Globalization, Inequality & Opportunity

Thanks to Learning Life intern Thalia Navia for her assistance in the research for this post.

Globalization is increasing, and for good reason.  Advances in transport and communication technologies are making it easier for people to travel and talk across national borders.  This leads to greater trade and movement across borders, which in turn brings people more and cheaper goods and services as well as more opportunities to explore, learn, collaborate and prosper.

Globalization, Inequality & Opportunity

Globalization – simply defined, more connections and interdependence between countries – is driven to a great extent by businesses searching for profits.  When businesses are able to sell their goods and services to more consumers abroad, they expand their potential for growth and profits.  This helps explain why pay tends to be higher in international trade-directed than non-trade directed jobs (Griswold 2016), and why international jobs – like customer service representatives, market analysts, digital map-makers, language interpreters and translators, and airline and hospitality workers – are proliferating (Sentz 2016, Peltier 2018).

Given our world’s globalizing trend, persisting socio-economic inequities as to who participates in and leads foreign affairs threatens to further marginalize already disadvantaged groups, and undermine the representativeness of international business and policy-making.  In the United States, this is especially true for African and Hispanic Americans, who comprise 14% and 17% of the U.S. population, respectively, yet who represent just:

  • 5% and 7.5% of U.S. college students who study abroad (Carr 2014)
  • 4% and 5.1% of U.S. Foreign Service officers (Miller 2015)
  • 2% and 3% of executives of Fortune 500 companies (Jones 2017)

Unfortunately, race and ethnicity dovetail closely with income and wealth, and Hispanic and African Americans have substantially less of both than European and Asian Americans on average (Peterson Foundation 2018).  This makes it more difficult for blacks and Latinos to take advantage of travel abroad opportunities that help stimulate interest in the wider world.

While some individuals can overcome disadvantages to pursue successful international careers, it is much more difficult for marginalized groups to do so without government policies – like annual grants for travel, study and work abroad in high school and college, and consistent funding for effective international engagement programs at all ages – that widen opportunity on a large scale.  Of course, there are a number of U.S. programs that fund international study, exchanges and travel abroad, such as the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Abroad Program, the Critical Language Scholarship Program, and the Youth Ambassadors Program.  However, the number of spots or grants offered are often quite limited, and those who take advantage of these programs – even programs meant exclusively to benefit ethnic and racial minorities, like the Thomas Pickering Fellowship and the Charles Rangel Summer Enrichment Program – tend to come from economically relatively privileged backgrounds.

Reformers who wish to open the world to marginalized peoples cannot create programs and expect the disadvantaged to throng to them.  If they do, they will continue to disproportionately attract privileged applicants.  Inequality segregates the disadvantaged and tends to narrow their geographic horizons, so they are much less inclined to take advantage of opportunities to engage with a world so foreign to them.  Thus, reformers must go to the marginalized, opening opportunities in direct and sustained ways in their otherwise segregated communities.

It takes time and an accumulation of experiences – conversations, books, magazines, games, films, travel, classes, volunteering, internships, work — to understand, care about, and act effectively in the world.  That’s an accumulation the advantaged are more likely to gather, little by little, as they grow up.  Absent government policies to provide marginalized groups with such bridge-building opportunities in their own communities, nonprofits can do much to open the world to the disadvantaged.  This includes mentorship, field trips, games, documentary discussions, volunteering, virtual exchanges, and other opportunities that can enrich marginalized neighborhoods, and connect the traveled and untraveled, with or without costly travel abroad.

Globalization holds much promise, but whether that promise is fulfilled for all rather than a few depends on clear-eyed purpose, sustained effort, and bridge-building to connect the marginalized to the world.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life

References

Carr, Sarah.  May 8, 2014.  “As Study Abroad Becomes More Crucial, Few Low-Income Students Go.”  The Hechinger Report. 

Griswold, Daniel.  August 1, 2016.  “Globalization and Trade Help Manufacturing.”  The Los Angeles Times. 

Jones, Stacy.  June 9, 2017.  “White Men Account for 72% of Corporate Leadership at 16 of the Fortune 500 Companies.”  Fortune. 

Miller, Lia.  June 2015.  “Toward a Foreign Service Reflecting America.”  The Foreign Service Journal.

Peltier, Dan.  March 22, 2018.  “Tourism Jobs Numbers Increase Despite Modest Introduction of Artificial Intelligence.”  Skift.

Peter G. Peterson Foundation.  September 13, 2018.  “Income and Wealth in the United States: An Overview of Recent Data.”

Sentz, Rob.  September 27, 2016.  “Three Jobs That Are Growing Because of Globalization.”  Forbes.

Toward Good Health, Local to Global

Good health is vital.  The less healthy one is, the less one is able to perform as a private individual in school, work and family, let alone as a public citizen in community and society.  The vigor and happiness of individuals, families, communities, societies, indeed the entire world, thus depends on good health.  In turn, human health is also impacted by a myriad of factors, from the local food supply to global climate change.  These are two major reasons why Learning Life has begun orienting our programming toward health.

Countless pressing public issues are health issues, including bullying, child abuse, domestic violence, depression, loneliness, drug abuse, drunk driving, gun violence, hunger, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, income and wealth inequality, human trafficking, communicable diseases ranging from common cold viruses to deadly Ebola, terrorism, war, pollution, and climate change.  As this long yet far from complete list demonstrates, health issues run from violence at home, or bullying in one’s school or neighborhood, to international phenomena like human trafficking, terrorism and climate change.  Furthermore, many of these health issues are interconnected and happen in many localities yet they are shaped by big, complicated histories and institutional actors — religious faiths, multinational businesses, national governments, international governmental bodies — whose powerful actions are often invisible and incomprehensible to all but a few trained and paid specialists.  Thus, human health is affected by so many issues local to global yet the connections and causes of those issues are dauntingly complex.

Faced with such complex health problems, it is tempting to ignore them.  But ironically, the less one knows, the more one is at risk for avoidable health problems (e.g., those less educated are more likely to smoke, take drugs, overeat, etc.) while other health threats, like drunk driving, inequality, and climate change, one can ignore but cannot avoid entirely, if at all.  Those who are resource-poor are the least able to avoid many public problems that have health impacts.  So, we can either put our heads in the sand, or take action, and Learning Life aims to take action.

Accordingly, in fall 2017, Learning Life began collaborating with the Georgetown University School of Medicine’s (GUSM) Community Health Division.  That collaboration helped propel Learning Life’s research this year comparing the health and food cultures of our CDI (Citizen Diplomacy Initiative) families in Washington DC, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Dakar, Senegal (click here for the first study, with further research results coming soon), and our larger family food culture project.  Food clearly impacts health, and has the educational advantage of being a universal, daily preoccupation of interest to most people.  Food culture — which we define as a group’s food shopping, cooking and eating habits and beliefs — also varies substantially cross-nationally, and can be shaped to advance health and learning about the world.  Hence, food culture seems a fitting focus for our project work between CDI families in different countries.

The GUSM Community Health Division, under the leadership of Dr. Kim Bullock, welcomes partnerships with community organizations to help improve community health education while giving Georgetown medical students experience in what the medical profession commonly calls “the social determinants of health” (SDHs).  A pie chart (University of North Carolina-Charlotte 2018) often employed to provide U.S. medical students and health professionals with perspective on the determinants of health gives a sense of the importance of SDHs:

Determinants of Health

As the chart shows, SDHs have the largest impact on people’s health, surpassing individuals’ own actions (diet, exercise, smoking, drug-taking, etc.), and much surpassing a person’s genetics, environment, or medical care resources.  The second chart below  (Kaiser Family Foundation 2018) unpacks the SDH term, giving a sense of the wide range of SDHs, and hence why these factors, together, matter so much to human health:

Social Determinants of Health

The chart underscores that while good or bad health is experienced individually, it is shaped by a range of social factors, some of which, like literacy and language, too many people may not realize are linked to their health.  As our world grows more interconnected economically, socially and politically, many of these SDHs are shaped more and more by international forces like trade, immigration and climate change.  It thus behooves health educators to frame learning about health in local to global terms.

In the shorter term, the shared challenge of Learning Life and GUSM’s Community Health Division is to improve CDI families’ understanding of health, including nutrition and SDHs, and food culture, wherever they are in the world.  In the longer term, we hope to improve the health outcomes of our families worldwide.  Much that is good on this Earth takes time and patient work to happen.  That is why we are in this for the long haul.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

References

Kaiser Family Foundation.  “Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity.”  Chart retrieved from https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/beyond-health-care-the-role-of-social-determinants-in-promoting-health-and-health-equity/ on 9/7/18.

University of North Carolina-Charlotte.  “ARCHES Mission & Goals.”  Chart retrieved from https://arches.uncc.edu/mission-goals on 9/7/18.

Food & Health in Senegal vs. the USA

Earlier this month, my wife and I took a remarkable trip to Senegal for about a week.  We visited Dakar, the capital, then Gorée Island, one of the most infamous sites of the slave trade, then Saly a small beach town about an hour south of Dakar.  But the most memorable parts of the trip were our three days with three Senegalese families studying their food culture.  The following reflections consider where Senegalese and American food systems are now, and may be headed, with lasting consequences for public health.

Dakar market merchant

Since fall 2017, Georgetown University Medical Center community health fellow, Dr. Melissa See, and I have been collaborating on research comparing the food cultures of three lower-income African American families in Washington DC with three lower-income Senegalese families in Dakar.  Combining observation, interviews plus photo and video data taken over several hours with each family, we are studying how these six families participating in Learning Life’s Citizen Diplomacy Initiative (CDI) shop for, cook, and eat their food, and the meanings they attach to these practices (i.e., their food culture).  Dr. See is conducting the research with the three African American families while I conducted the research with the three families in Dakar with my wife’s able assistance.

Our hope is that this research will deepen our understanding of the diet-related challenges our CDI families face in living healthy lives in DC and Dakar.  This concern grows out of Learning Life’s turn toward community health as a focus of CDI work.  Health is fundamental, and it’s a serious concern in many lower-income communities worldwide.  Health also connects to so many forces — like culture, business, politics, and the environment –in interesting ways that can help us better understand our world.  (More on health, and particularly community health, in an upcoming post).

Antonia shops at central market

Food, in turn, is central to health, so studying food culture is helpful to identifying families’ health challenges and opportunities.  One of the most striking differences we’re finding in the food culture of the Senegalese and American families is in the processing, packaging.  Like many Americans, our CDI families in DC generally eat a lot of processed, packaged foods.  In contrast, the Senegalese families’ food we observed was on the whole far less processed and packaged.  Americans of all income brackets are typically used to shopping at supermarkets with lots of packaged, processed foods.  In Senegal, by contrast, there are far fewer supermarkets per capita.  When we went shopping with one of the Senegalese families, we went not to a supermarket but to an open air market with many merchants selling fruits, vegetables, meats, spices and many other foods, most minimally packaged, and unrefrigerated.

These striking contrasts do not necessarily mean one country has it better when it comes to food.  Americans might assume we have the best food system in the world, and ours is indeed among the best in food safety, abundance and affordability.  However, our mainstream diet of cheap, processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt — the sodas, chips, burgers, pizzas, donuts, cookies, cake, ice cream, etc. we eat in abundance — generate all kinds of widespread health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.  The Senegalese diet is less varied, high in starch — mainly rice but also other cheap grains — and less safe due to lack of refrigeration and standardized food safety practices (e.g., cleaning, disinfecting, cooking at safely high temperatures).  Nonetheless, the Senegalese obesity rate is around 9% vs. 36% in the USA.  The Senegalese live much shorter lives on average than Americans — 62 vs. 80 years, respectively — but living longer does not necessarily mean living better.

Lunch of rice, chicken and vegetables

Many factors affect health and longevity: not just diet but activity levels, the number and quality of one’s relationships, air and water quality, housing conditions, transportation safety, crime levels, education levels, the availability and quality of health care resources like doctors, hospitals, parks and gyms, etc.  However, to the extent that our diets are central to our health, major food companies that sell processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar pose a serious threat to global health that often goes unrecognized.  Besides the obvious threats — fast food chains and convenience stores that market and sell cheap, tasty but unhealthy food products — the modern supermarket presents less recognized problems.  To their credit, supermarkets commonly sell fresh produce, even if there may not be many varieties of fruits and vegetables, and much of it may not be local or even domestic.  However, most other food aisles of any supermarket are filled disproportionately with processed foods high in fat, salt and/or sugar.  Why?  Such food is generally cheap to make, “shelf-stable” (lasts long without going bad), can be manipulated easily (new flavors, different quantities and types of ingredients) to cut costs and boost appeal, and tastes good to most consumers.  These are the main reasons why food companies sell processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Supermarket processed food

The abundance of packaging that envelopes many processed food products serves three key functions.  First, packaging is a vehicle for advertising to seek to distinguish the product, attract consumers and build “brand loyalty” (consumer loyalty to the company’s product or product line).  Second, governments often require companies to reveal certain information on their packaging, such as the ingredients in and nutritional content of their products.  Third, packaging helps preserve food products and protect them from contaminants in the environment.  Despite these functions, food company packaging is often excessive, and contributes substantially to resource waste, environmental pollution, and the world’s ever mounting trash heaps.

Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind though is this: like most businesses under capitalism, the primary goal of food companies is not environmental health nor the public good, but profit.  This does not mean businesses are evil, but it does mean they are self-serving.  Furthermore, they are rationally single-minded and tireless in their pursuit of profit.  For these reasons, businesses, alone or in concert, tend be very powerful actors who do their best to shape resources, markets, laws and consumers to their profit-seeking ends.  This makes it hard to underestimate the extent to which the food cultures of Americans and other higher-incomes peoples are shaped by food companies.

Many of the healthiest foods — whole foods like apples, pineapple, carrots, broccoli, beans, nuts – require minimal processing, are not shelf-stable, cannot be easily manipulated, and do not taste as good to consumers because people are naturally drawn to foods high in salt, fat and/or sugar.  Hence, supermarkets grudgingly sell whole foods, but tend to make their best profits from packaged, processed foods.

Patisen processed food product

As the Senegalese and other peoples of developing nations increase their income, international food companies will be more attracted to them in search of profits, and they will bring their familiar fast food chains, convenience stores and supermarkets with them.  That will mean more processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar, and accordingly, more obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.  Already, an ambitious Senegalese food company named Patisen is pervasive in homes, markets, and on street billboards in Dakar.  Further, Patisen is working to bring its line of sauces, spreads, condiments and drinks high in salt, fat and/or sugar to other West African countries, with the help of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.  The same trend is happening worldwide wherever incomes are rising, including much larger nations like India and China, where diets are becoming more processed, and diet-related diseases are consequently rising.

Nothing is inevitable, yet profit-seeking food businesses are powerful players whose answer to the diseases they help create are a plethora of processed “health” and “diet” food products that are not necessarily healthy, and are certainly not whole foods.  Fortunately, there are plenty of smart food critics writing influential articles and books (e.g., Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, Michael Moss), a growing body of popular food documentaries (e.g., Food Inc, Forks Over Knives), and encouraging socio-economic trends, like slow food, local food, organic food, farmers’ markets and urban gardening.  The secret to fighting the food industry giants may be more of this — reading, talking and acting locally and internationally for whole food diets and a healthier planet.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.

Sources:

International Finance Corporation.  2011.  “IFC Invests in Senegal’s Agribusiness Sector.”  Retrieved April 1, 2018.

Central Intelligence Agency.  “Africa: Senegal.”  World Factbook.  Retrieved March 31, 2018.

Democratize Diplomacy!

Our world is growing more interconnected yet also seems more and more insecure, divided, and dangerous.   Improving incomes, transportation and communication have spurred international travel, trade and collaboration but also job flight, piracy, climate change and terrorism, among other problems.  Despite the uncertainty these developments bring, one thing is certain: international affairs increasingly impact us all, from the air we breathe, to the prices we pay, to the jobs we get.

For all the impact the wider world has on our lives, it can seem distant from our everyday preoccupations and face-to-face interactions.  Indeed, the less we know and connect with the wider world, the more irrelevant it can seem despite its increasing relevance to all our lives.  This paradox of perceived irrelevance and mounting relevance calls for democratizing diplomacy.

Diplomacy is simple to define — it is the management of international relations — but hard to do well, as any professional diplomat will readily note.  Diplomacy is difficult because there are many factors and forces — political, economic, religious, geographic, historical, etc. — including competing individual and group ambitions, and all are pieces in an evolving play that can change its focus at any moment.  This is often an argument for professionalizing rather than democratizing diplomacy.  The world’s complexity, the argument goes, calls for well trained and experienced diplomats who can skillfully negotiate the dizzying and potentially explosive mix of interests, cultures and personalities toward peaceful and mutually beneficial ends.  Amateur ignorance of that complex mix can at best offend, and at worst lead to war.

Professional diplomats are indeed essential for their skillful negotiation that can and has resolved crises, and fostered cooperation vital to international peace and prosperity.  However, professional diplomats are, at the end of the day, paid agents of their governments.  As such, they are first and foremost servants of government leaders, whether or not they like it, and whether or not those leaders’ interests align with those of their people, let alone the people of the world.  Diplomats may and often do promote international peace and cooperation, but only if it coincides with their national leaders’ interests.

Democratize Diplomacy!None of this is meant to condemn diplomacy, nor its professional practitioners.  Professional diplomacy is essential to international peace, justice and development, and countless diplomats put their lives at risk in service of these world goods, usually with little if any public recognition.  Nonetheless, I suspect that many if not most diplomats who work to advance these goods would agree that they could use some help not just from their governments (in the form of more staff, equipment, security, etc.), but also from their fellow citizens.

At its simplest, democratizing diplomacy means enlarging the circle of participation in diplomacy.  Whether professional diplomats like it or not, diplomacy experts explain that newer communication technologies (the internet, smart phones, social media, etc.) are already breaking the traditional near-monopoly of governments over diplomacy, giving ordinary people — individuals, networks and non-governmental organizations — more power in international relations (e.g., Grant 2005, Nye 2011).

As political scientist Joseph Nye notes, this widening of participation in international affairs can be for the better, or worse (Nye 2010).  For better, any motivated individual or organization with a cell phone or laptop and access to the internet and social media can now, for instance, expose government violence and corruption, or collaborate with others across the world in mutually beneficial ways.  For worse, any motivated person or group can photograph or video themselves burning a country’s flag or a religion’s sacred text, beating or killing a foreigner, or else.  Unfortunately, it’s always easier to burn than build a bridge, and empowering more people to communicate makes it far easier for ideologues and lunatics to destroy the long, patient work of bridge-building.

Simply widening participation in international affairs is thus clearly not enough.  Experts who advocate democratizing diplomacy though talk more about foreign policy authorities informing publics than about publics participating in diplomacy (e.g., Sachs 2016, Bessner & Wertheim 2017).  Greater dialogue between foreign policy experts and publics would, of course, be a positive development.  But those who attend such dialogues are likely to be more educated, if not themselves involved in foreign affairs, hence reinforcing the gulf between those engaged and disengaged with the world.

A broader public that better understands diplomacy, world geography, history, cultures, trends, problems, etc., better grasps the world’s relevance, and is more likely to call for and engage in diplomacy.  That understanding can be developed in schools, but schools shouldn’t be the only vehicles because they vary so much in their quality and pedagogical priorities.  Democratizing diplomacy can help, and citizen diplomacy is the vehicle.

In contrast with professional diplomacy — that is, paid diplomats’ management of international relations — citizen diplomacy entails citizen-to-citizen communication and collaboration across borders.  Professional diplomats frequently encourage citizen diplomacy if it advances their government’s foreign policy objectives.  “Public diplomacy” officers commonly bring together ordinary people from different countries to promote mutual goodwill and cooperation.  However, given that government leaders and their diplomatic agents are not always foremost committed to peace, justice and the welfare of their people, citizen diplomats need to maintain some independence from professional diplomats.  Watchful citizens active in independent political parties, non-government organizations and voluntary associations are better able than state-backed groups to hold their governments accountable.

In this vein, independent citizen diplomacy groups can help lead the democratization of diplomacy as they collaborate to advance international peace, justice and development.  Current examples of citizen diplomacy groups include the Model United Nations, Sister Cities International, Global Nomads Group, and iEARN.  At their best, such groups don’t just foster dialogue or travel, but educational, economic and political collaborations.  At their best, citizen diplomacy organizations also involve populations least likely to engage in diplomacy: the poor and those least connected to the wider world.  Poverty and disconnection don’t necessarily engender xenophobia.  But they breed ignorance, and ignorance is fuel for the xenophobia that attacks immigrants, neglects refugees, elects demagogues, and sows the seeds of war.

Thus, at its best, democratizing diplomacy means:

  1. Harnessing communication technologies to engage more people, especially the poor and those globally least connected, in diplomacy.
  2. Promoting not just dialogue and travel, but collaboration to advance transnational peace, justice and development.
  3. Cultivating and measuring progress in participants’ world knowledge, interests, skills and social ties via those cross-national collaborations.
  4. Encouraging the development of an independent citizen diplomacy sector composed of groups devoted foremost to international peace, justice and development rather than their country or government’s self-interest.
  5. Thinking and talking about how citizen diplomacy can ultimately lead to routine and meaningful yet independent citizen participation in international government.

Democratizing diplomacy is a vital step in advancing human freedom, understood not as individual license but as collective self-government.  The path to international government of, by and for the world’s peoples is clearly long.  But the rise of the United Nations and other international governmental bodies, progress in transport and communication technologies, and growing cross-national trade and cooperation in the last hundred years constitute important steps on that path.  Governments that fear their people and seek to control power and perceptions present formidable obstacles.  But governments that see their people as their greatest strength understand that democratizing diplomacy can help make their nation and the world more secure, just, and prosperous.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

References

Bessner, Daniel, and Stephen Wertheim.  April 5, 2017.  “Democratizing U.S. Foreign Policy.”  Foreign Affairs.  

Grant, Richard.  2005.  “The Democratisation of Diplomacy: Negotiating with the Internet.”  Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and Antwerp University.

Melissen, Jan. 2005.  “The New Public Diplomacy:  Between Theory and Practice” in The New Public Diplomacy, ed. Jan Melissen.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nye, Joseph.  October 4, 2010.  “The Pros and Cons of Citizen Diplomacy.”  New York Times.  

Nye, Joseph.  2011.  The Future of Soft Power.  New York: Public Affairs.

Sachs, Jeffrey D.  December 21, 2016.  “The Democratization of U.S. Foreign Policy.”  The Nation.  

A Neighborhood Approach to International Diplomacy

In recent years, interest in international “virtual exchange” (IVE) or internet communication has grown as more people across the world are getting smart phones and laptops that give them access to the internet.  More schools and universities are getting in on the act, as are international organizations devoted to education and cultural exchange.  However, a lot of the IVE now going on has a participation problem.

Throughout human history, international affairs have largely been the province of a privileged few.  Travel is prohibitively expensive for most people.  Those able to travel abroad tend to have the discretionary income to do so, or they are employed or supported by organizations that allow them to travel.  This, of course, does not include refugees compelled to leave their homes due to violence, disaster or the threat thereof.  Nor does it include poor migrants compelled to leave their countries for lack of economic opportunity to support themselves and their families.

IVE opens up exciting opportunities to engage far more people in international affairs.  Yet most current virtual exchange happens between relatively privileged people.  In the realm of cultural and educational exchange, IVE tends to occur between students, classrooms, or social groups who have more resources (e.g., computers, high speed internet, projectors, skilled staff), and more interest in IVE precisely because they have more formal education and/or family experience with foreign affairs.

Further, because international virtual exchange is still uncommon, even within the more privileged half of societies, IVE organizations keen on reporting large numbers of exchanges, participants, and positive results from their exchanges to sustain and grow their funding, often have little financial interest to engage people lower down the socio-economic scale.

Engaging people with less formal education and little if any experience of foreign affairs does tend to be more difficult.  In Learning Life’s experience thus far with our Citizen Diplomacy Initiative (CDI), many of our lower-income families travel little within their city, let alone out of state or out of the country.  They also know little to nothing about foreign countries or peoples.  Indeed, many of the children with whom we work cannot geographically distinguish what is American and what is foreign.  That combination of inexperience and ignorance does not naturally spur any human being to want to learn more.  In brief, we tend to like what we know, not what we don’t know.

Compounding the challenge are the countless eye-catching commercial distractions — music videos, movies, TV shows, video games, etc. that trade in speed, violence, sex, and/or high drama to draw people into their profitable fictions.  That relentless commercial tidal wave makes it hard for any teacher to compete with the traditional, slow or static instruments for learning reality, local to global: sustained, deliberate conversation and the printed word.

CDI neighborhood approachBut our commitment to tackling inequality and innovating education does not incline us to take the easier road, working with more privileged people interested in IVE.  To reach the harder to reach though, we will be experimenting with a neighborhood approach.  Rather than recruit lower-income families from across a city, or wherever we can find them, we will focus recruitment on particular lower-income neighborhoods.  In doing so, we will cultivate connections with larger organizations with ties to those neighborhoods to bring more resources (funds, volunteers, information, meeting spaces, food, internet access, etc.) to bear on our work of nurturing global citizenship among lower-income families.

The potential benefits of a neighborhood approach are manifold.  The close, repeated social interaction that comes with focusing on specific neighborhoods can make it easier to connect with new families, gain their trust, share resources with them, and mobilize them for CDI dialogues and activities.  Working with neighboring rather than dispersed families can also occasion more beneficial “spillover” of newfound knowledge, skills and resources when families share what they gain through CDI with their neighbors.

A recent development in the relationship of two neighboring families participating in CDI illustrate this last point in what might be called a “virtuous neighborhood effect.”  These two families live about three blocks apart, yet might have never met if not for CDI.  At this point though, they have participated in about ten local learning activities (e.g., museum and restaurant visits) and international dialogues together.  That repeated interaction recently led John, the father of one family — unprompted by any of us at Learning Life — to invite Alex, the only son in the other family, to an all-day excursion at a local amusement park with John and his daughter, Joanne.  Alex, who often feels left out at home, loved it.  The parents in these two families have since exchanged telephone numbers, and are on a first-name basis.  John also plans to take Alex on more excursions in the future, and to teach him how to drive.  (Note: I use pseudonyms here to protect the privacy of the participants.)

This example has nothing yet to do with global citizenship, but more sharing and caring like this — a direct spillover effect of CDI — can help strengthen a neighborhood, and facilitate all kinds of collective goals, including global citizenship.  Social scientists call the sharing, caring and trust embodied in such connections “social capital.”  Research shows that individuals and communities rich in social capital tend to be healthier, safer, and more prosperous.

Neighborhood organizing for IVE and global citizenship is all the more important in lower-income neighborhoods, where there tends to be less social capital, that is, where neighbors tend to trust, care and share less.  And so, while other organizations pursue IVE with more privileged populations, Learning Life is purposefully taking the harder road, and moving toward a neighborhood approach as we begin with a few lower-income blocks in Ward 8, the poorest ward of Washington D.C., as well as with lower-income neighborhoods in other nations where we work.  We don’t expect quick results.  That’s why we’re in this for the long-term.  We will keep you posted as our neighborhood organizing progresses!

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

P.S. For more on our developing, locally-oriented approach, click here.