Thursday, July 31, 2008

Teach for America Goes Global


Last September Teach for America announced the launch of Teach for All, a new organization that will support entrepreneurs in other countries who are pursuing the development of the Teach For America model locally. Funded by the Clinton Global Initiative, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Amy and Larry Robins Foundation Teach for All is to be the international "franchise" of the TFA model. The basic model is for local organizations to channel the talent and energy of their countries’ top recent college graduates against educational disparities facing tens of thousands of children in their high-poverty communities. Initially Teach for All will support programs in India, South Africa, Estonia, Israel, and Germany. The program will raise $25 million over three years.

The Dell Foundation provided $2.5 million to support the initiative in India. According to Michael Dell, “India, with its 400 million children, stands to benefit greatly from the development and training of top leaders who can present the wonders and advantages education has to offer. We are pleased to support the international expansion of Teach For America, as its proven approach to placing effective teachers on the ground will ensure that more children in India are given the educational opportunities they deserve.” In addition to the support of these foundations, Teach for All is heavility supported by pro bono consulting from McKinsey & Company.

And the results of this effort are already being felt. Teach for India, in cooperation with the Times of India, is preparing a major roll-out this fall. According to the new Teach India website,

"Teach India is a nation-building initiative (or social initiative) from the Times of India that brings together children in need of education and people who can contribute a little time towards teaching them. It is based on one simple principle: If you have the desire to teach, we will put you in touch with underprivileged children who are willing to learn. With over sixty of India’s committed NGOs, corporates, schools and social organizations already supporting our cause, we now look for selfless individuals to come forward and help change the future of a child forever, by giving just a few hours a week to Teach India"

So far the program is proving to be wildly popular. A variety of companies have signed on as sponsors. The initiative is receiving virtually daily coverage in the Time of India. According to a report on July 31st, Teach India had over 55,000 volunteer applications--way above the 10,000 that were anticipated. So great has been the interest that Teach India has had to expand the program, seek new partners, and find new opportunities to involve volunteers.

Teach for All is an amazing initiative that ICP wholeheartedly embraces and supports. We have long known and seen the benefits of youth civic engagement and are happy that others in the field are taking an increasingly international approach. The time is right to invest in youth civic engagement in South Asia. That's why ICP is following Teach for All's example and launched our own South Asia program. Look for details in a future post!

Youth Service in the EU

In a recent article from the Times of Malta, the European Commission’s plans to expand international youth service within the EU were announced. There are already several existing programs to do volunteer work, but most lack the ability to volunteer across national borders. In light of the potential for volunteer work to act as another dimension of education, this has struck an especially positive note. The article elaborated on the plans:
Thus, volunteering is being taken one step ahead as a cross-border opportunity to offer "young people a special experience that can have strong beneficial effects on their personal development."

In fact, earlier this month the European Commission launched a proposal with the aim of "encouraging member states to improve the interoperability of national youth volunteering schemes in order to make it easier for a volunteer from one country to participate in the volunteering schemes of another."

The initiative targets people under the age of 30 who wish to carry out voluntary work in another country rather than in their home country.

"Such voluntary activities differ from formal employment, since they are usually unpaid (except for some pocket money and expenses) and cover a limited period of time, typically several months. Volunteers are active in a whole range of areas, from civil protection and social inclusion to cultural preservation and the environment."
This type of program is incredibly valuable, as it allows youth an opportunity to gain a sense of solidarity with their peers across the European Union. Not only will this benefit the host countries, but the volunteers themselves stand to reap considerable rewards for their efforts. The consequences of their work could include increased proficiency in foreign languages, breaking down cultural barriers, and the acquisition of marketable skills in an increasingly competitive job market. Once this program is established and running, it will be exciting to see the results unfold.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Deadly Youth Riots Erupt in Kenya

Over the weekend, more violent riots broke out in secondary boarding schools across Kenya. Numerous dormitories were vandalized and burned, leading to one death in Nairobi and roughly 200 arrests. The upheaval has caused 200 schools to be closed across the country in the last 3 months. Articles from and BBC have attempted to explain why young students across the country are violently protesting school administrations by destroying millions of dollars of property and killing a classmate. One student blamed the upcoming mock exams. Some have blamed overcrowding since the government’s recent increases in school attendance due to a new bill offering free secondary education to over a million students, while others eye complaints of poor food quality for boarders and unbearable rules enforced by the administration. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education blames a ban on corporal punishment passed 5 years ago for creating a nation of undisciplined and violent youth.

How does this crisis relate to youth service or national youth service policy? Kenya’s situation exemplifies the significance and challenges behind how a government views and treats its youth population. The events have highlighted a clear communication breakdown between the youth and the government. The current government is in transition from a punishment-based education system to a modern education policy based on expansion through equality. This change and potential instability alongside major education initiatives cannot be understated. Although Kenya’s education minister, Sam Ongeri, had good intentions in paying the tuition for 1.4 million more students this year, Kenyan infrastructure has been as of yet unable to support this expansion and as a result, the youth cannot be expected to tolerate insufferable learning and living conditions. In dealing with these issues, Kenyan youth need to find and be helped to find a voice and stake in their futures as citizens.

Kenya does have a national youth service policy that was instated shortly after independence. However, the service policy is focused on internal security, recruiting police officers and members of the military. In June of this year, the National Youth Service budget was increased by $3 billion, creating 15,000 more jobs – 8,000 police, 1,000 nurses, and 6,000 teachers, illustrating the government’s emphasis on primarly internal security. This is reasonable since Kenya has experienced violent social turmoil due to elections and youth discontent in the last year. Thus, the government treats the youth as both a security liability and the answer to security. This measure is divisive, as there are youths in government service under the national youth policy attempting to control the civilian youths fighting to have their grievances heard. In considering a means to achieving sustainable peace in Kenya, the need for the 8,000 police and $3 billion budget increase could be diminished if youth programs for service were created to proactively address the students’ issues. These could include after-school programs that build schools, teach food preparation, hold gardening classes to improve quality of produce, or the planning and hosting of youth conferences discussing national testing and elections. Of course this is the idealistic approach: Kenya’s youth improving school’s food quality while learning to garden or sitting at a round-table to discuss the unfairness of national tests. This would mean the government’s perspective on youth would again need to transition from viewing the youth as a group that needs to be controlled to a group that has a positive and active role as well as acknowledging the group’s potential contributions to the democracy.

Until productive strategies and programs are in place, successful public schooling will be a dream, just as independence from oppressive colonial leadership was nearly 60 years ago. Weathering the storm of change towards progress instead of reverting back to older systems will push Kenya towards a more inclusive democracy. National youth service programs based on community welfare could be the peaceful means for Kenyan youth to publicize their grievances and help incorporate Kenya’s youth into a more consolidated democracy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music National Service Initiative (MNSi) and the Music Service Corps Proposal—A Logical Next Step for National Youth Service Policy?

A recent Blog by Kiff Gallagher on Huffington Post explores the merits of creating a national service to bring music to underprivileged areas of the United States. Gallagher reports on the Music National Service Initiative’s MusicianCorps, which would attempt to foster the “critical skills a child develops when she struggles with her instrument, writes a song, joins a band or finds her voice in a choir”—skills that would help a young boy or girl succeed and contribute to the economy and help address future challenges. These capabilities are also what employers in high-end industries look for in their search for productive, flexible, adaptive and imaginative employees.

The correlation between engaged and active youth and music education has been proven in a variety of instances. Involvement in the arts results in lower rates of recidivism, 17% higher rates of graduation and better test scores in English and science. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that young men and women love music. In a MTV survey cited by Gallagher, teens said that music “defines them more than family, moral values, religion and style.” MusicianCorps would provide a medium through which successful and more affluent people could connect and impact society for the greater good—transcending social and economic boundaries.

This truly innovative route towards civic participation deserves support and advocacy from any service oriented non-profit. Already on board with the MNSi’s proposal are City Year and ServiceNation, who are both organizational partners. This group, led by MNSi, has begun to push legislators for consideration of an Artist or Music service along with current GreenCorps and HealthCorps Initiatives. MusicianCorps is a logical addition to US national youth service policy in the spirit of the founders of AmeriCorps.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

IANYS Conference Plans Progress During Susan's visit to Paris

Last week, ICP’s Executive Director, Susan Stroud, spent a day in Paris meeting with our partners at Unis-Cite and AVSO to work out some details of the planning process for the 8th Global Conference on National Youth Service.

The conference will be held at the Fondation des Etats Unis at the Cite Universitaire in Paris from 19-22 November 2008. Last spring, ICP became the secretariat for the International Association for National Youth Service (IANYS), a global network of practitioners, researchers, and policymakers working in the field of national youth service, service-learning, and youth development. IANYS hosts a global conference every two years, and as the new secretariat for the network, ICP is responsible for hosting the 8th Global Conference. We have partnered with IANYS Global Council Members at Unis-Cite and AVSO to host the conference in Paris, and received the venue as a generous in-kind donation from the US Embassy in Paris.

Plans for the conference are progressing very well. Conference sponsors include the University of Minnesota, UN Volunteers, the European Commission, and the Benoit Foundation…and more are coming in each day. We also have secured Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS, to be a keynote speaker at the conference.

Check out for more news as plans for the conference progress.

Photos: IANYS Conference Planning Committee in Paris from Left to Right:
Elise Depecker, Susan Stroud, Magalie Schickele, Agnes Uhereczky, Marie Trellu and Universite de Paris, Cite Universitaire

Friday, July 11, 2008

Botswana Announces 5th Annual Youth Awards

Rewarding Youth Service is important in motivating increased participation. Botswana has taken a lead in nationally recognizing youths and projects that have made a difference in local communities. Earlier this week the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture announced the start of the process to nominate and give out their 5th Annual Youth Awards.
Ministry arranges 5th youth awards

The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, through the Department of Culture and Youth, will be hosting the 5th Botswana National Youth Service Awards this year.

The awards ceremony will be held on 28 November. As the National Youth Service awards seek to recognise all deserving youth nationwide, the department has started mobilising the youth to nominate their projects for the exercise. The awards seek to reward young people who make a difference in their communities in terms of development and empowerment.

The awards are for projects that have been primarily thought, planned and carried out by the youth and also individuals or youth groups whose services and objectives are aimed at youth development.

The theme for this year's awards ceremony is: "Young People's Active Participation in National Development Processes: An imperative".

Entry forms are obtainable from all District Youth offices countrywide. The completed forms should be hand-delivered to the District Youth offices by 25 July, which is the deadline.

Youth Service requires motivated membership, and awards are especially effective in achieving this goal. National recognizance also increases visibility of the programs and projects, helping involve non-profits and stimulate funding. Indirect forms of compensation are pivotal in successful Youth Service Programs, as evidenced by the scholarships and tax credits given to members in countries across the world. Botswana's 5th Annual National Youth Service Awards are an effective example of this strategy for increasing participation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Millennial Generation: Serving Main Street or Wall Street?

A recent New York Times article by Sara Rimer has again raised the question of the civic role of our nation’s elite universities and their privileged graduates. The article examines the perception that a growing number of Harvard graduates are forgoing careers in public service (or at least public interest) for more lucrative jobs on Wall Street with hedge funds, investment banks, and consulting firms. According to the article, 20 percent of Harvard graduates were heading into financial services and management consulting this year. As Harvard education professor Howard Gardener put it, “Is this what a Harvard education is for? Are Ivy League schools simply becoming selecting mechanisms for Wall Street?” To many of us who have never been part of the “Ivy League” the professor’s shock seems somewhat ironic—“becoming,” really, becoming? After feeling slighted for approximately 30 seconds when I failed to make the “Ivy” cut I proceeded to one of thousands of other extremely rigorous private or public institutions that dot the American higher education landscape, where I received an education worthy (I think) of any investment bank or federal agency. But I digress. Perhaps Professor Gardener and Harvard’s new president Drew Gilpin Faust are on to something? Certainly they are not the only ones to worry about the supply of qualified public servants.

In May Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) introduced H.R. 6160 The Roosevelt Scholars Act of 2008 to establish a scholarship program to encourage outstanding graduate students in “mission critical” fields to pursue a career in the federal government. The legislation would provide for the cost of graduate tuition for up to 5 years of study in exchange for at least 3 and not more than 5 years of service in “mission critical” federal positions (Mission-critical positions are those a federal agency identifies as essential to achieving its core functions). According to the Office of Personnel Management, approximately one third of the government’s top scientists, engineers, physicians, mathematicians, economists, and other highly specialized professionals will be retiring in the next five years. A report by the Partnership for Public Service suggests that over the next two years, our largest federal agencies project that they will hire nearly 193,000 new workers for "mission-critical" jobs.

What seems apparent is that the retirement of baby boomers, particularly those in public service will create an enormous demand for a new generation of civil servants. However, the rising cost of a college degree and the growth of student debt combined with the difference in compensation between Main Street and Wall Street is bound to push graduates towards private gain at the expense of the public good. Now, I am all for private gain, but I am also for individual choice, and I know that some graduates, if given the choice (i.e. it was financially viable) would select a career in public service. Money aside, there is of course the question of the relative ‘prestige’ associated with the two career paths, but on the whole I think the relative prestige tends to reflect the differing financial rewards rather than say, an underlying cultural value in favor of derivatives trading. Perhaps, (it certainly cannot be ruled out) I am woefully out of touch with the present culture. Otherwise it would seem the question is one of incentives: Are public servants sufficiently compensated? Are investment bankers over-paid (as the shareholders of Bear Sterns)? Should graduates pursuing careers in public service (as opposed to financial services) receive the same support in their course of study?

Regardless of where you come down on the first two questions I think most people could agree that it is in the public interest for public monies (in this case federal financial aid) to give preference (the two should not be mutually exclusive) to students who in turn intend to pursue a career in public service. And on the whole I think most people would agree that it is in partial fulfillment of their civic role that University’s offer financial assistance to students interested in public service that may not be available to students on other career paths.

Thus, the most sensible means of adequately staffing public agencies and encouraging a new generation to consider public service is to incentivize education in exchange for service. Doing so could take the form of the Price-Shays legislation that would award scholarships in exchange for federal service. It could also include increasing the AmeriCorps education award and tying it more closely to the rising cost of a four year degree (as opposed to the CPI) as Senator Dodd’s National Service Legislation would. The new GI Bill is another means. Or perhaps the creation of a U.S. Public Service Academy--based on the model of the military academies—which would train an elite cadre of dedicated civil servants (the Academy similarly noted and responded to the Times article).

Finally the examples set by Universities like Amherst, Tufts, and U Penn should inspire other institutions to consider their own civic roles (Tufts will pay off student loans for graduates who choose public service professions). It’s time for the folks at Harvard to quit their hand-wringing, put their money where their mouth is (all $ 36 billion) and follow the example of innovators like Tufts. Maybe then the John F Kennedy School can again claim to be a school of government.

National Service Continues to be an Important Election Issue

Using the July 4th holiday as a pulpit, presumptive Democratic Nominee for President Barack Obama's July 2nd speech at CU-Colorado Springs has continued to consolidate and strengthen his argument for increased patriotic service by every American.

Obama backs the current bipartisan GI Bill introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and called for an Educational Tax Credit to motivate increased civic engagement. Obama's vocal support of service legislation is coupled with public calls for a reorientation of American society--"We were ready to step into the strong current of history, and to answer a new call for our country. But the call never came. Instead of a call to service, we were asked to go shopping."

This is the most important and progressive part of Obama's National Service platform--for the first time in recent memory a high level American political leader has made a concise appeal to our patriotic instincts and coupled it with feasible legislation to motivate increased civic engagement. Support and acknowledgment of the power of youth civic engagement and service learning is the first step towards educating a generation of young men and women on the merits of positive and constructive patriotism.

Article Addressing McCain and National Service

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Zimbabwe National Youth Service and the 2008 Election: Lessons for the National Service Community

In recent days, the political climate in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate, as hopes for a peaceful democratic transition have been dashed. Last week, in the face of growing violence and repression, opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the Presidential Election Runoff between himself and President Robert Mugabe. Although election monitoring is not typically within ICP’s purview, the role of the faulty Zimbabwe National Youth Service (NYS) in a campaign of state-sponsored repression and violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change clearly necessitates ICP’s comment.

Zimbabwe’s National Service Act of 1979 created rules for who could be incorporated into the Zimbabwe National Youth Service and the military; however, it was not until 2001 that a formal NYS program was created. The Service was created as an alternative to school for 10-30 year-olds and was intended to be a gateway to national economic and social development. The Zimbabwe National Youth Policy states in part that,
“It is acknowledged that the development of young people in Zimbabwe requires the involvement of different groups and sectors. The National Youth Policy, therefore provides a means whereby these different sectors (Government, Non-Government, Community, and Private) as well as young people themselves, can work together to achieve common goals.”
However, the function of Zimbabwe’s NYS has diverged from its mission as stated in the 1979 Service Act. For example, many of the camps have been shown to be centers for political indoctrination and military training that serve as a pipeline to the ruling party militias, called the Zimbabwean African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Zimbabwean youth are drawn to NYS by the promise and advantage of better work opportunities, as many jobs only consider candidates with NYS alumni status. However once in the NYS camps, many members encounter brutal conditions and are coerced into learning military skills.1 According to The 2008 Child Soldiers Report published by The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers,
“Training centres provided militia training in a 120-day program for 1,000 young people at a time, although numbers declined as the economic and food crisis intensified in the country. Several thousand children and young persons had received training by March 2007. Training focused on paramilitary skills and political education, and allegedly included torture and killing techniques. It was reported that girls were repeatedly raped by other trainees and staff.”
Rather than contribute to the socioeconomic development of the nation, ZANU-PF sponsored groups have been used in order to intimidate, injure and kill political rivals since as early as the 2002 Presidential election. Firsthand accounts, verified that “uniformed graduates of the youth service” perpetrated violence against opposition political supporters. This trend has continued up until present, as the ruling party has continued to use the NYS to perpetrate acts of aggression towards political rivals and supporters. According to the 2008 Child Soldiers Report,
“Youth militia, as well as ruling-party supporters and the army, were used to intimidate the opposition in the 2005 elections. Youth militias were also deployed in “Operation Sunrise”, in which they harassed motorists and commuters when a new currency was introduced in 2006. Violence involving youth militia intensified from March 2007, with reports of beatings, abductions and arbitrary detention targeting opposition figures. Militias were used to enforce price controls, especially from mid-2007 in “Operation Reduce Prices”, when youth militias were sent to enforce price reductions of 50 per cent by supermarkets, shops and stalls. Allegations of political intimidation and attacks on opposition supporters, forced displacement, killings, torture, rape and the destruction of property by members of ZANU–PF youth militias continued up to the end of 2007.”
Not surprisingly, this violence has carried over to the hotly contested 2008 election—during the time between the disputed outcome and the resultant runoff, at least 80 opposition supporters have been killed and 10,000 people injured as well as twice as many homes destroyed, and over 200,000 displaced by the violence. This has culminated in the withdrawal of opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai from the race citing danger to both the survival of his party, The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and his supporters. Tsvangirai was quoted as saying, "Zimbabweans . . . have withstood years of brutality, impoverishment and intimidation. But we in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their votes on June 27 when that vote could cost them their lives."

The Zimbabwean Ministry of Youth Development and Employment Creation has denied opposition accusations that its members have participated in and helped organize the recent political violence. They maintain that NYS programs instill patriotism, discipline and self esteem in the members and are much like the National Youth Service programs in the US and other western countries. However, what separates Zimbabwean NYS from effective youth service programs like AmeriCorps and the South African NYS is the methodology used for reaching these goals.

National Youth Service as a concept is vastly different from what the Zimbabwean government has applied in practice. Innovations in Civic Participation defines National Youth Service as “A civilian program in which young people spend several months meeting local communities’ needs in exchange for minimal financial compensation. National youth service programs provide young people with training, essential self-knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience.” National Youth Service in the Zimbabwean context means service towards the support of the ruling party resulting often in violent action to suppress opposition politics, which itself is a violation of the human rights that youth civic engagement is meant to express.

The National Youth Service (NYS) of Zimbabwe is a corruption of the ideals of National Youth Service. Civic engagement is meant to be constructive, yet the actions of the Zimbabwean NYS are divisive, counterproductive and have corrupted at least a generation of young men and women—teaching them that fear and violence are the way to achieve change.

International experts fear that the rampant political indoctrination and militarization occurring in Zimbabwe will lead to ethnic cleansing and civil war. NYS programs require effective oversight, funding and participation to achieve positive changes for countries and for young and eager participants. NYS is meant to promote positive and active engagement to improve society and hold leadership accountable. The Zimbabwean NYS has achieved the opposite, through youth engagement in ways that rupture the fabric of society and support the ruling doctrine. Youth Service should serve as an environment for the incubation of one’s own political ideals, cultivated around an understanding of shared fate and community responsibility.

Zimbabwe’s problems prove how powerful youth groups can be. When this collective strength and eagerness is harnessed correctly, important community building can result. However, when they are formed with ulterior motives, for political indoctrination or as a militaristic youth corps, NYS groups become powerful tools against community building, inclusive government and peaceful society—fighting against the very goals of youth service and service-learning initiatives across the world.

1 Rejoice Shumba’s “Social Identities in the National Youth Service of Zimbabwe” is an extensive exploration of how exactly the Zimbabwean NYS operates.

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