help us change the game.”

Participants were introduced to the five “game-changing projects” currently under consideration by the Presidential Fellows and asked to weigh in, both with questions and with their own ideas. Issues ranged from open government data sharing to the implementation of electronic medical records technology to mobile money transferring for the developing world. On each topic, a White House representative presented the project goal, then turned the floor over to an audience full of idea-hungry and inquisitive listeners. Some were tech start-up owners; others represented the health care, international development, and academic fields; still others were graduate students interested in the new path to innovation being laid before them.

An appreciative White House team rabidly took down notes, offered contact information, and thanked participants for their great ideas. “This is why we’re here,” said Todd Park, “because we want to turn the best ideas into policy that affects positive change. And, you are the ones that have the best ideas.”

IPSA Hosts Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights

By Alexander James Powell
IN THE MIDST OF the recent 67th General Assembly meeting of the United Nations, NYU Wagner’s International Public Service Association (IPSA) invited Under Secretary of State Maria Otero to participate in a town hall discussion in the school’s Rudin Center. Otero, one of six Under Secretaries to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, deals mainly with civilian security, democracy and human rights worldwide and is currently most involved with Burma and the countries of the Arab Awakening. Her mission since becoming Under Secretary in 2009 has been to help governments protect their citizens by moving violence away from populated regions, support underrepresented groups, and facilitate transitional justice in countries experiencing major revisions to their governing bodies.

When the General Assembly of the UN meets, it is a truly busy time for the Under Secretary, mainly for the meetings and sessions outside the General Assembly. Over the past week Otero was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of National League for Democracy and opposition politician to the military rule that has dominated the government of Burma for decades. Otero also emphasized the impact that the informational discussion panel “Religion and Foreign Policy” had during the series of events. She mentioned that this meeting was filled beyond capacity; the topic has received increased attention since the assassination of her friend Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. These panels and informal meetings, according to Otero, are where some of the most important interactions and discussions occur during the UN meetings.

A major concern for the Secretary of State and an obvious interest from the crowd was the issue of water security for poor nations. The role that Otero saw the U.S. government playing was ni mediating between nations that share a river as a border. These countries that are both part of the same river basin must work together to consider the long term impacts of water usage and releasing pollutants into the river. These issues are compounded in the situation of the ten countries that border the Nile River in Eastern Africa.

Finally Otero explained the Open Government Initiative, a program that encourages the transparency of nations’ budgets and operations for their citizens to oversee. The explanation of this effort begged a question from the audience as to the line between the U.S. government’s intervention with these international countries and the sovereignty they maintain. The Under Secretary’s response is summed up by the Presidential Study Directive 10:

“Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”

The statement emphasizes that is the responsibility of the U.S. government to act against these atrocities but Otero also stated that they mainly focus on those nations that want to be helped. They work with like=minded leaders that recognize they have a problem and admit that they need help fixing it. For the rest of the nations they can only encourage action and advocate for those suffering.

IPSA secretary Jessica Troiano and Under Secretary Maria Otero (right).

The NYU Wagner special event was hosted by the International Public Service Association (IPSA) on September 29 and was professionally moderated by Wagner’s own Jessica Troiano.

Business is not the bad guy. Then again, sometimes it is.

[By Ashley Nichole Kolaya]

AT NYU WAGNER, WE SPEND a lot of time discussing topics like urbanization, infrastructure, social policy, and citizen security.  We usually leave the business talk to the folks at Stern.  Eduardo Moncada of Rutgers University (and formerly of Wagner) would say that omission  is exactly our problem.

Latin America has two unique distinctions in the world of geopolitical statistics: first, it is the most urbanized region in the world.  Second, it is the most violent.  Organizations like the UNDP and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme release flurries of reports about these topics on an annual basis.  What we don’t hear about, however, is the role that business plays in all of these development concerns.  Eduardo Moncada is on a mission to change that.

Moncada argues that prevailing research in particularly violent urbanized areas focuses on the role of police, political will, and civic society.  He points out that business, as such, is rarely brought into the conversation.  When it is, the imagery depicts “business” as a monolith: one actor, with one purpose and one consistent message.  According to Moncada, “This image misses the point entirely.”

In his research, presented last Tuesday during the ongoing Conflict, Security, and Development series (Tuesdays from 12:30-1:30pm in the Rudin conference room of the Puck Building, 2nd floor), Moncada finds that local businesses often play a strongly influential role in shaping a government’s policy response to urban violence.

Eduardo Moncada

Eduardo Moncada

Moncada focused his talk on the Colombian cities Cali, Bogota, and Medellin specifically.  In this particularly violent region of the world, says Moncada, governments tend to respond to citizen security issues with two types of policy: reactive and reformist.  Reactive policies are typically more hardline and, at times, rely on the use of coercive measures.  Rerformist policies focus on socioeconomic investment and political empowerment.  Different types of businesses, with different types and levels of interest, favor different approaches to security policy.

In Latin America, the role of business in citizen security policy has been at times, hugely beneficial.   In Bogota, for example, the Chamber of Commerce helped to lay the foundation and build the support for a string of reformist mayors who oversaw a decrease in overall violence in the city.  In this instance, local businesses, specifically those in the service sector, favor reformist policies that make a city more marketable in the tourism industry.  “Come visit City X: we’ve got the most murders per capita!” has never looked all that enticing on a brochure.  In this case, says Moncada, “business was a catalyst to urban reformist policy and an increase in citizen security.”

On the other hand, business can also play a detrimental role in the creation of reformist policies.  In the practice known as clientelism, politicians promise various forms of political favors in exchange for political support.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, thanks to drug lords like Pablo Escobar, clientelism dominated regional political systems, and Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Moncada points out that during this time, industrialists with ties to the drug trade joined with clientelistic mayors to discredit would-be reformist policy makers.  Through media manipulation (i.e. tying reformists to known terrorists, etc), industrialists and clientelistic politicians effectively squashed a push for reformist policies in Medellin.

Fortunately for the city, business also played a large role in the recent rebranding of Medellin, which goes to show that, under the right circumstances, business can play a hugely beneficial role in developing policies that promote citizen security.  “It’s no panacea,” says Moncada, “but it’s more significant than the credit we’ve been giving it.”

You hear that, Stern?  Maybe we should talk….

Experiential Peacebuilding: Practicing What We Preach

BY Ashley Nichole Kolaya

“TELL ME, AND I will forget; show me, and I will remember; involve me, and I will understand.”  These are the words of a well-known Chinese proverb.  They are also words that form the foundation of the experiential learning model employed by the Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding. Ana Cutter Patel, the Center’s executive director, described the model in a talk she gave Sept. 18 as part of NYU Wagner’s ongoing, dynamic “Conflict, Security and Development” speaker series.

“Picture this,” Patel began.  “An unlikely collection of individuals: Palestinian Muslims, Israeli Jews, and Palestinian Christians.  Some religious leaders.  Some secular activists.  All with one thing in common: they had to survive a mountain expedition in cold, wet weather, and they had to do it as a group.

“The Palestinians were not well-equipped to handle the cold weather.  They lacked appropriate clothing and footwear, and their camping gear was rudimentary.  The discrepancy between their equipment and what the Israelis were able to bring with them quickly became a source of tension.  The Palestinians’ frustration grew.  They were cold and tired and wanted to go home.  Then something happened.  One of the Israeli participants brought his backpack out in front of the group and dumped it out in front of the group.  The rest of the team started to follow suit.  By the end of the evening, the gear was redistributed, and the incipient stages of a cooperative spirit had developed among the group.  By the end of the trip, impossibly strong bonds developed between the unlikeliest of individuals.”


Patel’s description of this excursion was more than an opening anecdote – it was an accurate reflection of her day-to-day work.  Outward Bound Peacebuilding  sends emerging leaders from divided societies on intensive excursions that promote learning, respect, teambuilding, and leadership skills.  The dialogue created by participants in these experiences lays the groundwork for peace within and between communities in conflict.

Outward Bound’s model is gaining traction in the field of international relations.  A growing trend in the world of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is a focus on experiential learning—learning by doing.  Patel’s organization, along with many others like it, seeks to develop capacity and build public support for peace through the cyclical experiential education model.   In this model, learning requires four steps: action, reflection, discussion, and application.  Though a learner can enter the process at any stage, each step is essential to the process.

To illustrate her point further, Patel involved the more than 50 audience members to her “lecture” in an activity.

“Get with a partner, and face each other.  Put your palms up in front of your partner’s.  Now, the goal is for you to get your partner’s elbows behind his or her back as many times as you can in one minute.  Go.”

Some listeners stood, frozen and confused. Some stood pushing against each other’s palms with all their might.  Others still excitedly see-sawed their hands back and forth, grinning ear to ear.  As the rest of the room witnessed this frenzied movement, it started to dawn on everyone that the point of the exercise was cooperation.

“I don’t know why, but my first instinct was not to let my partner get my elbows behind my back.  I was so focused on my own goal that I assumed if my partner accomplished her goal, it meant that I wouldn’t achieve mine.  I didn’t even realize I was making it harder on myself,” said one of the participants.

This is precisely the lesson that experiential learning has for us in regard to peacebuilding, according to the Outward Bound model.  Though the challenges are numerous, the benefits are plain to see.  This model is an active exercise in developing the qualities that celebrated educator and Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn referred to as the foremost concern of all education: “an enterprising curiosity, and undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and, above all, compassion.”

Perhaps these qualities comprise a solid foundation on which the framework of peacebuilding can firmly stand.