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Looking ahead

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Boston, USA

Looking ahead: Young and Female Voices in Community Development

At an address to the Class of 2009, Harvard University President Drew G. Faust cited a passage from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, in which Didion described her husband’s view that their joint trip to Paris took place in the right spirit: “He meant doing things not because we were expected to do them or had always done them or should do them, but because we wanted to do them. He meant wanting. He meant living.” President Faust explained that Didion “was referring to life as a kind of improvisation: that magical crossroads of rigor and ease, structure and freedom, reason and intuition. What she [Didion] calls being prepared to go with the change.”  

These words have guided my first weeks as an Insight Collaborative Fellow. Logistically, my ten weeks here are a pastiche of designing the community service projects I will undertake in communities around the world in the following year, fundraising to sustain these projects, and meeting experts in the fields of international law and negotiation. Through these processes, I am beginning to identify the questions and themes that will guide my service and travels.

Emerging Themes: Community Development through Focus on Youth and Women

In observing women on campaign trails, in speaking roles at conferences, or in leadership positions in organizations, I have often noticed a dichotomy in their presentation, as they struggle to strike a tone that is both assertive and warm, persuasive and likeable. This is a tension I am interested in understanding better, both through familiarizing myself with literature in the field and by designing projects that can help women navigate the challenges of leadership, public speaking, negotiation, and managing conflict. The first theme of my fellowship is, therefore, a study of women as public speakers, negotiators, and leadership figures.

Another theme related to my interests in education and community development is the integration of conflict resolution principles and applications into curricula for youth, whether as part of their standard education or as a supplement to it. Diversifying education by introducing themes and modes that do not fit into the traditional classroom experience presents a unique opportunity to appeal to youth in a different way. I was, therefore, excited to hear that Insight Collaborative is pioneering the Peace Education Project, an initiative that aims at educating primary school children on conflict resolution. Insight Associate Holly Dranginis has been on the ground in Uganda, establishing contacts with local leaders, parents, and educators in the hope that the pilot phase of the project can be launched in the fall of 2009. I have been corresponding with Holly and working with Insight staff on fundraising for the project, and I’m examining potential ways to integrate a placement in Uganda in affiliation with the Peace Education Project into my broader studies of community development and the position of women and youth within it.

Finding a Voice

One of the early challenges I have been facing relates to finding a voice.
I attended the graduation of a dear friend and was exposed to thousands of proud parents, siblings, and coughing stragglers who liberally spread their (swine?) flu to me. My first days as a Fellow were hence marked by coughing that was violent enough to warrant glares by fellow subway riders and multiple attempts to self-diagnose on Google by entering inventive queries such as “how do swine flu symptoms differ from the traditional flu” (Answer: They do not). 

And then there were the challenges of finding a voice that tea and prescription cough syrup have not quite solved. In my coaching sessions with Insight staff, which have centered on effective communication, becoming a better public speaker, and authentic negotiation, I have struggled with finding a speaking and presentation style with which I am comfortable. I am used to divorcing livelier, warmer and more animated mannerisms from my public speaking style, which Insight Consultant Michael Kalikow aptly and humorously characterized as “ clear and poised—but not indicative of the fact that you necessarily have feelings!” 

Gertrude Stein said the following about humans’ inner conflict around sharing themselves and their thoughts: “when they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone. After all, human beings are like that.” One of the goals of my training this summer is to lose the stiffer ‘presenter voice’ and adopt a public speaking tone that evokes a range of emotions, in an attempt to not only become a more effective presenter, teacher, and facilitator, but also to bridge this chasm between public and private selves, being with others and being alone. 

Looking Ahead

As the first couple of weeks wraps up, I am beginning to think about community service projects in the Boston area and learning opportunities. Among the milestones to which I am looking forward in the next few weeks of the Fellowship are:

  • Designing and implementing a ‘Conflict Resolution Day’ for Boston youth attending summer programs in collaboration with local organizations;
  • Observing a negotiation and effective communication workshop with Insight Consultants;
  • Meeting professionals in the field of dispute resolution to discuss opportunities for placements abroad and obtain recommendations for readings on the topic of women as public speakers/leaders/negotiators and youth conflict resolution education;
  • Attempting to learn proper French through something other than Carla Bruni song lyrics;
  • Working with Insight staff on finalizing details for the Silent Auction for the Peace Education Project and identifying more potential sponsors for my own projects abroad.