DPMI in DC – Cultivating Innovative Agents of Social Change!
* This post contributed by Kelly Quackenbush, MPA candidate ‘15
I find myself in a very familiar place: An airport. As a current MIIS student and former Peace Corps volunteer, the fact that airports are familiar to me is surely no shocker. The airport I am in today happens to be Reagan International, just a quick metro ride from the exciting, even intoxicating city of Washington, DC, where I have just spent three incredible weeks with an incredibly diverse and inspiring group of people.
That’s right, I was at DPMI DC, building my network and learning practical tools and concepts for development work from some of the most highly respected professionals in the field. As someone in her 30s who has already been involved with development work, I initially wondered if this training was for me. It was. It was also for the recent college grads, and the current development workers. One participant, who works in the social responsibility department of his company, told me this was “the best training his work had ever sent him to.”
The course is designed to be group-work oriented and VERY hands-on. If you think you are going to relax in the back of the classroom, think again! Rarely have I been in a room with a group of people who are so passionate and engaged. The level of collaboration and contribution by everyone impressed me, especially the 8 Davis Scholarship recipients, who were young but so smart and open to new ideas.
On the first day of Week 1 we got to pick a sector and a country to dive into headfirst (in the case of my group, Education in Bolivia)! Our task and our opportunity: to identify a problem and design a project. We would learn a tool, and practice it. Learn a tool, and practice it. Learn a tool, and practice it.
By the end of the week we had accomplished quite a lot of work, become better at asking the right questions, and learned to appreciate teamwork not just when it was going smoothly but even as we worked through disagreements. We were constantly reminded that we were building social capital, or increasing our collective intelligence and effectiveness.
In Week 2 we switched gears with a new instructor and took an honest look at power dynamics. Exploring the too-often unacknowledged sides of gender, race, and citizenship status was uncomfortable but necessary, because – How can we begin to address social inequality if we aren’t willing to first take an honest look at what’s going on? We talked about how the dominant culture even gets to define what is or is not appropriate language in discussing issues of power and privilege, making it even harder to change the system. For example, we talk about minority groups in the United States being disadvantaged or underserved, but not oppressed or suppressed. Words like racism and sexism make people uncomfortable, but those things exist and we should call them what they are.
We took our newfound awareness of power and privilege into a series of facilitation exercises, keeping in mind how we would deal with these issues in the field to make sure everyone can participate.
In Week 3 we were introduced to Network Mapping, a fascinating way to visualize who the connectors are in any system. This information can be used to work towards strategic changes, strengthening entire systems! Now that I know what it is, I am dying to take the semester-long Network Mapping course offered at MIIS! Next, we got to pick an organization we admire (in the case of my group, the Acumen Fund) and pretend that we were the CEOs. This week was all about strategic partnerships. How do you identify an organization’s key competencies? What competencies from another organization can complement or enhance those? How do you build an alliance that actually makes sense? My team partnered with two other organizations in the class: the World Resources Institute, and Education Development Center, to design a project that incorporated the strengths and missions of each partner to meet the needs of a community.
It was fascinating and challenging. If you are looking for proof that citizens from around the world can come together to create truly insightful and innovative solutions, look no further than DPMI.
In a different way, the relationships we built among ourselves over the course of the three weeks were just as important as the technical skills. It’s amazing how quickly you become so close to people when you spend 8 hours a day together (and then go for happy hours, sight-seeing, out to dinner, and in our case, dancing on the weekends!). The looks we got when we went out were awesome – this is easily the most internationally diverse group of people I have ever been a part of. How often do you see an American hanging out with an Afghan and a Colombian, a Portuguese person, a Dutch person, and a Japanese person; a Cameroonian, a Tajik, a Venezuelan, and a Swazi?!?! And that’s not even all of us! The final day of the program we were both elated (we did it!!) and sad (we have to say goodbye??).
Our instructor for Week 3 left us with the following thought [paraphrased]: “Being a steward of the current system is not going to work. It is simply not enough. What we need are innovators who know how to collaborate for positive social change.”
SO MUCH happened in the last three weeks that I am still processing! I talked to some of my new friends and they feel the same way. Luckily, the final part of DPMI is a short written paper, where we get to process on paper and answer the following question: What is your personal development philosophy?
What is YOUR development philosophy?