Fixing Social Entrepreneurship & Development, Part Deux

You know when you get a bunch of people in a room together, the natural result is for them to mill about more or less arbitrarily, chat and generate noise…

Two weeks ago I had a conference call with the UChicago branch of the United Nations Academic Impact – Aspire team. I’m trying to develop a series of programs for member universities to implement, and in attempting to articulate what is wrong with so much humanitarian NGO, NFP, development and “social enterprise” (← whatever that is) I used the following allegorical parable, which, I understand, is kind of trite and banal and endemic to the “leadership” field, but what can I do?

You know when you get a bunch of people in a room together, the natural result is for them to mill about more or less arbitrarily, chat and generate noise. Give them a purpose, some greater effort to work for, a narrative of which they are a part, and things start changing. Give everyone a part, some responsibility, show them the path and send them on their way with the rest of the group and meaning gets distilled from the chaos.

It’s this, I believe, that is wrong with so much of development work going on around the world today: You’ve got a bunch of individual, ostensibly rational actors just wandering about doing their own self-interested rational-actor thing. Which is okay, but you’re not going to get anything done that way. It’s all just noise. Give all those people in that room something bigger than themselves, a project on which all collaborate and must pull their own weight, then you’re getting somewhere. Now we start to discern melody and harmony: music from noise. It’s not enough to get a bunch of people talking in B-blat though. Together we concert and direct their efforts. It’s our job to make them sing.

I plan on expanding on this at some point. Protracting metaphor is fun. Check out the extremely sardonic Part One of Fixing Social Entrepreneurship.

The Declaration of Student Involvement in the United Nations Academic Impact

Click the link to view & download the newly-revised Declaration of Student Involvement in UNAI/ASPIRE (in .PDF format).

In an earlier post, I publicized a Declaration student leaders of the UNAI initiative wrote. Not to take credit for the thoughts of other people, it was I who did the bulk of the writing. I did not, however, come up with the bulk of the ideas… that credit goes to my teammates Patrick Ip, Blaire Byg, Gladys Banfor, May Yeung, Vivien Sin, Ryan Bober, Jason Zavaleta, and Richard Pichardo–the latter of whom decided to cut out halfway through the drafting session but nonetheless was instrumental in fostering a boisterous bonhomie in the prim Manhattan coffee shop where said drafting session was hosted.

The Declaration went through a re-edit to incorporate the United Nations’s new program, ASPIRE. I do not know what the acronym stands for. It is the student-participation part of the United Nations Academic Impact.  Since its original drafting a month ago, it’s taken on its first amendment, a response to the general will among ASPIRE leadership to meet on an annual basis to foster further collaboration.

On Writing (with [much] Help) a Declaration to the United Nations

I extend my most sincere thanks to my seven co-collaborators who helped me draft a cogent, articulate declaration establishing students’ equity stake in the United Nations Academic Impact initiative. I never thought I’d be a part of something like this, and although the vicissitudinous nature of the United Nations irks me so, I am proud to have lent my cognitive machinery to the cause. Unlike traditional UN rhetoric, our document does not prevaricate, and though our language is vague–purposely so–it does not obfuscate. Below is the final draft.

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Declaration of Student Involvement in United Nations Academic Impact

The students convened at the United Nations Academic Impact Launch represent the future participants in the program. The ultimate success of the initiative depends on the participation of– and collaboration between UNAI officials, university administrations and faculties, and the student bodies of each institution. In broad strokes, this initial document outlines our responsibilities, obligations, limitations, and proposes some guidelines for UNAI officials.

As stakeholders in this program, it is our duty to clearly articulate our goals and their respective strategies. Stakeholders must focus on developing workable, sustainable solutions to pressing issues facing our world, in particular, those highlighted in the ten principles of the UNAI. Fundamentally, this hinges on an open, respectful, academically and intellectually honest forum which facilitates collaboration amongst UNAI stakeholders.

Obligations & Limitations
While we cannot devote expertise per se, we will put forth our time, energy, and innovative spirit to making the principles of the United Nations Academic Impact a part of our outreach strategies. It is incumbent upon us as stakeholders to unite across borders and between academic disciplines to work collaboratively to solve the difficult but ultimately solvable problems stemming from endemic poverty. However, our primary responsibility is our studies; although we are devoted to making the UNAI a success, we request sensitivity to our obligations. Similarly, we promise deference to university administrators, UNAI officials, and their collective experience and insight.

Specific Requests of UNAI Officials
We request of UNAI officials formal recognition of students as stakeholders in the program’s success. Furthermore, we propose an annual meeting between UNAI officials and student representatives from affiliated universities. Students need an equity stake in the decision-making process.

We hope that this document serves as a stepping-stone to a more comprehensive program, one that inspires action on behalf of us students to achieve commonly-held goals with our administrations and the UNAI. Going forward, the program will evolve and will be stronger for a dialogue between students, university administrators, teaching faculties, and the United Nations Academic Impact.