Thursday, February 19, 2015

Changemaking as Practice

By Dr. Mike Williams

Imagine you are a twenty-one year old student taking classes at a university.  While studying abroad in England, you decide to audition for a play – something you haven’t done since high school.  Two of the cast members are from Africa –one from Kenya and one from Zimbabwe.  As you are leaving England to head back to the US for the spring semester, you are invited to come to Zimabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Kenya the following June to tour the play.  You are able to go, and in June, you find yourself on a flight to Zimbabwe knowing very little about the continent and specific countries you are about to visit.  You spend two months traveling throughout Africa, and it is a transformative experience.  You come back to your university with a specific idea.  Due in part to a lack of educational resources, many young people you met in South Africa lack the opportunity for a quality education.  You decide you want to address this issue.  You have found your passion, you have an idea, now what? 

If it is not already obvious, let me end the suspense and tell you that the person in this story is yours truly.  The university I was enrolled in at the time was the University of San Diego.  The year was 1991, and I was a political science major who had never taken a course on Africa before this journey.  More importantly, at the time, I was clueless with how to turn this idea into action.  But, guess what? There were not many people on campus who had this expertise either.  In the end, I talked to a few people about my idea, but nothing ever came from it. 

But my passion for Africa did not end, nor did my belief that one of the central responsibilities of higher education is to produce active, responsible citizens who can acquire the knowledge, skills, and values to make a difference.  The opportunities to make a difference should not be delayed until graduation, your first job, or after you purchase your first home.  Rather, I believe that students need to consider ways to address unmet social needs while they are at their university.

Even before USD was designated as a Changemaker Campus in 2011, the resources and infrastructure to enable students to become more responsible, active citizens were in place.  Through courses, community engagement, study abroad, and internships, students had the opportunity to find their passion and to find ways to become more involved with local and global communities.  What the Changemaker Hub provides, however, are even more resources for students, faculty, and staff to help turn ideas into action, and through these actions, to promote social justice and change. 

Since becoming the Director of the Changemaker Hub in August, I have been asked many times what it means to be a changemaker?  But the point is not to “become” a changemaker.  Instead, changemaking is really a practice.  It is a practice that one can do – or not do – each day.  What are your passions?  How do you live your passions on a daily basis?  Do you connect the knowledge that you are gaining through your classes to your passion?  Do you practice empathy?  Do you think critically about how your passions and your talents might intersect?  Do you have the confidence to try something different, something outside of your comfort zone, and not be afraid of failure?  When you are practicing changemaking, these are some of the questions that you will consider. 

In this blog, I plan to share my own ideas about changemaking, USD, and what is means to be a st century.  I welcome you to think about these ideas with me.  I welcome your comments, critiques, and questions.  But to be clear, I am writing this as a way for me to organize my thoughts. Even if few read what I write, the process of writing will have served its purpose.  Other than the blog I keep when I go to South Africa, I have never attempted to write a blog where I commit myself to ongoing posts.  Although, over the past few months in my new position as Director of the Changemaker Hub, I have been fortunate to be engaged in various conversations about higher education, the University of San Diego, citizenship, and what it means that USD is a Changemaker Campus.  These conversations have been energizing, and I have found myself wanting to document my thoughts – not only for me, but for others.  And that, in a nutshell, is the reason for this blog. 

Before closing, I want to return to that twenty-one year old who did not know how to implement his idea.  While it took more than twenty years, last June Dr. Lisa Nunn and I, through a partnership with the non-profit Sharing to Learn, offered a Youth Leadership and Civic Workshop in the village of Makuleke in South Africa.  We are doing it again this June.  It should not have taken more than twenty years, but I am glad that USD is now doing something to promote education in South Africa.  What is your passion?  What is your idea?  Do you really want to wait twenty years to make it happen?