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Can you imagine 24 hours without technology? I know I couldn’t…

Thanks to our guest blogger, Angela Hart, a grad student from Georgetown University for sharing her experience.

As an undergraduate, I was posed with a question, “Can you go 24 hours without technology?” The professor asked students to think about how often they use their phones or log onto their computers. During the People to People Virtual Tribe Conference held Thursday, September 18, 2014, and Friday, September 19, 2014, at Georgetown University, the same question was asked yet again.

Due to the fact I had already printed off all of my assigned journal articles for class and didn’t technically need to use my computer for anything else, I wanted to undertake this challenge. I started making a list of all the things I could do instead, such as play with my dog, finish the novel I’ve been reading, do laundry, and more. So, for the first time in weeks, I turned my phone off and unplugged by computer.

Slowly but surely, I became concerned that I was missing out on something. My mind started wondering and created a running list of all the possible text messages, phone calls, or emails I may have received. My mind began going wild with the possibility of “what if.” What if my mother called or texted me about an emergency back in Massachusetts? What if I missed an important phone call? What if my professor replied to my email? What if my class has a change in the syllabus? What if there is a notification about an upcoming opportunity and I missed it? These questions, and many others, eventually made it difficult to concentrate. I had only cut myself off from technology for a little over an hour before I felt compelled to check my phone. I couldn’t complete the challenge.

For me, the issue wasn’t about checking a Facebook account, Twitter profile, Tumblr page, or to like a picture on Instagram, but it was the thought of not knowing. People rely on technology for information, not just in regards to social media and news, but on a personal level, too. My friends and family back in Massachusetts communicate with me via text messages, phone calls, and emails – without technology I wouldn’t be in contact with them.

On Friday, September 19, 2014, at eight o’clock in the morning, I saw the line curled around the block for the new iPhone; there must have been over one hundred people waiting for their chance to own the latest tech savvy device. Technology is important in the modern day world, I’m just not sure if our need for devices and connections is always positive. During my brief experiment, I reached for my phone numerous times even though I knew it wasn’t there. I wanted my phone just in case I needed it. When we are little, we have blankets or favorite teddy bears for comfort. Now, my safety blanket is my phone.

–Angela Hart

This post was originally seen on Design2Learn’s blog earlier this week. I am reposting to share with the e-collaborate audience.

Please see the following interview conducted by Sheri Handel, founder of Designs2Learn.

This week we’re kicking off Designs2Learn’s series of interviews with social edupreneurs whose work we respect for how it uses technology and learning design for social impact goals. Our first interview is with Naina Boveja, founder and CEO of e-collaborate. Naina and e-collaborate are doing some great work in using technology to bring kids together globally and introduce kids to the concept of service and hands-on education.

Designs2Learn: Can you provide a quick snapshot of e-collaborate for our audience?

Naina Boveja: e-collaborate started in 2010 with the idea of connecting classrooms and communities globally. We developed programs in clean drinking water for the K-12 audience.  Since then, we have spent a lot of time working on a Virtual Internship Program that connects high school students to non-profits across the globe for the purposes of learning empathy, career readiness skills and social entrepreneurship.

How did you get into the world of edupreneurism? What initially inspired you?

I had always been involved in the non-profit world as an intern or volunteer, but never really thought I could start one on my own. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from college, I thought it would be valuable to offer programs to teens that could help them make that difficult decision and help them choose a path.

What were some of your initial challenges? How did you overcome them?

Since I was new to the education space, I learned a lot about the “system” and the way things are done in schools.  I also realized that we need to provide dynamic and engaging programs that students can do on their own, instead of requiring a teacher to spend class time to try our programs.  Teachers have so many things on their plates and our intention was to help provide programs that would be meaningful and add to a student’s life, not burden a teacher’s. We have started reaching out to other avenues, including PTAs, career centers, global studies programs, private schools, and schools with a focus on global education for a better fit.

Can you tell us about the Virtual Internship program you are currently working on?

The Virtual Internship program (http://vip.e-collaborate.org), as I mentioned above, connects students to NGOs across the globe for a “virtual internship experience.” They fill out an application based on their interests and are matched to one of our partnered NGOs. We introduce a Mentor/ Teacher component to help support students and provide feedback. Teachers can chose to fulfill the mentor role by having a class of students who are virtual interns, and they can follow their students and give meaningful feedback before the work is submitted to the NGOs..

The platform is engaging and dynamic with videos, interviews, presentations, and activities for the students to complete. We are also introducing the idea of a “social resume” to the program, where students can highlight the work they are proud of, keep track of their volunteer hours, and share the link in their resumes, cover letters, and college applications.

What type of responses are you getting from your current participants?

Current participants and people in general are impressed with the platform and the idea.  We are trying to strike the right balance between interactions with the non-profits, and provide a meaningful experience for the students.  The virtual internship program is being launched this year, and we are still looking for students to sign up to get more feedback.

What are your plans for growing the program?

Currently, we are reaching out to schools and teachers within our network. I have also recently started my M.A. at Georgetown University, and am working to spread the word through that community and reaching out to different groups.  I am already impressed with the resources Georgetown has, such as the Center for Public and Non-Profit Leadership, Startup Hoyas, and the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation. I plan to utilize as many resources so I can continue to help spread the word.

What are some projects on your roadmap?

Right now, we are focusing on getting more students signed up for the Virtual Internship Program. In the future, I hope to continue to provide programs that help young adults learn valuable skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in focusing on educational projects for social impact?

I think ideas are best realized in a supportive, collaborative environment.  I always feel talking to people about my ideas and getting their feedback helps create a better project.  I can’t stress how important feedback is, because sometimes you have an idea about something and it could be so much better when you take into consideration different perspectives.

e-collaborate is excited to have one of our own volunteers contributing to our blog.  Enjoy reading a college student’s perspective on a global experience:

It’s been almost two years since I embarked on my trip to Senegal, Africa. As part of the Global Education program at my alma mater, all students are given the opportunity to travel to India, Senegal, or Costa Rica, for about two to three weeks after their junior year.

Today, I want to tell you about the time when I finally learned to let go and push myself. Although it was scary, I learned to not let my past notions shape my future ones. It was the first day of the trip, and we had just arrived in Dakar. From the airport, we went straight to ACI, African Consultants International, to receive our itinerary and talk a bit about our focus for the trip, “Women, Islam and Society.” From there, we drove around the different sectors and neighborhoods to drop off each pair of students with their host families.

Mary and I were paired together, even though neither of us spoke French, and our host parents only spoke only French. On our second day, when we returned home for dinner, our mother had prepared chebujen, the traditional fish and rice dish, that is shared communally by hand. As a vegetarian, I tried a few bites, but I just couldn’t swallow. I gathered up the courage to attempt to explain to her that I could not eat it. But she couldn’t understand. Not only was there a language barrier, but there was also a culture barrier. A minute later, she sensed my discomfort and told me to go sit on the bench a few feet away. I was essentially, banished from the table. I did not get dinner that night, simply because of our miscommunication. I tried my best to hide my tears, but I know Mary could tell that it was all coming down. My host mother started laughing and speaking in French with her extended family.

Looking back now, I realize that it made sense given the culture differences. I should have had someone properly explain to her that I wasn’t ungrateful, but rather that I couldn’t eat the food. That night, I told Mary that I wanted to go home, back to America. All I wanted to do was run away, back to the familiar. After communicating with my trip leader, I was able to switch host families, and move in with two of my other classmates. My new family was Christian, a rare occurrence in Senegal, and my host mother had experience cooking vegetarian meals.

The reason for this story is to share with you how I learned that I couldn’t let that one bad experience shape the rest of my trip. While the challenges seemed impossible to face at the time, I finally realize how they helped shape who I am today. I was able to keep an open mind and enjoy myself. Studying abroad was definitely an integral part of my education. Especially with the increase in globalization today, visiting Senegal and gaining these real-life experiences have already set me up for a lifetime of value. I have learned to leave my comfort zone and dismiss certain stereotypes.

One experience that I also really enjoyed included visiting Mariama Ba, an all-girls elite school on Gorée Island. Since my classmates and I attended an all-girls school in Maryland, both schools’ students had an interesting debate on feminism. We brought up topics like polygamy in Muslim culture, and the Mariama Ba girls responded by equating it to LGBTQ relationships in American culture. I learned to listen to and respect other people’s views, and understand that the “American” way of doing things is not always going to be the only way. There are several issues, such as water shortage and poverty, that are being analyzed globally, and each potential solution can have serious lasting impacts.

All in all, I ended up loving Senegal. I still keep in touch with my five host brothers and sisters on Facebook. Going abroad has allowed me to see the necessity of developing a global mindset that is so important in our world today. Since my trip to Senegal, I have gone off to travel to a few other places. On our way to India, my family stopped in Turkey, where we stayed just blocks from the Hagia Sophia and were awoken in the morning with prayer calls from the Blue Mosque. These trips have changed me, each in their own unique ways. I can take what I learn about different cultures and customs, and apply them to my own understanding of the world.

While being abroad is vital to helping you understand global issues, it is not a necessity. Stay on top of these pressing issues and try to make a difference. E-collaborate has pioneered this concept of virtual internships, and participating in the program can only help you succeed. Just by working with NGOs around the world, you yourself can gain valuable life skills and be a part of the change.

-Sachi K.

 

At the beginning of May, I traveled to the Office Depot Foundation Conference in Boca Raton for their  annual Civil Society Leadership Symposium.   The weekend was one of the most inspiring weekends I have had in a long time. Just the idea of being in the same room with people who are making a difference all over the country was incredible, but then add the speakers, the awards ceremony, all of the networking, and delicious snacks in between the sessions and it was beyond what I could have imagined!

Just to give you some background: We received our first grant from the Office Depot Foundation at the end of last year. When we were invited to attend the conference, this is how it was described from the Office Depot Foundation:

Inspiring Innovation and Collaboration:
Weekend in Boca VII, May 2-3

The annual Office Depot Foundation Weekend in Boca, Civil Society Leadership Symposium gives non-profit professionals, board members and volunteers an all-too-rare opportunity to get out of the office and spend time learning about best practices and timely strategies for innovation, collaboration and sustainability…

What an opportunity for e-collaborate! On the first day of the conference, there were over 500 people in the room. The sessions allowed us to interact with the participants and solve real world problems from different perspectives; helped us understand the tools that are available to non-profits and donors to connect with each other; they shared good stories that have reached millions of people and made us think about our own stories and how we share our message; and lastly the sessions generally inspired us to say, if we are solving a problem, then in 10 years, we should be out of a job, because we should be empowering communities to be part of the solutions we are trying to “solve”.

Besides the speakers, one of my favorite parts of the conference was networking and meeting like-minded people who have the best intentions for their own communities. The thing I learned about the non-profit community, is that people are generally trying to help each other. I am excited to follow up with the connections we made and continue to support the Office Depot Foundation. Thank you, Mary Wong and team! I am already looking forward to the conference next year!

 

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* This post was first published on the Ashoka Start Empathy Blog on April 7, 2014.

One of my most vivid memories from my early childhood comes from a family trip to Costa Rica. I remember checking into our hotel that provided the many luxuries I was accustomed to in the US, and climbing the steps to our second floor room with a balcony view of the city. Expecting the view to be as lovely as the hotel, I was shocked to look out and see endless rows of shantytown homes made of assorted pieces of scrap metal and plastic tarps. It was a bustling area with people moving in and out of the homes, selling goods on the street, and running their errands. I couldn’t imagine that many of these people I was seeing had to live in these deplorable conditions. To a ten year old American, their homes looked like something I might build in my backyard for fun, but were unimaginable to actually call these a home where people lived. I remember feeling deeply saddened by this sight and also guilty for looking down at it from my nice hotel balcony, and the eventual thought of leaving here to return to my family’s large, four bedroom home.

I believe this is one of my earliest memories of feeling empathy towards others and it greatly shaped my life. Starting in middle school and continuing through high school, I volunteered regularly in my community and largely with organizations addressing the needs of Latino migrant workers. I immediately connected with this cause because the image of poor living conditions in Costa Rica remained with me, and I understood why many of the people we served made the tough decision to leave their homes in search of better conditions. In college and later in graduate school, I studied international development so that I would have the skills and knowledge to contribute towards addressing the many social injustices in the world. And, I have followed a career path that has lead me to several amazing jobs in non-profits in the US and in Latin America.

I consider myself very fortunate for the opportunity to take a trip to Costa Rica. It is rare for someone at such a young age to have already had an experience that so greatly shaped not only their personal values, but also their education and career track. I wasn’t that student who entered college undeclared or who changed their major each semester. I was lucky that my parents valued cultural awareness and international experiences, and had the financial means to provide me the opportunity to travel abroad when I was still just in elementary school. This is an experience that most youth are not afforded until college, and even then, it is limited by financial constraints. So, how do we provide our youth with similar exposure to international issues, especially the extremities of the developing world, when not everyone has the means to travel?

The internet is an easy and obvious answer. But, google-ing images of foreign places and reading the news are not going to address this gap between those who can and those who cannot have international experiences. Instead, young people need to feel connected to a different country that pushes them outside of their comfort zone. This means interacting with the people, hearing directly from them the conditions and daily livelihood of their countries, sharing experiences and knowledge, and ultimately finding ways to use that exposure to take action and make an impact in addressing these issues. While the ideal situation would be for every young person to get the experience to spend time abroad, this is not realistic. But, with structured curriculum and mentoring, we can still provide a similar opportunity using the internet.

I work with a Maryland based non-profit called e-collaborate that connects high school students to NGOs all over the developing world through a virtual internship. Students interact directly with the staff at their assigned NGO through Skype calls, instant messaging, and email. They conduct background research on their country of placement to gain an understanding of the issues that the NGO is addressing and the population that they are serving. The personal connection and interaction, in addition to the exposure, is the key to building empathy. So far, the students and the NGO staff have hit it off instantly. This is complemented with the student making an impact by completing meaningful work assignments that support the goals of the NGO. For example, one student made a short film for an organization in Egypt that explains the work that they do, which will be used to attract more visitors and potential donors to their website. Another student is researching and writing articles for Fair Trade blogs to help increase the profile of an organization in Guatemala that works with women weavers. These experiences not only expose students to the issues of the developing world, but give them the opportunity and the skills to make a difference.

It is our goal that this experience empowers youth to continue exploring inequalities and finding ways to address the injustices around the world. Hopefully, by being engaged virtually, this will encourage young people to also volunteer in-person in their own communities and to develop a life-long sense of service. While not everyone will chose to study these issues in college or to pursue a career in it like I did, it will make them more empathetic to others around them and foster global citizenship that understands and embraces the different conditions, cultures, and beliefs in the world. With this, we will hope for a more just and peaceful world; and it is our responsibility to level the playing field so that all young people have the opportunity to have such meaningful and rich experiences to shape their lives and build their character.

-Beth Davis

 

Thank you Students for Global Democracy, Uganda for the wonderful holiday goodies! We are excited to work with you on the Virtual Internship Program and know the students in the program will gain a valuable experience and perspective.  We wish you and the entire e-collaborate community all the best for 2014.  Cheers to new partnerships and making an impact with empathy!

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e-collaborate would like to say a special THANK YOU to Forest Park High School for donating refurbished laptops to benefit students in Nicaragua! 

Beth and I visited Forest Park High School during the holiday season in 2013 to collect 10 laptops.  Students who are involved in the  VA Star program refurbished these laptops to give to those in need.  The VA STAR program creates a new kind of interaction between students and teachers through technology that is focused on teaching students about IT repair and service service learning. VA STAR is located in 10 different schools around state of Virginia, based on the model at Forest Park High School. 

It is absolutely by chance that we met Chuck, the person in charge of the program at Forest Park H.S. at a SPARK event. SPARK’s mission is to, “engage community partners to fund and promote initiatives that enhance educational excellence.” Forest Park H.S. is located in Prince William County and within the county there is a huge push for STEM and getting students interested in jobs that require science, technology, engineering, and math.  After we started talking, and telling Chuck about our initiatives, he mentioned Forest Park could donate laptops to e-collaborate. Earlier this year we partnered with Mentores Solidarios to help them collect laptops for their highest achieving students in their programs. This couldn’t have been a better fit!

Once the laptops were ready, we coordinated with Cindy and that same day donated them to Mentores Solidarios.  We are so grateful for Cindy, Chuck and the students at Forest Park High School who made this possible.  We also want to say a special Thank You to Radhika from Bookworm Central for making this connection. We greatly appreciate it and so do the students who are using their new laptops! Thank you!

-Naina Boveja
Executive Director

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After completing Water 401 with the Asian Studies classes at Churchill High School, e-collaborate staff sat down with their teacher, Ms. John, to discuss best practices, lessons learned, and the challenges of adapting the eKWIP Challenge curriculum to fit her classroom needs. Watch this video to learn how the lesson was received by her students and her suggestions for other instructors.

This past week was an exciting one at e-collaborate. Beth and I had the opportunity to facilitate the eKWIP 401 lesson with Ms. John’s 3 Asian Studies classes at Churchill High School.  We learned a lot actually doing the lesson in a classroom.  The activity took three days and Ms. John, modified it to fit the needs and objectives of her class.  The lesson was entitled, Water as a Human Right. 

On the first day, the students watched two excerpts from the film FLOW-For Love of Water. The film juxtaposed community responses and organizing when Nestle created a water-bottling plant in a small town in Michigan and when Coca Cola did the same in a rural community in India.  Activists in both places mobilized against the large companies and each had a different outcome.  Students followed the film with a handout that Ms. John designed to help pull out the key points. They had to write down the objectives of each group in Michigan and in India, the obstacles, and the results. 

On the second day, students were divided into five groups: a private water company, the school’s administration, the parents and the community, the student body, and an environmental club at the school.  Each person in the groups was assigned to a different role to prepare their group for a mock press conference. The roles in each group were: Public Relations Agent who introduced the group’s position, Actor or Actors in the group who shared the group’s five key arguments, the Historian who asked a “soft-ball” question to their group, the Investigative Reporter who asked other groups probing questions, and the Graphic Designer who designed the group’s poster and explained the symbols he or she used. Each group collaborated to come up with five key points for the press conference. 

On the third day, the groups had the chance to finalize their points and any last minutes preparation before presenting to the class.  At the end of the press conferences, Ms. John summarized the points and explained how the different issues the students raised, directly relate to the complexities of real life situations.

The impact of the lesson was greater awareness and appreciation of water rights among students. Before the lesson began, students were asked to answer a series of ‘yes or no’ questions about their personal beliefs on the issue. For example, “Is water a human right?” and “Do we have a responsibility to provide access to water to others?”  The survey was also conducted at the end of the lesson to measure change of perceptions. What a change!  There was a 30 percent increase in the number of students who agreed that water is a human right, and only one student out of 79 disagreed that we have a responsibility to protect water after completing the lesson.

The success of this lesson was due in large part to the creativity of Ms. John, in adapting the simulation to fit her classroom needs and interests. Beth and I worked closely with her in doing this – making the simulation relevant to their community, designing specific roles for students, and identifying the most appropriate clips in the film for this simulation. Also, Ms. John did a great job of facilitating the discussion throughout; making sure the students could understand factors in this very complex issue. 

 The material used to facilitate this lesson is on the eKWIP challenge website (www.ekwipchallenge.org) under Lesson 401. In addition, a recording of our discussion with Ms. John and our reactions to the lesson can also be found on the eKWIP Challenge and on our website.  Please feel free to use in your own classes, or to leave comments or questions about the lesson on our blog or the eKWIP site. We are happy to work with any teacher or facilitator to adapt the curriculum to fit your needs and to help facilitate this experience with your students.

 

Image Thanks to Ms. John and her Asian Studies classes for participating and bringing the eKWIP Challenge to life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookworm Central

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If you love books that convey positive messages, then you NEED to check out Bookworm Central.  The philosophy of Bookworm is simple:

“We believe that good literature has the power to provoke thought, spark imagination, and shape character. It reinforces the concepts essential to civilized society: courage, compassion, integrity, goodness, and gratitude. Books bring these gifts to life, helping children develop inner resources that can be drawn upon throughout their lives.”

Each book that comes to Bookworm Central is read and evaluated by the Bookworm team then distributed to book fairs or hand selected for teachers or after school programs.  Bookworm Central is a ‘boutique’ company that can put together lists of books based on your requirements or even order books for your school or office depending on your needs. In addition, instead of finding translated American classics, which they can get, they go to the source to find local stories written in the native language to share with students.  They have these types of books in more than 15 languages!

Founder Radhika Bajaj is warm, friendly, and brilliant and has accomplished incredible amounts of success in the 21 years she has been running Bookwarm Central. Similar to e-collaborate, she saw a need in her community and decided to act.  Her solution for better literacy education has helped countless schools and non-profits along the way. Her passion for books and stories is conveyed in the first few minutes of meeting her.  The e-collaborate team went to visit the Bookworm warehouses last week and were amazed at the volume of books and educational games they have to offer. 

After the tour, we discussed different ways that e-collaborate and Bookworm can work together.  She also gave us advice that she wished someone had told her 21 years ago.  I soaked up every word. This conversation opened our eyes to the different ways we could do outreach in the communities in which we are involved, and also made us expand our thoughts about technology issues in developing countries.  Please stay tuned as I continue to update on this partnership through social media and our website.  Thanks to Radhika and Bookworm Central for being one of the most wonderful social enterprises in our community. To learn more, check out Bookworm Central’s website.

-Naina Boveja
Executive Director