Category Archives: Sustainability

Tea Time with Dr. Greg

A reflection on Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea, and CAI.

by Lizzie Hetzer

With a meek, modest, humble nature, Greg Mortenson radiates
with a passion for education that bubbles just below the surface. Perhaps it’s this mild and humble manner
that allows Mortenson to so gently observe and respect the communities with
which he has worked.

Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has the unique posture of working
with communities to build ideal schools where much of the educational philosophy can be imagined, rather than fitted within an existing bureaucratic
structure. While Mortenson could have taken any approach to education, CAI appears to have done the opposite of what is happening in the U.S. As hyper-standardization
and rigid structure appear to be at the forefront of “education reform” in the
States, Mortenson’s organization builds community-owned schools in which communities
have actual decision-making power, where spending is transparent. There is a
contract with communities in which they decide how the schools will be

Mortenson knows about the importance of listening. Asking: What
are your community’s priorities? Acknowledging the lived expertise of community
members. While we privilege certain types of education and expression–for
example written expression–these don’t define education, knowledge, or
intelligence. The ability to “read the world” can be just as powerful.
Community members are experts in their lived experiences and can contribute to prioritizing and planning.

Educational theorist Paulo Freire pushes towards a theory of “dialogical action”
when working with communities. He warns against falling prey to “cultural
invasion” in which development workers and professionals come to solve all
problems and develop solutions on their own. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he argues that often times, “professional”
or “educated” individuals “do not listen to the people, but instead plan to
teach them how to ‘cast off the laziness which creates underdevelopment.’ To
these professionals, it seems absurd to consider the necessity of respecting
the ‘view of the world’ held by the people.” In order to be with communities
rather than over or inside, we must recognize the importance of dialogue (sharing
and listening) and appreciating the expertise of all participants in the

Mortenson made it clear that he believes communities are capability of running schools (tell
this to the NYC Department of Ed!)

CAI schools are formed with community input that includes a
focus on storytelling, culture, and languages. Storytelling can be a major
stronghold within a community–in sharing and shaping history. In Local Acts, Jan
Cohen Cruz, an Associate Professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and community-based
artist, comments, “storytelling as a traditional form of education passes on
values, practices, experience, and knowledge that affirm the collective
identity of the group.” Education and schooling have the potential to distance
students and participants from their communities or allow them to form
connections with the community, explore the community’s history, and recognize the
beauty and struggle that lies within. Often, schooling drives students to leave
the community if we place a negative focus on the community. The only desirable possibility is to escape. It’s important to recognize education’s potential to build up
communities and preserve and share their important histories.

Mortenson describes education as an act of engagement and
experience. He references the need to smell, taste, touch, and feel. Theater of the Oppressed author, practitioner and theorist Augusto Boal translated Freire’s popular
education theories into participatory and theatrical games and exercises. Through participatory techniques, Boal challenges us to truly listen to what we hear, feel what we touch, and see what
we are looking at. With the development of these senses, we can pursue Freire’s
concept of literacy, not only learning to read words, but to read the world
through sensory experience and emotion. And finally, by reading and recognizing
the world, we are called to challenge, transform and re-name it.

When we hear Greg Mortenson’s story, his quest to build schools to promote
peace, we are touched. Why can’t education be like this in the States? Do we
think we are too advanced for an education that promotes community and peace?
How can we re-imagine education?

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A, and Craigslist is coming to Ramallah

by David Russell

But I’m stubborn as
those garbage bags
that Time cannot

Craig Newmark, who spoke at the NYU Reynolds Programme in
Social Entrepreneurship
 as part of the Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series on
Wednesday joked that he was revealing his age by sharing this, one of his
favourite lyrics. The relevance though is not his stubbornness in keeping to
his original conception of a free online classifieds and listings service with
no banner or pop-up advertising – despite the large sums of money that have
been offered to him through the years from the likes of Microsoft. Some may see
him as stubborn, but as he revealed in referring to the lyric, it is democracy
that is his driving force.  

Founder and Customer Service Representative of Craigslist
– Craig is a social entrepreneur with a difference. A self-confessed nerd, he
is a man who enjoys not having to arise from his seat. But as he is showing, it
is possible to change the world and start a revolution without necessarily
leaving one’s computer in this internet age.

Cragislist evolutionised the ability of people to
connect online – a full decade before facebook was even a twinkle in Mark
Zuckerberg’s eye. The secret of the site’s success – which clocks up over 10
billion page views a month – is its simplicity and dedicated focus. As Craig
revealed “we know what we do well, and we treat people like we want to be

Humble and modest, he spoke honestly about his ineptitude
in managing people – and his realisation that it would be best for all
concerned if he were to just concentrate on what he knows and does best, and
enjoys most, responding to and helping Craigslist users. And as he admitted, with
the site carrying his name, he has a vested interest in doing the job well..!

Craig admitted that it was partly by accident, rather
than design, that he has created a concept that perfectly matches the Reynolds
definition of a social entrepreneurial venture. It is scalable – now in 570
cities worldwide and continuing to spread, recently to Ramallah as Craig
explained, due to the request of the mother of the owner of the coffee-shop at
which he is a regular. It is sustainable – overheads are covered by the
revenues generated by the only sections that charge for postings, brokers that
post flat listings and businesses that post job vacancies (to which “erotic
services” will soon be added, though with revenue raised going to non-profit
organisations). And it is pattern breaking – democratising the paid-for
classifieds section of newspapers.

It is this last point that has led to the often hostile
reception that Craig has received from traditional media. He is now supporting
the burgeoning field of citizen journalism – naming NYULocal, the venture of
Reynolds Scholar Cody Brown, as a great example – but which no doubt will
endear him even less with the old guard.

But the world is changing, for which Craig can claim some
credit in his role as a technology advisor to Team Obama. As is media. And it
is Craig that is helping to pave the way.

As Leonard Cohen went on to sing, which no doubt Craig
wanted us to recognise….

I’m junk but I’m
still holding up
this little wild
Democracy is coming
to the U.S.A.

Reynolds Fellow Launches

Reynolds Fellow Joshua Levin and professional chef and food critic Kengi Alt have launched merges conversations of food quality and enjoyment with food sourcing and sustainability. It’s for the food lover interested in the complete perspective. 
Kenji Alt is a staff writer for Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, the #1 cooking magazine in the country by circulation, and a weekly contributor of restaurant reviews and recipes to the Boston Globe, Edible Boston, and The Boston Phoenix.
How to participate:
  • Check every weekday morning for a fresh hot blog.
  • Post your comments!
  • Pass on to everyone you know who loves food and health!
  • Check the calendar for awesome food events coming up in New York and Boston.
  • (The Chocolate Festival, Picklefest, andBrewtopia are right around the corner!)
  • Sign up for our newsletter to receive new blog headlines (with link) by email.
  • Share your ideas, articles, organizations, etc. with us on our comments page.
I’ve checked it out and hope to try the recipe for the fried apple pie. Yum!

One thread at a time

By Tylea Richard

A year before I enrolled at New York University and the Reynolds Program, I entered a crash course in Social Entrepreneurship at the Nueva Vida Fair Trade Zone in Nicaragua. Most of the Fall was spent with my eye pressed into a tiny plastic magnifying glass, using the tip of a sewing needle to count each thread in a square inch of unbleached organic cotton fabric. Once Angel and Aguila, the men I worked with at the cutting table, gently unrolled the oatmeal colored cloth across the long surface, I would lean forward and adjust the magnifying glass until the tiny jersey knit came into focus. I would count, write down the results, and the process would begin again. This glamorous job taught me that it was easy to dream about a high quality, fair trade, organic cotton T-shirt produced in a cooperative. It was quite another matter to make that happen.

Several months later, I co-founded the Nicaraguan Garment Workers Fund with this knowledge in hand. At times, applying for 501c(3) status and negotiating with customs brokers felt more painstakingly tedious than counting threads. But with a little patience, the NGWF has blossomed. We sell the organic cotton tees made at the Fair Trade Zone to individuals as well as wholesale to organizations, businesses, schools, and artists. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts are used primarily for employee training programs, technical capacity building, and product development in the factory. We are in the process of investigating how to take the factory off the grid. With rolling blackouts wiping out power in Managua for hours everyday, solar panels would not only reduce the factory’s footprint but it would also save money and improve productivity. 

The Worker-Owners of the Nueva Vida Fair Trade Zone are working tirelessly towards autonomy. My goal is to help them get there through the increased revenues and exposure that we can generate through the NGWF. But we are not designed to be a perpetual “crutch” for the Co-op. Because we are consultants and not factory managers, the NGWF will meanwhile work tirelessly to be superfluous. In fact, it was only under these conditions that the Fair Trade Zone and the Nicaraguan Garment Workers Fund agreed to work together. Amazingly, the NGWF has already received similar requests of support from numerous cooperatives around the world and from apparel companies wishing to source from them.

I strongly believe that viable alternatives to sweatshop labor are possible, but there is still a gap between consumers and producers of socially and environmentally responsible clothing. As smart shoppers, strong advocates and savvy businesspeople, together we can continue raising the bar for workers everywhere.

Check out the NGWF in the Shop With a Conscience Guide and look for us soon on Ebay’s World of Good!