The Experiment Leadership Institute held a send-off event for the departing group of students to India and South Africa at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington, DC, on July 7.
Program participants, World Learning board members, Global Advisory Council members, alumni of The Experiment and other World Learning programs, and staff enjoyed official remarks and lively conversation among the artwork and refreshments. Experiment alumnus and Global Advisory Council member Mark Hanis served as the special guest speaker, discussing his experiences creating positive social change through social entrepreneurship.
Carol Jenkins, president of World Learning’s global development and exchange programs, provided opening remarks and emphasized that diversity is key to building mutual understanding and trust.
“World Learning believes we can have a more just world when we bring people together from different countries, backgrounds, and religions to learn and share experiences,” she said.
While the national conversation on racial and social inequality in the US is gaining momentum, World Learning has long recognized the need for study abroad to be inclusive. The Experiment is sending a geographically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse group of 30 high school students to South Africa or India through the Leadership Institute to learn about civic engagement, leadership development, and global issues.
Participants convened in Washington, DC, before traveling to either India or South Africa. While abroad the students will focus on public health in India and social justice and human rights in South Africa, before reuniting in Vermont to synthesize their experiences and develop service projects to implement back in their home communities.
Dede Drouilhet, a student from New Orleans, travelling to India, is excited to expand her knowledge of public health.
“I knew I was interested in public health, but I didn’t realize how broad the topic of a public health is,” she said. “We did a workshop where we were discussing what public health includes and it is above and beyond what I thought.”
The success stories and challenges of past Experimenters reminded attendees about ways in which The Experiment empowers young leaders and encourages innovative thinking through thoughtful approaches to travel.
During his remarks, Hanis recounted the impact his Experiment trip had on him and his career in social entrepreneurship. He grew up in Ecuador and in high school went on The Experiment to Italy. Later, at Swarthmore College, Hanis co-founded the Genocide Intervention Network, now United to End Genocide, which encouraged young people to lobby Congress to intervene to stop the genocide in Darfur. Drawing on his success promoting positive social change at a young age, he spoke of the importance of finding innovative solutions to problems and how putting pressure on policy makers can be effective.
“When examining a problem ask yourself, ‘what’s missing?’” he said. Later he added that when considering how to contribute to social progress its worth taking time to “learn something really well” in order have a “meaningful conversation” about effective strategies.
Hanis emphasized that it’s important to be mindful of what you ask of your audience as most people will only take action if it’s “easy, effective, and entertaining.” He said he often used the “five-minute rule”, explaining that if the “ask” action couldn’t be completed in five minutes or less than most people wouldn’t take the time to do it.
Aaron Morehouse, executive director of The Experiment, also shared his thoughts on developing novel solutions to pressing issues. He emphasized the importance of bringing students from different backgrounds together in the program to “break the cycle” of injustice.
“Diversity spurs creativity and innovation, which we need to look at the problems,” he said.
Morehouse said that it’s helpful to learn about other people by listening. Experimenters must “learn and not to teach, to be quick to listen and slow to judge, to expect the unexpected, and to turn a crisis into an adventure.”
Following remarks, guests shared their own stories and offered advice. They supported the idea that intercultural experience abroad and even within the U.S. helps promote understanding, compassion, and a lack of complacency in an unequal world.
Illinois student David Clay is also heading to India. During his time in Washington, DC, Clay felt that he learned more about the US from fellow participants than he expected to learn about India.
“Being around so many people of so many different races, with so many different ideas makes me think that the world is such a bigger place than I thought it was,” he said. “And I’m learning so much from everybody no matter if they told me or if I observe it from them.” Clay later added the experience opened his eyes “to what America is really like.”
Clay is also concerned about the lack of diversity in social entrepreneurship, his field of interest. He hopes his time in India will support his passion for entrepreneurship by making him more adaptable, enabling him to understand different perspectives, and using that knowledge to help diversify business and entrepreneurship. He eventually wants to teach financial literacy to minorities in order to improve equality in the United States.
In a conversation with Morehouse, Clay inquired about his opinion on how to build a more fair and just society. Morehouse said that the path to ending racism and prejudice means coming to terms with the fact that the United States and many countries in the world have a long history of oppression. Morehouse said it’s important to “recognize the pull between power and privilege” examine those privileges and “ensure that our institutions are doing that as well.”
Alumni also gave participants advice about how to make the most of their program. Drouilhet said she was had been nervous about the homestay experience, but speaking with Bill Crocker, a 1949 Experiment alumnus, helped make her less anxious about living with a family she doesn’t know and more excited about the trip.
Reflecting on her conversation with Crocker, Drouilhet noted, “He said that the homestay has really impacted his life and he was able to get really close with his homestay family and his homestay mother and stayed in touch with them for decades after The Experiment. She added: “Hearing that makes me that much more excited for it and ready for it.”
By the end of the event many of the students said they were ready to gain the skills and lessons needed to create positive change when they return home. It also reminded attendees of the ways they can use their position within society to strengthen their communities. World Learning programs are designed to develop the necessary tools for lifelong civic engagement and address critical global issues.
“We face so many problems in the world that we need good problem solvers, communicators, networkers,” Morehouse said. “We need people that are resilient and we need creativity.”