By Christina Eggenberger
When I tell people that I am studying philanthropy, I usually get similar reactions. The most common reaction is people assume I am pursuing a career in fundraising, followed closely by the assumption that I study big-name philanthropists.
While both of those areas of study are needed in this world, I want to focus on a different area within the broader landscape of philanthropy: global service learning. Global service learning is a pedagogy that blends textbook knowledge and experiences engaging in community-based service with critical reflection. The goal is to grow civic capacity and encourage a global perspective.
Prior to starting my studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, I worked in higher education leveraging the energy and knowledge of those within the university to make the community stronger but also teaching students the importance of civic engagement. While my job was multi-faceted, one of my favorite aspects was the opportunity to teach and encourage students to engage authentically with communities across the globe.
I was able to create global service-learning courses in which students would learn about the history and culture of a country as well as how to volunteer responsibly and then travel there to engage the community while volunteering. Those experiences led me to want to pursue further education in philanthropy and to the doorstep of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
This past spring, a mentor at IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning shared with me an opportunity to learn more about global service learning at a symposium in Ghana. While there are ample opportunities to engage in discussion about global service learning in the United States, this was an opportunity to get practitioners and scholars from the United States and the African continent in the same room with community-based, African NGOs that commonly partner with universities or were looking to do so. The conversation in global service learning is often that we need to bring all voices to the table, and this was an opportunity to do so.
After being accepted to share some of my work around the courses I previously taught and with some funds from an anonymous, but generous, donor to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s fund for students’ international education or research, I was off to Accra and then onwards through the countryside to the Volta region of Ghana.
The symposium illustrated some of the key elements of global service learning that will serve as reminders for me of why I do this work and continue to seek ways to improve it. Below are a few of those highlights:
- One of the first speakers was Dr. Eric Hartman, Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. The way he described the work of the symposium was as both “the hope and the critique.” The room was full of individuals who strongly believe that people working together across the globe and bringing their knowledge and strengths together can transform lives and communities. However, at the same time, we need to be critical of our methods to grow the good and mitigate the harm.
This struck me as identical to what we do at the school. Our students, staff, and faculty believe in the hope and possibility of philanthropy but at the same time are doing the critical work of questioning how philanthropy operates and how it can do the most good.
- Another scholar-practitioner who spoke was Dr. Nicole Webster, Director of the 2iE-Penn State Centre for Collaborative Engagement in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and Associate Professor of Youth and International Development at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. In preparing students for global engagement, she stressed the importance of talking about how the same problems abroad are problems in the United States.
When we look around the world and see problems of access to clean water or people living in poverty and don’t see that within our own borders, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our students. We are perpetuating stereotypes of developing nations while also perpetuating global north superiority.
- I also met Cynthia Fiaka, the founder of Nneka Youth Foundation. Cynthia is a passionate advocate of her organization and her community. After working for many years in banking, she left her job to start Nneka, which focuses on empowering youth in rural areas. The organization has programs throughout the school year, and during the summer, hosts a series of camps with hundreds of youth in attendance.
On the third day of the conference, we traveled to a village called Hehekpoe that has partnered with a local nonprofit called Adanu. Throughout the partnership with Adanu, volunteers and community members built one school for kindergarteners and another for grades one through six, as well as a library.
As our group strolled by the primary school building, Cynthia requested to speak with the sixth-grade students. She immediately got the class on its feet and spoke to the students about how important education is and how vital they were to the future of their community. She stressed the importance of them not becoming teen parents. She told them that they were smart and important and could do great things.
It was honestly amazing and inspiring to watch. These teens didn’t roll their eyes but instead smiled and cheered for this enthusiastic woman in front of them. Cynthia knows what her community needs to hear and how to inspire them. She is the type of leader we, as volunteers visiting her community, need to support. Volunteers will often come in and want to take on the role of leader but we need to look for opportunities to support and learn from community leaders like Cynthia and not take on her role.
I arrived back in the U.S. exhausted from travel but invigorated by the conversations I had with everyone, from scholars and practitioners at the conference to my Uber driver in Accra, and inspired to keep those conversations going.
What my time in Ghana reminded me of is that we still have a long way to go in making all global service learning programs equitable and ethical, but by listening to and valuing all voices and perspectives, including those of stakeholders, practitioners, students, and scholars, we will get there faster.
We are, after all, the hope and the critique.