With over 30,000 university students and professionals mobilized in the past 10 years, I’m not at all hesitant to say that Global Brigades must be doing something right. Empowering volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities is at the heart of our mission but how have we had such remarkable success and growth in such a short period of time? This is the question I hope to answer as I reflect on recent events including both our Global Brigades Gala and the Canada-Wide Exchange.
To begin, it is important to note that Global Brigades has not grown in result of major grants nor external funding. We are a movement thriving on generous contributions of a community of great breadth and diversity. Our Global Brigades Gala, an annual Mount Allison event, raised over $10,000 this year directly supporting the importance of community for the growth and prosperity of our Global Brigades movement.
The gala was a product of many minds, including students, staff, alumni, and community members. A single shared vision within this community was the driving force behind all of the hours invested in planning the event, which in the end proved fruitful on all levels. Bringing together prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, university officials, alumni, and Global Brigades representatives made for a memorable evening of shared stories, prospective, and most importantly dreams for a prosperous global community. It is these dreams and visions that inspire and empower such a diverse community to make remarkable things happen. Whether born and raised in the warm Californian sun, the chill of the great white North, or the dry Honduran heat, the resonating vision held by our community fuels this movement beyond the capacity of any external funding. As often surfaced by our Chief Empowerment Officer, Steve Atamian, “it is not I, or we, it is us”.
Immediately following the Gala, I was fortunate to head back to Mount Allison to welcome student leaders from the University of New Brunswick, Dalhousie University, and Acadia University as we gathered for the 2014 Global Brigades Canada-Wide Exchange. We assembled as one community to exchange ideas, beliefs, concerns, and best practices in hopes to strengthen our programs, inspire our minds, and ignite expansive growth in the Canadian programs. As the event facilitator, I pride myself on the fact that I did very little! The exchange was designed to offer opportunity for dialogue between assorted arrays of students taking on a diverse number of roles. Rotational breakout groups first highlighting general topics (i.e. programmatic discussions, the use of curriculums, etc.) and then focused in on more specific topics as the day went on (i.e. executive leadership transitioning, group fundraising, etc.). With only 15-20 minutes per station, students were prompted to be productive and quickly engage in the topics. Designated student facilitators who were familiar with the topic area, were placed at each station to ensure the conversation flexibly maintained its intended direction. Having an exchange rooted in this structure proved productive for both generating and exchanging visions and ideas between programs thus exploiting the diversity of our community and the value of our networks.
Although much of the above sounds “fluffy”, value was also placed in challenging our views, beliefs, and practices within Global Brigades and engaging the non-supportive and/or more critical community. Intentional discussion and reflection on criticisms, mispractices, and challenges was a real part of this event, first with Steve’s town hall style keynote address and then with the “meet the critics” portion. We opened the keynote address to the surrounding community sending invitations through academic departments and public forums. The intention was to get everyone in the room thinking about how we approach global development, while demonstrating the true responsiveness and humility of the Global Brigades organization. The following morning, we allowed students to engage more directly in a 50-minute discussion with “critics” who were invited and briefed from across the Mount Allison community. This opportunity allowed for all of the information shared over the weekend to come together and apply itself in a less isolated setting. As per its value, I believe engaging our external community, whether supportive, non-supportive, or critical, will continue to provide direction for the future of our organization while strengthening our student leaders. It should go without saying that even our external community has, and will continue to have, major influence on our capacity to grow and prosper as an organization.
Reflecting back on my initial question, without forgetting in-country community members, this weekend demonstrated that it is not only prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, university officials, alumni, and Global Brigades representatives that have allowed for such remarkable growth but it is also those who are non-supportive, questioning, and critical. Retaining humility within this organization and moving forward constructively and reflectively, as if we are all still students, is of great virtue and ultimately promises even more growth and success for years to come.
This blog post was written by guest blogger Alex Whynot, the Global Brigades Campus Chairperson of Mount Allison University.