Categories
business education innovation maori psychology

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

To say that Mana Forbes has a background in education and IT is a massive understatement.  He worked on computers when they had whole rooms, and is heavily involved in education including Te Wananga o Aotearoa, including Te Mana Whakahaere Council, Hamilton Raroera Campus Manager, Foundation Director Te Arataki Manu Korero (Elders traditional knowledge Diploma Course), Foundation Manager Te Puna Rangahau Iwi Research, Foundation Trustee Aotearoa Scholarship Trust, Foundation Executive Member of Te Runanganui o Ngati Hikairo, and the Foundation Licensee of the first Early Learning Centre Raroera Te Kakano.    His educational philosophy is one of empowerment based on capabilities and an understanding of self and purpose.  He is now working with Minded to bring these resources he has developed to the mainstream.

 

Talking points

Opening the door to participation

Looking and thinking: we don’t need to be the same.

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

Nurturing the desire to care

Developing a sense of responsibility

Celebrating success

Fulfilment of your exit strategy

Cries we should be following are those of young people left by wayside of schools operating on a paradigm of one, without communication and relationship

Project-based learning: whole of person and guide them through

Get it out there – at scale

Sustainability: Replenish

Success: Minded.  The development of the course, I think the direction of what we are teaching is so important for today’s learning, and so important for preparing people for living and communication and working relations.

Superpower: My ability to connect the dots and work alongside with other skilled people.

Activist: In some regards yes, the areas that I have passion for I will embarrass myself and people around me and thump the table to make a change, I don’t want people walking out the door thinking that I wasn’t passionate about this particular purpose.

Challenge: Trying to get the establishment and trying to work with the government structure and understand their way of thinking.

Miracle: For the ministry of education saying that we realise the benefits of this and we need to have this in all of our high schools and middle schools.

Advice: If you can make a difference, work out what that might mean to you, your family and the wider community.

Categories
education

Helping people transform themselves

We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now.

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. This show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, who’s not here tonight that’s why I’m driving and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who’s making a positive difference in applying their skills to a positive future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Glenys Ker who is a colleague of mine. She variously describes herself as a career practitioner, educator and she has got more degrees than anybody. I think it’s seven and she is almost at the point of having a doctorate of Professional Studies because it’s getting submitted in the very near future. Welcome.

 

Glenys: Thank you.

 

Sam: Where did you grow up?

 

Glenys: Geraldine.

 

Sam: What was it like growing up in Geraldine?

 

Glenys: It’s the perfect childhood, small town, everybody knew each other, everybody did everything together so lots of sports, church, guides. Yeah, great growing up.

 

Sam: What were your parents doing in Geraldine?

 

Glenys: My dad was self-employed. He was a milk vendor. My mum was a nurse, palliative care nurse.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grow up?

 

Glenys: At what age?

 

Sam: Early teenage, getting past the astronaut and the train driver.

 

Glenys: The dancer and the fairy. I probably wanted to be a nurse, but my mum was a nurse so at the teenage years, you don’t do what your mother is so, I decided I’d be a teacher.

 

Sam: What did you think that being a teacher would let you achieve?

 

Glenys: One of the first things I liked about teaching was all those holidays, but I had some really good role models as teachers at Geraldine High School and I loved the way they influenced young people so, I think primarily, it was if I could influence people that appealed to me.

 

Sam: You went off to Teachers College?

 

Glenys: I did a one-year course at then community college, Timaru, South Canterbury Community College in Secretarial Studies so accounting, business management type stuff. Did a stint in those days, work experience as a legal secretary and while I loved that life, I didn’t like the role of the secretary. While I was there at polytech, the teacher was sick and I said, “I’ll take the class.” Unbeknown to me, the people from teacher training college were there and that is really how I got into teaching because they thought I was the teacher. I went off and did … What was it called in those days? Commerce, I guess. Yeah, so I went off to training college. It was a bit of luck really.

 

Sam: Did the teaching education deliver on what you hoped it would?

 

Glenys: Yeah, it did. Those are early years, late ’70s, and they let you experience teaching. You got to play and the lecturers were … You might even know one of them, Burt McConnell. He was my history teacher at Geraldine and then, he ended up at training college and so it was kind of neat, but it was that sort of playground of figuring out how to tune kids onto learning, which I loved. The subject area was totally irrelevant. Economics and accounting, that’s the most boring topics, but also at training college, you could take off and do other things….that kind of thing appealed to me.

 

Sam: Did you find yourself teaching?

 

Glenys: Yeah, oh, yeah. I’ve been teaching ever since in some form or other. Yeah, initially, secondary and then, back to the polytech that I first studied in so Timaru, Aoraki and then AUT, and then to Otago Polytech, so all sectors of tertiary, yeah.

 

Sam: What led you from high school to tertiary?

 

Glenys: I came home because one of my parents was sick and I was teaching at two schools in Timaru. I went back to Geraldine to look after my mother and someone found out I was there and said, “Oh, you want to come to the polytech and teach?” Ten years ago, I was a student.” That’s how it started and I loved adult teaching. People tended to come to polytech because they wanted to whereas secondary school, kids went to school because they had to. There was quite a shift so that was exciting really.

 

Sam: How did you get from there to careers practising  education?

 

Glenys: Yeah, that’s another story. I taught at Aoraki. I tended to teach certificates and diplomas and office systems, business type programmes and a lot of outreach programmes. I’d be putting typewriters in my car and roaring off to [inaudible 00:05:54] and teaching in the tennis pavilion, and I loved that kind of life. Then, how did I get from there to where?

 

Sam: Careers.

 

Glenys: Careers. Then I went to Auckland and decided to have a break from teaching and bought a café in the heart of Auckland. Then I taught unskilled people to work in cafés, but my heart was in teaching and AUT had a job, a part-time job going in student services so, I went into the learning centre and helped people learn, who needed extra support. Then, the director of student services at the time set up a career centre and I ended up temping in there. Then, one day I thought, “I can do this.” At the same time, they created the grad dep and career development, more grad [inaudible 00:06:49] so, I thought I’ll study that. I thought teaching career development, there’s some similarities and there’s some differences. That’s how … I fell into that, too, but again, if you look at the thing, helping people figure out what they want to do and be helping them learn. There is a theme there.

 

Sam: Where do you think that theme came from initially?

 

Glenys: It’s really interesting. It’s not ’til you’ve grown up that you actually accept that you are your parents’ daughter. My father had had other jobs, a traffic officer and a mechanic, and he actually liked working for himself. He was autonomous, independent and ahead of his time and so he picked self-employment. In a way, there’s a theme for me as the independents. The other is my mother was in the field of helping people. Her nursing career took her into social work. Then there was a time where she went and lived in people’s homes and cared for sick people. She was in the hospital system. She was in the hospice system. In a way, that’s all about helping people, isn’t it? I think I’m my parents’ daughter really.

 

Sam: You’ve certainly inherited somehow that entrepreneurial spirit?

 

Glenys: Yeah, very much so.

 

Sam: Not just in businesses, but audacious ideas and going off in different directions.

 

Glenys: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a way of being, isn’t it, taking risks and saying yes to things rather than confining yourself, yeah.

 

Sam: When you actually eventually sat down to do a Master’s in Career Development, was it stuff that you knew or was that an eyeopener for you?

 

Glenys: The Master’s was amazing and it was an Australian programme and it was like there’s plenty of open scope to what you chose to learn and they took you through almost a generic career development and then, a specialist and then, a very strategic so it fit in my personality. The supervisor of the programme liked the different students and there were two of us who neither saw the world as it was and we ended up lecturing on their master’s programme. I think that, again, that was a lecturer or a teacher that sparked my interest and I saw career not just as a career counsellor helping people in redundancies or getting a job or writing a CV. I saw it much bigger than that. Yes, it did open my mind and lift my thinking to a different level, which meant I can do anything I wanted.

 

Sam: Do you have something resembling a philosophy of learning?

 

Glenys: Depends what you mean when you ask that question. Learning is something that you do and I think with … I don’t know. What is it? [Bastardised 00:10:18] it? In a way, we believe that it’s our job. We’re the experts and we should tell people what they need to think and learn, and I don’t believe that if you go back to early, little kids, they don’t learn by being told what to do. They learn by observing and watching and doing and making mistakes. I think you and I have talked about the child that learns to tie their shoelace. They didn’t go through a lecture to learn that. They didn’t read a book. It’s practice, practice. I think learning, it shouldn’t be confined. It should be fun. People should want to keep learning. I don’t know what it would be like to stop learning. It should be a way of being, rather than something that you sign up for.

 

Sam: Where did that vision and that passion for that vision come from? When you went to teachers’ college, you said it was you were able to experiment?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Did it come from before that?

 

Glenys: It must’ve because if you look at my … As a young child, like 8, 9, I was in charge of the brownies and then, I took girl guides out on tramps and I taught young people how do to do stuff. I think, is it in your DNA? I think I’ve always had that love. I don’t think I learned it at training college. I think training college gave me the opportunity to experiment how you could tune kids on to learning.

 

Sam: In terms of career practice, you say it’s more than teaching people how to do a CV. When does it start? Do we start it too late, too early?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Where do people get these ideas?

 

Glenys: About what they want to do and be and think?

 

Sam: Mmm.

 

Glenys: Usually at primary school. Career development should be then. It’s really native. If you can think back to when you were 4 or 5, you probably wanted to be a fireman or I don’t know, what did you want to do at 5, Sam?

 

Sam: Not sure what I wanted to do at 5. Through high school, I wanted to be a set designer.

 

Glenys: A what?

 

Sam: Set.

 

Glenys: Set.

 

Sam: Set designer.

 

Glenys: Right. In movies and …

 

Sam: Mmm.

 

Glenys: Yeah, yeah. I think those ideas stem from a very young age and they usually stem from role models, don’t they? You watch what someone does and you go, “I wonder what that’s called that they do.” As a young child, I wanted to be a policeman. Policeman? Policewoman. I wanted to help people, but I was too short in those days and I did want to be a nurse. It starts at such an early age and it’s up to parents and all sorts of people to motivate or grow that, I wonder what you could be. I think also the downside is perhaps for young people today is they could be anything if they only knew what it was because it’s information overload.

 

Sam: Do you think that we, not scare that out of people, but almost beat it out of them?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: This desire to do something, achieve something, but then we label it and we make them do accounting or economics and things through high school?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: All of a sudden, they’re not changing the world. They’re being an accountant.

 

Glenys: Yeah, they’re confined and I think that often, the people that have a part to play in that role, like I always am amused sometimes when kids love history at school so the teacher tells them to be a history teacher. Seriously? Why don’t they brainstorm all of the things a kid could do because of their love of history? Then the traditional kid that’s good at sport, “You need to do phys ed.” We turn them off. We haven’t been creative about what that could. I think that at [Aor 00:14:34] growing up, we had to be something. When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor, a nurse, a policeman, a fireman, a secretary, whatever. Kids these days, they grow up and we’re teaching them that they have a range of skills, a range of interests and so then, the hard bit is what could that look like? We don’t want to stifle that in young people.

 

  I talked with someone today and she said, “I’m just a.” That makes me sad. I said, “I’ve just looked at your CV and I don’t even understand the words you’ve got on it that’s awesome what you do. I have no idea.” She went, “What do you mean you don’t know?” I went, “I don’t understand what you’ve written down. Tell me about that.” Her eyes lit up, but she still was “just a.” That’s very sad.

 

Sam: You and I work for Capable New Zealand.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: You can give us the introduction to what it is.

 

Glenys: Capable New Zealand is an innovative school, part of the Polytech that’s probably in the business of helping or supporting or guiding people who already have significant skills and knowledge, significant experiences, and they want to grow and enhance that, change it, open it up, shake it a bit. It’s not for younger people with no experience because they do need to go and learn about stuff. These people come and often, they want their skills and knowledge from experience validated against a qualification and we help them do that. I guess the fun that’s about there that people have horrendously amazing skills and knowledge. They just don’t know that and so, the reflective process that we take them through helps them to really think about actually they know a lot and then, as that confidence grows and that knowledge and awareness happens, they’re open to new thinking, new learning, new ideas. That’s what’s fun about where we work.

 

Sam: That is the subject for your doctorate.

 

Glenys: Yeah, yeah. Yes, it was the subject. Is it was yet?

 

Sam: No, no, no. You have to actually hand it in for it to be was.

 

Glenys: Okay. Yes. I set out to survey over 400 people who had undertaken two qualifications. I picked those two because they are the most popular so the Bachelor of Applied Management and the Bachelor of Social Services. They had gone through an intensely reflective process with us and I wanted to know what they learned, what they thought about, what changed, what they’re doing now as well as what could we do better, that’s always good because 99% of those people had a successful journey, successful learning process and their lives had changed. For me, how neat is it to write about that?

 

Sam: In what way their lives changed?

 

Glenys: They had a new language. They had a set of skills that they actually believe they now had. It gave them the confidence to challenge new jobs or take on new directions or continue learning. A lot of people have gone on to do master’s and I’m sure they’ll be back to do the doctorate, which we’re going to be offering, aren’t we, Sam?

 

Sam: Almost there.

 

Glenys: Almost there, yeah. Confidence, identity, new brands, new language, all those things happen.

 

Sam: In what way is it new learning, in which way is it ticking off the boxes of the stuff they’ve already got?

 

Glenys: Yeah, a lot of people hope that they’re ticking off boxes and that isn’t what it’s about. Often, the first piece of new learning is understanding how to reflect, how to go, “How do I know that? Where did I learn that?: All those questions that you just asked me, I know that because it’s inherent in my upbringing. I can’t lie about where I grew up, but the first job, what did you learn? How did you learn how to take kids tramping at 11 years old? What did you do about risk? People love that because it takes them back to stuff they’ve done and so often, the first bit of new learning is to learn how to reflect. I’m always blown away when people haven’t.

 

  Then the next bit of learning is often how to write, write differently, write professionally. Not necessarily academically, but to write coherent sentences that make sense, that sum up information. Some people learn how to research, how to find out more about stuff, to be curious. Some people learn that they actually have a lot of skill and knowledge, that they have an identity so, they no longer say, “I’m just.” There’s lots of learnings. Then people invariably at the end of the learning process, they pull together their skills and knowledge into a framework or a model, a practice and then, you see the old me and the new me, and that’s quite transformational.

 

Sam: Does learning have to be transformational?

 

Glenys: It depends on your belief about what transformation means and usually, transformation is as a result of something that changes and it changes and it has an impact on you for today and the future. I think sometimes, people just don’t understand what transformation means. Even the kid that learnt to tie their shoelace at 5 is transformational, though they probably won’t say that.

 

Sam: How do they learn how to transfer that new learning about themselves or this transformation about themselves to their new self?

 

Glenys: It comes out in many ways because part of the assessment process, they … A lot of it is written reflection so, they do have to do that and they often get evidence to attest to stuff they’ve done, but then they sum up and they orally articulate who they are and what they are and why they are and what their values and beliefs are and what they’ve learned to a panel of assessors, and as they speak out loud, they start to believe more so than writing it down. We see the transformation. We see the new language, the confidence, the identity that’s changed and often, you’ll see it in their CV or even just in the way they talk about themselves. When they say, “This is who I am and what I am and why I am,” they couldn’t say that at the start. Also, the fact that two people who have experience are assessing them so they know it’s kosher.

 

Sam: When we talk about developing sustainable practitioners, the sorts of things we’re looking for, it’s not as simple as saying that we want them to make sure they’ve got the recycling title to them, that-

 

Glenys: The light bulb, yeah.

 

Sam: Yeah. It’s very much a set of attributes, systems thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking. Is that something, do those things come through that reflective process?

 

Glenys: Yeah, yeah and in many ways and in many different ways. So often in social services, you’ll often hear people not only thinking about their own self-care in horrendous jobs. They’re thinking about supporting other people to have safe lives and healthy lives, and also the communities. While you were talking, I was trying to think of all of the things that you come through. Sustainability is also developing skills for the future. It’s quite interesting. They often start out with the light bulbs and the recycling and then, they start to push it out around economic stability, sustainability, social sustainability and it’s neat to see that happen, but it does come out and if it hasn’t, naturally, we talk about that. We bring in people like you to talk about it.

 

Sam: When they’ve gone through the process, do you need to cover each of those things or if you’re going to have a decent conversation with about ethical frameworks, does that go wider to things like sustainability?

 

Glenys: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to see it as a holistic process rather than a discrete set of tasks and often, the learner can’t do that at the start. In a way, we’re a connector, a joiner of dots. We help them start integrating stuff. That’s neat to watch, too, because a lot of people do control their life by putting it in boxes. Of course, we know that that isn’t so. It’s the whole self as well and you see that ability by the time they’re finished to combine information and knowledge and thinking.

 

Sam: Do you think it’s an easier process than going to class?

 

Glenys: No. No. No. No. I don’t, but I think it’s a more valuable process, a more acknowledging process that people have spent 20, 30 years of their life developing skills and knowledge and learning from it to recognise it and acknowledge it and validate it. Sometimes, it’s hard because we’re stretching people. We’re not just … There’s always new learning so, we’re pushing them. If you can see that they have a strength in sustainability or business improvement or HR development, we’re pushing them all the time. It’s a stretch for them and I’ll often hear learners say, “I hated you,” and so we …

 

Sam: You’re talking about yourself there, not me.

 

Glenys: Yeah. No, sometimes. That’s part of it, but it’s not easier. It’s just more validating when you’re an adult. Yeah, you can’t equate it.

 

Sam: All other things being equal, if you were advising an 18-year-old that was choosing should I go and do this work or should I do this degree, and if I don’t down the work route, I’ll go through a reflective process later, how would you balance that?

 

Glenys: That’s an interesting question because usually, young people don’t make decisions on their own. They’re highly influenced by their family. They want to make their mum and dad proud or their parents have huge influence where they’re expecting them to do that BCom. Then they can do what they life after that or they’re influenced by their peers so everyone’s going to uni to do a BCom so we’ll all do that. I think that’s the sad bit and the hard bit.  Some people quite naturally have a disposition to want to go to university or polytech straight away and get stuck into learning new stuff and being part of a class environment and that’s really cool. Some people, like I’ve got quite a few kids that actually needed to work and figure out what it is they actually love and it’s okay. Doesn’t matter when you do your study or learning or how you do it.

 

  I think there’s no one size fits all, but the skill of a career practitioner is to challenge the thinking of a young person and that can be hard if mum and dad are in the career session or if their mates are because they’re highly influenced by that. Because study is so expensive, you don’t want to set them up to fail. From my experience, kids that go to uni or polytech, I’m not talking about one specific, go onto higher education and they don’t enjoy it and they fail, then their loss of confidence is far greater than if they go and get a job at the supermarket for a couple of years and learn about management. That’s always of a worry to me.

 

Sam: I described you as a career practitioner, an educator and various other things. You described yourself in one point just then as a connector, a joiner of dots.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Other than doing dot to dot puzzles, how do you describe yourself?

 

Glenys: That’s a hard question because depends who asked me the question as to how I answer, but I’m in the business of transforming people’s lives and whatever that means, whether it’s career counselling or supporting a friend or tuning someone on to learning, I want to help people have a better life. The people that don’t need me, that’s fantastic.

 

Sam: What happens if their idea of a better life is quite clearly wrong?

 

Glenys: Firstly, there’s a whole lot of ethics in that.

 

Sam: I was winding you up for that question.

 

Glenys: Okay.

 

Sam: No, that sounds good anyway.

 

Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Someone says, “I want to learn to be a burglar and rob people off, old people’s homes at night,” I’m probably going to challenge a whole lot of things around that and try and put them onto something where they can do something less illegal. I don’t want people to do harm or do anything illegal so, I would probably have to say that. When I worked with elite athletes, one of the codes is no drug taking and things, and so you have a duty of care to people to keep them safe and to get them the support, even if they’re not telling you and career practitioners have a code of ethics, too. Equally, I could have someone that comes to me who’s been in gaol for 10 years and actually has decided to have a better life. It’s about not judging that and finding a pathway.

 

Sam: You described it as a facilitation process. Is that a subset of teaching, different to teaching?

 

Glenys: It’s got the same traits.

 

Sam: See, I know the chapters in your thesis.

 

Glenys: I know. Yeah.  It is the same as teaching, but it’s teacher centred. Teacher centred? Student centred learning. If you look at the literature around what a good teacher does, they support, guide people. Yes, that’s where it is similar, but I might add, we don’t want to be the experts in other people’s lives. We want to help them be the expert, but sometimes we need to be the expert because they’re not there yet, but it’s how you do that. I like to call it the dance, but you don’t like that, Sam.

 

Sam: If we can presume to advise the rest of education, what could they learn from this reflective learning process?

 

Glenys: Predominantly, teachers are fantastic. I’ve seen some fantastic people in classrooms tuning kids onto learning, using applied methods. I think for 100 really good teachers, there are probably 5 that should’ve left. I actually think by and large, they are doing the right thing. They’re tuning kids on, they’re trying to find ways to motivate them, to help them to learn, but often, that’s also up to the young person. They might be in the wrong class or they just might need to grow up a bit.

 

Sam: You said you never see the world as it is.

 

Glenys: No.

 

Sam: What do you see?

 

Glenys: As it could be. What’s the Kennedy quote? “Some people see things and say why. Yeah, I see things and say why not.” It’s the last glass half-full mentality. I always tell the story to my students that I sat on a bus one day to the airport when I was young, 19, and I engaged in a conversation with a much older man because I’m a chatty person. In those days, you don’t have cell phones or iPads. When I got off the bus, he offered me a job in a very important company in those days and that’s how it should be. I could’ve said yes, but I was on a pathway where it was exciting and I didn’t need that opportunity, but it’s about looking for opportunities and saying yes to stuff, developing that resilience. There’s been very few times in my life that I’ve said no to stuff. As a self-employed person, people would say would you take this job on? I said yes to everything. Probably not very sustainable in terms of work life balance, but that’s how I learned.

 

Sam: In terms of not seeing the world as it is and in terms of transforming people’s lives, mostly, you’re talking there about individuals. Do the same things apply if we scale it up? Can you do this for societal level problems?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: How?

 

Glenys: Putting people into groups, into cohorts and working together. Is that what you mean?

 

Sam: No, I’m thinking about solving world hunger, sustainability.

 

Glenys: Oh, okay.

 

Sam: Can we apply these sorts of principles and ideas at a much larger scale?

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: How do we go about doing that?

 

Glenys: Give me an example. Someone comes in to see you and says, “I want to solve the world, I want to save the world, I want to solve world hunger.” What would you say?

 

Sam: I would work with them to try and work out what they were talking about in terms of, as we talked with Ray and Alysa over the last couple of weeks about the relationship between the problem space and the solution space and those things go around in circles as opposed to a more traditional model of we’ll just define the problem and then-

 

Glenys: A cycle, yeah.

 

Sam: The solution will appear.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: I think it’s as you go round and round, you get better at understanding what’s happening.

 

Glenys: It is very cyclical and that’s very … I’m just trying to understand that question though because often young people don’t know what they want to do and don’t know what they want to be, but they have a fundamental wish to make the world a better place. I’d be interested to see what that could look like and how we build young people to develop skills to do that because that’s a big bold goal, isn’t it?

 

Sam: Yeah. Do you think that, where are we on the numbers if you like? If we put make the world a better place on the other end of a continuum, maybe we can’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway, to I want to drive a big car and earn lots of money?

 

Glenys: You do get that. The people will often take engineering or plumbing, that’s the latest, because it’s the biggest earner at the moment. The fact that they don’t enjoy it and have no passion for it is totally irrelevant. They can apply themselves to learn that skill and then, they can earn big money.

 

Sam: Is it as obvious as a gender separation on that?

 

Glenys: No, I don’t think so anymore. There’s plenty of young women that have the same attitude. Those people need to go into social service types jobs, the helping professions.

 

Sam: Do we have a duty of care? You talked about that duty of care that we have for our individuals. What do you think that we as educators, what’s our duty of care on a much bigger perspective? What are we trying to achieve as a whole?

 

Glenys: I think the word sustainability comes into play here again. What is the future? What does it look like? How do we help people have sustainable futures? What does that look like? Because I think there’s a lot of people that don’t even think about that. We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now. There won’t be jobs for life. There won’t be the jobs that we currently have. There’ll be roadblocks doing that. I think some people don’t really appreciate that. We do have a duty of care.

 

Sam: If someone comes in and says they want to be a, whatever it is that we are pretty sure isn’t going to survive much longer, do we plan to talk them out of it? How do we manage that?

 

Glenys: I don’t know that you talk them out of it, but you challenge the thinking. It’s the kid that says, “I want to be a doctor.” “Tell me why you want to be a doctor. What is it that a doctor does that appeals to you?” Because often, they have no idea. We have a duty of care to broaden people’s minds and perspectives.

 

Sam: Which leads me to the questions about the tensions in your data, one of things that came out was the people that said things to the effect of “I liked that how nurturing they were and how they mostly challenged me?”

 

Glenys: The paradox.

 

Sam: The paradox.

 

Glenys: Yeah, will isn’t life, the paradox? Also, that helps people develop resilience. You don’t want them to want to only be nurtured. The skill of a facilitator is knowing when to be what. If they’re having a vulnerable moment, you’re not going to push them at that moment. You are going to be kind and caring, but then you’re going to slowly push them, keep them moving.

 

Sam: Do you think your understanding of paradoxes, is that a fundamental thing that’s missing from our whole education? We’re too good at teaching people black and white or that’s what we tend to do, and it’s actually the subtleties that matter?

 

Glenys: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I think … but I start to see a lot of people using a lot more case studies, real life issues these days where they are exposed to that. When you’re 18 and you’re trying to fill someone’s little brain up with a whole lot of knowledge and information, that’s quite an interesting concept, isn’t it? There needs to be a lot more applied practical exercises, really scary ones.

 

Sam: You’re talking about there won’t be jobs for life. What is the future of work?

 

Glenys: The future of work, certainly no job for life and for people to be really adaptable, flexible, mobile. What’s really interesting is facilitators work differently. We seldom work with learners between 9 and 5 because our learners are at work. They’re online with us at 8:00 at night when their kids are in bed or they’ve got an hour or Saturday morning. We work differently and so that flexibility, that ability to go, “Oh, I’ve got nothing on this afternoon. I might go to the gym and get the groceries and go and visit a couple of people because tonight I’ll be working,” it’s a total mind shift. It wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t anyone in the office, Sam, because they’ll all be working differently. Also, that whole self-employment thing, you’re only as good as your last contract. People have to understand what that means. There’s no expectation of an employer funding your lifestyle that you think you deserve. Those kind of things are gone.

 

Sam: We have this idea in education that we’d like to be doing things…something about lifelong learning.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Are we really?

 

Glenys: I like to think so. If you tune people onto learning and motivate and enthuse and inspire people and find the things that do spark their interest, then surely that … Lifelong learning doesn’t mean doing what I did and doing a whole range of qualifications. Learning doesn’t have to be attached to anything. What did you learn today? Can you tell me five new things you learned?

 

Sam: I could, it might take a while to think through them. Yes, I think I could.

 

Glenys: Yeah, so just tell me one thing that you learned that was new for you today.

 

Sam: I’ve been in assessments all day so, I need to be careful about what I’m talking about with the individuals, but there’s some ways that people have matched their professional framework to what they’re doing, which has actually been quite interesting things, and the different models that people are using for doing that was really interesting today, and that the difficulties of applying standard research methods to this kind of stuff, but they’re recognising that the  work that people are doing particularly at the master’s level, we can’t simplify. It’s not we can’t do the research by reducing everything down to a single factor and just testing that. It’s people are in their messy work and that the participants in their research are their boss and their colleagues and the people they’re managing and their customers, and we need to pull all that together so there is really different things about what we’re doing. I had some insights about that today.

 

Glenys: Yeah, that’s why the literature on work-based learning is exciting because it explains that. That will be hard for some people to transfer their thinking from traditional research and academia to professional practice. I think that’s a leap, isn’t it? Because you don’t have to attach your thinking to 50 other theorists that said something.

 

Sam: The challenge as work is changing, but particularly at the master’s level, but also to some extent at the undergrad is that people are describing jobs that, they’re doing them, but don’t exist as a recognised discipline despite the fact that they’re doing that work. They’re defining their own framework of practice.

 

Glenys: Yeah, and also you will be hearing cross-disciplinary approaches. Traditionally, people studied subjects like business, social services, accounting, nursing. What about the people and work where they don’t … Like today, I had a good example, a lot of people didn’t line up to anything. Our professional practice qualifications are perfect because it’s about their professional practice, which is multidisciplinary. It’s management. It’s economics. It’s accounting. It’s business improvement. It doesn’t fit into something. It’s melded together. Then all of a sudden, there’s a new project so they’re off doing quantity and quality control.

 

  I also don’t think people understand how resilient they are where they, “Go, yeah, it’s new. It’s all part of the job,” and yet they’re still working in the same organisation, but they’re doing complex work. That’s another thing. People aren’t going to be subject specific. They’re going to be very integrated. I think our professional practice qualifications are a way bit ahead of its time for some people because they keep thinking, “Oh, is that management then or what fits under there?” That’s neat when they get to that point. We just need an undergrad there.

 

Sam: I’m getting there.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Glenys: Sam.

 

Sam: You can’t just say, “I’d ask Sam.”

 

Glenys: Yeah, well, that’s one on the spot. I don’t have one. I’d have to think about that.

 

Sam: What do you say to a learner that says, “Why should I care about this stuff?”

 

Glenys: What would I say to them? Why shouldn’t you care? Usually people come from communities that they do care about … they care about the land. They care about the people. Then you find that when you say, “Oh, well, so in 10 years’ time when there’s no fresh water,” they start to think about it and they do start to make changes. Yeah, different communities see it quite differently, but people don’t say that to me, Sam, “Why should I care?” Even young people don’t say that anymore. I think young people have got a much bigger sense of social responsibility. I think that era is past, of leaving the tap running while you clean your teeth.

 

Sam: You’re not finding people saying, “Oh, but I’m a,” insert discipline here, “It doesn’t apply to me?”

 

Glenys: No, I’m not. I see some people not looking at it in its full depth, but when you show them places to find out about it, they always come back with really rich stuff and new stuff that you wouldn’t have thought about. I think that’s neat where they figure it out, but you’re just doing some prompts like, “What about this?” Yeah, I’ll have to think of a good throwaway definition though that’s …

 

Sam: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Glenys: My passion, transforming lives, I know that, but my passion is the second chance learners. I love the people that university or higher ed or polytech wasn’t for their family. It wasn’t for them and so, they left school at 15 and got a job. Then a lot of the athletes I work with that hit rugby or cricket at a young age and sport was their identity and sometimes English is a second or third language, I love those. I love helping them make a difference. I think that’s where if I had a choice, it’s where I’d stay. I’ll leave the masses for you, Sam, but I’ll do the review of learning and the things in your life. It’s helping people who didn’t think that this was for them, being the first in the family.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What is the super power that you’re bringing to the team? Not the one you wish for, the one you have.

 

Glenys: The super power?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Glenys: Maybe you have to tell me. I don’t know.

 

Sam: You see, the thing about these super powers is that they’re not magical. That’s the point. They are things that everybody could have.

 

Glenys: Super powers? I don’t know. A super power?

 

Sam: I’m going to put words in your mouth here. Is it a belief that you can make a difference for other people, with other people?

 

Glenys: I don’t have an ego that it’s about me. It’s never about me. My motivation is when you see their families at graduation and you see them cross the stage. For me, I don’t need to be important in that process. I need to make that clear, even though it’s cool when they go, “Thanks, Glenys. I really hated you.” It’s more that I’ve tuned them on to something they never thought was for them and tuning people onto learning is important to me, however that learning is. I’m not necessarily qualification focused, but for some people, they do want a qualification. Our oldest learner is 86. He wants to graduate with his great grandson. How awesome is that?

 

Sam: That’s pretty awesome.

 

Glenys: Yeah.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Glenys: God, what is the definition of an activist?

 

Sam: You get to define it in your answer.

 

Glenys: Someone who sets out to make a difference, someone who sets out to change the world.

 

Sam: If we go for that, are you one of those?

 

Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Come on, super powers and activist. I don’t use those words, Sam.

 

Sam: What motivates you? You said families at graduation, but that can’t get you out of bed every day.

 

Glenys: It does actually. Helping people does get me out of bed all day. Making a difference, watching that spark of interest and sometimes, it takes five or six months to see it, but I always like looking for the glue. I don’t care … You know how people tell you a story. I don’t always listen for the facts. I listen for the bits they don’t see.  I listen for the glue and then, I come back to it. People talk about that and I often don’t know how I know, but I find it, all the gold. That’s fun. I can dine out on that for hours if I’ve found that for someone.

 

Sam: Not trying to be an expert on their lives, but perhaps some sort of magic mirror.

 

Glenys: Yeah. Sometimes you are the expert for a while because you can see they’re struggling so you are guiding them and giving them more help and information for a while and it’s knowing when to let that go. It’s just not that whole traditional I’m the expert and you’ll listen to me for two hours while I talk at you.

 

Sam: We’ve got a minute to get to three questions. Biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next year?

 

Glenys: Actually, it’s crossing the stage with that red gown. It’s never been about the graduation, but somehow I think it will be.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?

 

Glenys: Personally or professionally?

 

Sam: You can pick.

 

Glenys: That everybody could afford to learn, to study, to get those qualifications, to make a difference, that education was free.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Glenys: If you are one of those people out there that have significant skills and knowledge from experience and would like to see if that matches something, I’d love to talk to you.

 

Sam: That sounds fantastic. Thank you very much.

 

Categories
education leadership

Designing learning that makes a difference

 

 

 

 

 

If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.

 

SL: Tonight we’re joined by Ray O’Brien, and he’s a learning designer at Otago Polytechnic. Welcome to the show, Ray. How are you doing?

 

Ray: Good evening.

 

SL: Obviously, that accent isn’t from around here, although this studio is full of accents that aren’t from around here. Where are you from there, Ray?

 

Ray: Originally from the West Coast of Scotland.

 

SL: What part of West Coast.

 

Ray: The original Helensburgh. Still a little bit uncanny here in Dunedin seeing the transplanted Helensburgh in the buses.

 

SL: What was it like growing up in Helensburgh on the West Coast?

 

Ray: Other than windy and wet.

 

SL: Yes.

 

Ray: It was actually a great place to live. Some was referring to pure adventurers there. That’s certainly something that moulded the early part of my life getting up into the mountains and it’s right on the boundary line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so to escape up into the hills in Helensburgh was great.

 

SL: Fantastic. You went to school there. What were your favourite subjects at school?

 

Ray: Probably physics and if I look back a dream if there was outdoor ed, but there wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a subject I did anyway I missed enough days of school to go up into the mountains that I can count it as a subject.

 

SL: Do you obviously decided to go to college at some point, so what did you do there?

 

Ray: It wasn’t physics. It wasn’t physics. It definitely wasn’t physics, no. I actually cards on the table confession time, I went to university to become an accountant and then during my recess at the end of the first term, I realised that that probably wasn’t the life for me and I switched over to human resource management.

 

SL: All right. Where did you study? Where were you studying?

 

Ray: The University of Sterling. Again, the choice of university was more about getting into the mountains than it was about any academic concerns.

 

SL: Exactly. Sterling is quite a small town and so you had … How big is that? How big is the University of Sterling?

 

Ray: Oh, I’m not sure the figures now. It’s grown a lot since I was there but when I shifted from high school, a very large school, to university, I think there’s only 500 more undergrads there than there was number of students in my high school.

 

SL: Of course, Sterling is a very famous place and it’s a beautiful little castle and it’s kind of like a miniature Edinburgh, really. You studied human resource management and you graduated with that.

 

Ray: Yeah. With that and then started working in the outdoors but trying to combine the two, looking at development training. Did a little bit of work with the oil industry doing team building for people that worked out on the rigs and working for companies like Outward Bound and taking a development angle on adventure and the outdoors.

 

SL: Fantastic. That was you’re based out of Aberdeen, was it?

 

Ray: That was where the oil industry stuff was, yeah.

 

SL: Okay, cool. You did that and decided what’s next on your adventure. What happened next? You’re out in the oil industry, decided what to do next.

 

Ray: Yeah. I was delivering development training for the oil industry guys. I was never managed to get on a rig myself. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that.

 

SL: Going out on the helicopters at the North Sea.

 

Ray: Yeah. The dunk tank test would have got me, I think. Then after university, like I said, I moved north and I started working at Adventure Training Centre run by the Sports Council. It was much more performance coaching rather than developmental, and that led on to a job working for the military for eight years developing leaders and guides for their adventure training activities.

 

SL: How do you train for leadership? How do you do that? People say you’re a natural born leader or not. How do you train people to lead? What are the key requirements?

 

SL: Take them up a mountain and lead from there. If they lead their way down, then you’re a leader.

 

SL: Yeah.

 

Ray: It’s an interesting question and I think can you teach leadership or can you develop leadership. I think it all comes down to what opportunities you can offer people and how you can help them to relate it to their everyday context. With the military, my job was to work mainly with senior NCOs and officers and find adventure situations that let them practise the skills of their organisational skills, their communication skills, real situations that didn’t have the consequences of them being in theatre, and yeah, and much, much bigger risks.

 

SL: What is leadership? What is that as a concept?

 

Ray: How long is this talk?

 

SL: If you give a brief description of what leadership looks like.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: Is it telling somebody what to do?

 

Ray: No. I think it has been viewed as that in a traditional sense of leadership. Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s the people who earn the respect and that respect is usually earned through some form of service to the people that you are leading. I think that’s morphing now and that leadership is not as commonly seen as a one person leading and more about the collective leadership and people taking leadership roles within a more equal group.

 

SL: You’re going from kind of a hierarchical system to kind of a team, more team egalitarian system. Have there been major shifts in society that have driven that or is that just yeah, this seems to be more effective role or is it both those things?

 

Ray: I think it’s situational. I think it depends what we are valuing or wanting in society. If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.

 

SL: Was this exclusively with the British Armed Force or did you work with other militaries, as well?

 

Ray: It was a Joint Service Mountain Training Centre, so yeah, it was all the British ones.

 

SL: Okay. What happened after that? That was obviously a major adventure.

 

Ray: It was a learning, it was a great adventure and it had me on expeditions all around the world for five or six months a year, but then I had a daughter and I didn’t want to be away from home for five or six months a year and it was time for a change, and that change took the form of a year’s leave of absence where we all came across to live in New Zealand for a short time to try it out, and here we are 13 years later.

 

SL: Ah. You came to New Zealand and where did you land, first of all, or where did you arrive?

 

Ray: We tested it out in the classic Brits in the camper van around the ski areas for a winter. Then went back and organised our work and packed up our house and moved to Hawea, just outside Wanaka.

 

SL: You just fell in love with the place yeah, this is where we want to be, this is where we want to bring our daughter up. Yeah. Fantastic. Are you still based in Hawea?

 

Ray: No. Moved down to Dunedin two and a half, three years ago.

 

SL: All right, wow. Fantastic. Now, you’re teaching, you’re a learning designer. Describe for me what a learning designer is.

 

Ray: I work in a team of amazing people who do a combination of facility learning design where lecture staff and teaching staff take the courses they’re already teaching or take new programmes and look at different ways to bundle up, reshape it, modernise it, change the way that it’s taught, and align it with more strategic frameworks, so it really meets the need of today’s learners. The other half of the team work on how can we build assets, such as online learning, all of the different resources are required to support that, and also how can we help the staff. Because a lot of the changes are quite significant. How can we make sure that they’re fully supported to be successful?

 

SL: How does this modern teaching environment, how is it different from the traditional lecture setting, talk to class, give them the lecture, students taking the notes, and then asking questions in tutorials? How is the modern classroom different now for people who haven’t been in there for a while?

 

Ray: Yeah. I think the main thing, the main myth to bust is that we’re going from a modern classroom to, from a traditional classroom to a modern classroom, and I don’t think that new model exists. I think it is much more varied than, perhaps, a traditional here’s a lecture hall. Typically, when you look at some of the things that polytech does across trades and different work contexts, what we really need to find is a blend in that learning environment. That blend can be a workplace, a real workplace or a simulated it. It could be classroom-taught sessions. It could be online resources and it’s finding the optimum blend of those things for that group of students and that topic to make sure that they are the people that are getting employed at the end of it are the first choice of people to be employed at the end of it.

 

SL: How do you assess that? How do you decide, okay, for this group of students, this mix for them and for this other group of students, this is the mix for those students and those two learning environments might be quite different. How would you assess which students, what models to which students?

 

Ray: Yeah. The core of our design process is human-centered design, so we spend a lot of time looking at who are the learners. That’s not necessarily who the learners sat in the classroom today are. It may be looking at what new groups of learners might be coming in, how we could change it to allow access to other groups of learners. I guess to give you an example of that, some of the new business courses that we’ve developed, there are campus-based courses, predominantly those groups are school leaders. We also have predominantly online courses, which most of the people on those courses are actually in work, perhaps even in management positions and the two different blends their needs differently and that’s taken into account right at the start, so what do these people need?

 

SL: Can you teach the same course to different groups of students? Like for instance, ones who prefer the more traditional method and another group, for instance, work or maybe have families and stuff and can’t make the same time commitments. Is it possible to create courses like that or?

 

Ray: Yeah. With those specific examples of business courses, there are different delivery modes for the same course.

 

SL: You get the same educational outcomes and because you’re delivering it in different ways…

 

Ray: Yeah. In terms of the learning outcomes that they match up to and it’s the same qualification. Yeah. The bar is set at the same height. Yeah. In terms of what they gain from themselves, I think if we have rich enough experience in there, then it’s not a cookie cutter experience and people can make their own meaning from what they experience, so yes, the bar is at the same height but how they interpret that and make meaning from it in their own life’s context, that will be different.

 

SL: How do you sit down with, thinking about students’ perspective, but how from the teachers’ perspective that the lecturer or the instructor, how do you sit down with them and maybe guide them through a process that might be quite unfamiliar to them or challenging the way they’ve done things for many years and how do you guide them through this process?

 

Ray: You’re absolutely right. It can be very challenging. Yeah. Particularly given we have some very good outcomes and data to say that we are getting it right, so here’s some learning design coming in telling me to change it all. There is a risk. Yeah. There is a risk. I think if we look at innovations anywhere, the risk I think is more with not looking at the future and changing more so than staying with the old model of knocking a blockbuster, whichever you want to compare it to. I think most people recognise there’s a need to change and it’s not just for the set of students that are in the class with you right now. It’s looking forward, and that’s important leverage to make people happy to take the steps and designing something different.

 

SL: Is there an actual cultural change in the kind of students that are coming through and our expectations compared to 10, 20 years ago? Is that an actual thing or is that something we kinda made up or is it a mixture of oh, we just got the new technology. Let’s just do it in a different way.

 

Ray: I guess my understanding of that in terms of the New Zealand context is, to some extent, secondhand, because I wasn’t here to witness that. I can certainly see people are being more demanding in terms of students have been more demanding in terms of a return on investment. They’re coming out of education with some hefty debts and I think it’s ethically right that as institutions, we should be designing to make sure that they get value for their money. Yeah. They are demanding that education makes a big difference for them and their lives and they’re quite right to do that, so that’s a slightly different culture from it’s all paid for and just going to study to access cheap beer and have a party.

 

SL: If you are designing a new course, how do you actually practically go about that? If you come to a course, say, I’ve got this course we’ve been teaching it for ages. How do you come in and go, okay, what do we need to do here? What’s your approach?

 

Ray: I think the first part is evaluating how the courses go already. It needs to be strengths-based. It’d be very easy to pick sticks out of any particular way we have designed in a course, but you have to look at the strength and what is going right and make sure that those things are not lost in the design. You also have to look at the student and you also have to triangulate those things with what does industry want. Where are these students going after their qualification? To be honest, that’s the real tricky one just now because how sure are we about the industry they’re going into?

 

As Sam referred to earlier, there’s as a huge amount of unknown in the future of the jobs market, so trying to triangulate that with what we’re getting right just now and who the learner is and what they need. That’s a challenge. From there, we’re looking at what do we want the graduate to work to look like, what do they have to be able to do, what capabilities do they need, and from there, it’s almost like a cascade down that’s getting down to finer and finer learning outcomes and what experiences can we put together to allow them to show those things in an authentic way.

 

SL: One of the, of course, the key outcomes for any Otago Polytechnic student coming out is that they’re a sustainable practitioner. What’s your role in helping to integrate those high-level goals and outcomes for the students like good citizens and good contributory members to society? How do you integrate those into, for instance, being a car mechanic. How do you integrate this very high-level things into something that’s very practical, cookery course for a chef?

 

Ray: Yes. There’s two parts to it. One is integrating into the course and then the other part is integrating it with the graduate capabilities framework. I’ll deal with the course first. It may well appear at that highest level at the what we call the graduate profile outcome, the big picture stuff, but it might actually, it can appear in two different ways. Some of it can be quite implicit in the way that the course is taught. The fact that things are role modelled, it could be the car mechanic because you see the workshop is organised and the materials are being disposed of appropriately, and that in every decision that’s made, there is a sustainability aspect to the decision about how things are done. It’s implicit in the environment in which you’re being taught.

 

The other part of it could be explicit, so it could be they have a project and it could be to tune up an engine to reduce emissions or how do you tweak this system for reduced emissions. Those are two different layers. The other side with the graduate capabilities framework is that every student will look at when they graduate, they’ll have a profile of capabilities across all sorts of areas that are not subject-specific. It’s about you and your employability and sustainability and being a sustainable practitioner is one strand of the capabilities there. The student could be looking for opportunities and it could be not necessarily a structured opportunity but a pure chance thing that comes up and it’s a learning moment that they can record and provide evidence against that capabilities framework to say, “Here’s an example of me making a sustainable choice in my working life.”

 

SL: Other than, because we talk about how you role model behaviour, then you make it explicit, so the implicit and the explicit instructions about, okay, think about how to do this. With those high-level goals being, for instance, a good team or whatever, a lot of those skills learned outside the classroom. How would you integrate or how would you encourage students to learn those skills outside the direct learning environment?

 

Ray: I think the key there is to try and break down that barrier where we have the learning environment and outside of the learning environment, that’s the first thing we need to break down. Really, it’s more of a continuum where you get slightly distant from the institution or you get closer within the walls of it, but the learning, the geography of it doesn’t really impact whether you’re learning or not. Again, it’s one of those myths to bust. If you’re not in the class being spoken to, you’re not learning. That’s not the case at all. Some of your base learning will actually happen as your voluntary job at the weekend, is it the club that you do stuff with.

 

Is it within your family? It’s drawing all that in and including that big picture that rich learning from your whole context, not just when you happen to be on a seat in front of a lecture.

 

SL: When you’re doing learning design, and when you talk about geography has prompted me to think about this, is that the way the polytechnic now is set up is stepped away from the lecture theatre as being the centre to being having a lot of very diverse learning spaces. Does part of designing a learning environment look at physicality of how you’re learning? Is that part of what you look at?

 

Ray: It certainly impinges on our design decisions. There’s no point when I was designing a great learning exercise or module. We don’t have the facilities to deliver that. As we publicised last week, we’ve got some major reinvestment going on at the polytech and I think the new learning spaces and changes to pedagogy and how people are learning and the options available to us, those two things ride hand in hand and yes, one has an implication for the other. I heard a great little tale of from the University of Technology in Sydney where they have just gone through I guess 1.2 billion of investment on their campus and the vice chancellor, who is accountable for the spend, was trying to prove the worth and going around and showing the president of the institution exactly what had been done.

 

He managed to find a group of students working in a learning pod with a screen around the table exactly as it has been done working independently on their project and she went up, introduced, and said, “I’d like to hear what you do and what do you think of the new spaces.” All the students smiled and looked around and said, “Great. We really wish our university had stuff like this.” While it justified the pedagogy and the environmental link, it didn’t necessarily justify the spending. The two things happen hand in hand. From that same example, she had one space, this is Shirley Alexander from UTS, and she had one space where it was very open plan, lots of pods, easy to move the furniture around. Got feedback from one member of teaching staff who said this is great. I’ve got so many different options as to how to teach at this course, teach the same course at another institution that don’t have those options. I can provide a richer learning experience for my students here because of the space.

 

The same room, she got a complaint from another member of staff who said she had designed the worst lecture hall he’d ever worked in and she saw that as a major measure of success.

 

SL: You’ve taught in a whole lot of environments and a whole lot of places, but mostly in outdoor work. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re passionate about education and the environment. I want to just loop around to educating about the environment. How are we going?

 

Ray: How are we going? I think we’re still patchy. Yeah. I think education about environment. It’s an interesting concept just about the environment because it’s actually, for me, it’s about building a relationship with the environment, not having a knowledge about the environment. Yeah. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand any of the science or any of the technology that and the, perhaps, some of the global issues that are happening who have a really strong bond and value of the land and of the environment. Education about the environment, I’m not sure that it is an about question and I think building that relationship and education in the environment is where we should be looking more to be able to make change.

 

SL: How do I teach for with the environment if I’m teaching accounting? I can understand that it’s an easy step if you’re floating down a river to be talking about the river. Yeah? It’s a harder ask if I’m teaching accounting.

 

Ray: I think you have more opportunity to scale. If I was to put my fledgling accounting student head on, then I would be on a river, I could share, I could make everybody see the value of keeping that clean and swimmable and looking at other sources of power so that we didn’t lose all the rivers to hydro. That is an easy sell. I agree. If I go into the accounting classroom, then I’ve got people who are potentially making decisions not just about how they behave but how whole organisations behave and the scalability of the decisions they’re making potentially, much huger, so helping them look at integrating the triple bottom layer and examples of that and you run a really powerful position and I believe that most students now are looking for something that’s more purposeful. I don’t think we have to wait until we had a divorce or a midlife crisis before we start looking for purpose in life. I think people are leaving school wanting to explore what is my purpose now.

 

SL: What do you do about those accountants whose purpose in life is to make a lot of money and drive a big car?

 

Ray: They will always be there. Yeah. There are always going to be challenges that are hard. Maybe that’s not why I’m not an accounting lecturer.

 

SL: Yes, but you’re helping people design accounting courses.

 

Ray: Yes, I am. I think people have to make their, it’s based on values and you can expose people to experiences and opportunities and they can still use their own values to make good decisions. Are you going to be able to change everybody’s mind? No, you’re not. Will they have experiences and opportunities that, perhaps, further down the line will accumulate and other life experiences beyond their qualification? Then perhaps you set the foundations for something later.

 

SL: Do you have a bottom line or a triple bottom line. Do you have a bottom line of how much people can must, perhaps, accept things?

 

Ray: I think when it comes to values, we are not here as an educational institution to assess people’s values. I think people can be asked to evaluate them themselves and reflect and think on it and that’s where I would say we have a really important role to get people looking at themselves.

 

SL: If we ask you that lots of times and, hopefully, they’ll get the hint. A couple of years ago you went to Nepal.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: How did that come about?

 

Ray: Oh. We had some friends who were also had also gone there and they were all teachers or educators of some form, and they got involved with an organisation called REED Rural Environmental Education Development. They were based in Katmandu but operating predominantly in the Lower Khumbu Valley and delivering teacher training programmes, which is an incredible experience. We had 10 days. Each training was 10 days long and teachers came from two or three hours walk, different villages, descended on the village that we were in, and we rotated round, my wife and I working in the English classroom. I wasn’t allowed to work in the English classroom because they didn’t want lots of Nepalis with dodgy Scottish accents so I was helping in the math class getting back to my physics roots of skill. Yeah.

 

It was a fantastic experience and certainly great to have our kids there, as well, and see them get involved with the locals and school there. A completely different educational outlook of first thing every day at school is brain gym. We’re all out in the field doing our physical shakes and moves and then into the classroom and as an educator, it was quite challenging in terms of we’ll look at changing pedagogy to be more active learning and more participation, but the bottom line is that you’re a teacher in a crammed classroom with a mud floor and there’d be 70 students of diverse ability and age in front of you, some of whom will not have had breakfast, some of whom have already done two or three hours of agriculture work before they come to school, and someone from New Zealand is coming across telling the teachers to form little groups and get them working together.

 

It’s a very different dynamic and I think that the important thing that I learned there was about just how important humility is when you’re in those sorts of positions because they know far more about what they’re doing than anybody visiting can. You can offer them some extra options. You can be there to answer some questions but, perhaps, probably the most important rule there was to validate what excellent jobs that we’re doing with what they had, yeah.

 

SL: How would you describe the difference you made?

 

Ray: The difference I made there. The key thing on the maths sessions that I did was actually the link between maths problems and their real life was not implicit in what they’re doing, so it was all very abstract examples of maths, so algebra. What examples do you teach? How do you integrate it. It was just numbers and letters on a board and making that step toward well actually, this is the price of chickens and this is the price of a kilo of rice. Yeah. Just making that link between real life and something useful and something that’s seen as quite academic and abstract. Within the classroom, that was a difference. In terms of making a difference in the broader scale, I still hold some really close links with the teaching staff and the mentors I was working with there and, like I say, validating what they do by the fact that you see the value in it from your New Zealand western perspective can give them some confidence to do a bloody hard job yeah, so yeah.

 

SL: You’ve got a value or a mission something but to make a difference.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: I’m not sure how long you’ve been using that particular phrase but you probably called it something else before. Where’d that come from?

 

Ray: I think it’s always been there. I think probably a big brother thing in there. Yeah. I’m the oldest of three so I think there is an eldest child element to that. It’s become easier to articulate. I lost a very good friend about three years ago in a helicopter crash and he’s certainly someone who lived his life. His mission was to make a difference. He was volunteering In Rwanda, and was kidnapped and had to be rescued by the SAS.  Came back, joined the Royal Marines because he thought that was a way that he could personally make a difference, become a Marines helicopter pilot. Ran lots of missions there and then realised that that wasn’t how he wanted to make his difference and that he didn’t feel that were, he was involved in were making a positive difference.

 

Left and moved to Wanaka and did some work in Papua New Guinea also setting up flying ambulances in Papua New Guinea, as well, so yeah. In terms of something that flipped the switch and made it clearer to articulate this is actually what I’m here to do, that’s probably the single event that clarified it.

 

SL: You haven’t used the term sustainability but it’s the name of the show, so I will. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Ray: Putting back more than you take out.

 

SL: Is that how you tell if it is a positive difference?

 

Ray: No because I think sometimes you can – I think it’s more complex than that. Yeah. Certainly, I think if it reflected my experience in Nepal, putting back too much could actually disempower, yeah, and reduces sustainability of it. Yeah. I guess it depends how big a picture you look at for putting back.

 

SL: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Ray: I think for me it’s got to be my kids and seeing them developing values about…I’m going to use the  making a difference phrase again, yeah, rolls off the tongue but I can see that in them, that the caring and the sharing and the things that they value and what they do in their life and I think we’ve all got quite a big responsibility to keep passing those values on, whether it’s through families or friends or relationships. It’s a way to multiply a difference it would make.

 

SL: We are writing book of these talks. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. How would you describe your superpower?

 

Ray: My superpower?

 

SL: Yeah. That you have, not that you wish for.

 

Ray: Okay. My superpower, I think probably, the thing I bring to the table is more about making connections and joining things together. Whether that’s people or whether that’s events, it’s the connections.

 

SL: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Ray: Activist. There’s so many different meanings of that, isn’t there?

 

SL: You can define it like however you like.

 

Ray: I don’t see myself out on the street with a placard chanting, so if that’s an activist, I don’t see myself as that, but do I see myself as actively trying to influence people to do more positive things? Then yes, I do.

 

SL: Lots of people answer that question. Oh, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. Then we talked to the head of policy from Greenpeace and he said, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Ray: Other than my really annoying alarm clock, it’s, it is about the kids. Yeah. It is about the kids and seeing them grow and making that daily impact on how big an impact they can have.

 

SL: Taking them to every sporting event known to mankind.

 

Ray: Yeah. Maybe I should look at my carbon footprint about how much sporting driving I do.

 

SL: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Ray: Right now, I think the biggest work challenge is going to be getting the BMaD or wherever you end up calling it off the ground, and seeing some students graduate from that.

 

SL: What’s going to be the hardest bit of that, do you think?

 

Ray: I think probably the next six months of it. Yeah. Next six months the amount of work to get through and I think once we get through the formalities, there’s so much foundation and solidness and underneath the principles we’re working to there, I think once we’re up and running, that will go well.

 

SL: What will success look like for that? What should we be aiming for?

 

Ray: Stories. Lots of stories. Yeah. I should be looking on the Facebook account and seeing the graduates off doing exciting things, having exciting results, and being absolutely envious of every single one of them. If I’m not envious, we haven’t succeeded.

 

SL: You could do them, those things, too.

 

Ray: Yeah. Because you’ve done lots of those things. We could. There’s only one of me and there will be lots of them.

 

SL: If you can wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?

 

Ray: A magic wand. I’m guessing that I don’t believe in magic isn’t an answer to this question.

 

SL: No.

 

Ray: Yeah. Okay. If I could wave a magic wand, I’m trying not to make a Miss World answer out of this one. I think I’d probably pass the magic wand on to my kinds for them to decide.

 

SL: That’s so cheating.

 

Ray: There you go.

 

SL: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest possible difference?

 

Ray: The smallest thing.

 

SL: Yeah.

 

Ray: Yeah. I think a smile is cheap and easy, yeah, and it goes a long, long way.

 

SL: Lastly for me, do you have any advice for our listeners. I think you might have given one but here’s another one. Free hit.

 

Ray: Advice for listeners. I think yes, the small things do count. Yeah. The smalls do make a difference but as long as you make sure that the person that you small at is sending more smalls, we need to work out ways to keep multiplying what we do because we can’t really the scale of issues we’re dealing with and the rate of change we’re dealing with, there’s no lonesome warrior and no lone-ranger that’s going to be able to do this. It’s everybody and we got to make sure we’re persuading each other and working together to make a difference. 

 

 

Categories
community education environmental entrepreneur local government

Getting stuff done

Vicki Buck on getting stuff done.   And laughing a lot.

It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations.

 

Samuel Mann: Tonight’s sustainable lens is Vicki Buck who is the chair of the Innovation and Sustainability committee of the Christchurch City Council. Thank you for joining me.

 

Vicki Buck: Thank you for having me.

 

Samuel Mann: Where’d you grow up?

 

Vicki Buck: Christchurch, in this town.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Vicki Buck: I wanted to be a teacher and then, when I got to high school, I thought that’s a really dumb idea. So I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. I actually saw an interview on TV when I was at high school from somebody calling themselves the political scientist, a guy I know actually, and thought, “That’s a really good job. I’d like to be one of those.” Not having a clue what they did. I was really interested in languages, I loved languages, so thought I might go and study them. Got some of it [inaudible 00:01:20] but I really liked the politics. And, yeah, ended up I still don’t really know what I want to be. So I’m kind of thinking that when I grow up, I’ll know. But as yet I haven’t a clue.

 

I know I like doing things that I enjoy doing and probably largely unemployable, actually. So I kind of have to go and set up my own companies and do just stuff that’s fun. I can’t see the point of doing it if I’m not enjoying it and having a really good time. So that takes us into all sorts of paths.

 

Samuel Mann: But you’ve been in local government since you were a teenager.

 

Vicki Buck: No. I first stood for council when I was 18, 19, so I was elected when I was 19 and stayed in that for a long time. It was a very part-time thing at that time and you got paid, I think, about $260 a year max. So it wasn’t something that you did as a job. I had to have a job that paid the rent and everything as well. Much later when I was 30 something, 33, 34, I became mayor. So I had been in local government a long time. I got out of it completely after I finished being there. I had no intention of coming back. It was only because I was kind of annoyed at what was happening to the Christchurch area that I came back.

 

And so have been involved in kind of a whole lot of things. Got involved in education because I’d kind of thought that there needed to be some changes and thought, you know, it’d take three weeks to do. I ended up there for about 10 or 15 years. I’m not a teacher. Got involved in a whole pile of climate change stuff that involved sort of deriving fuel from algae and all those sorts of things. And I’m not a scientist either. So I kind of figure I haven’t got any real skills so I just had to play across all of the areas, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: When you left politics the first time, or perhaps it was the second time-

 

Vicki Buck: First time.

 

Samuel Mann: First time. Off into education despite not being a teacher?

 

Vicki Buck: What I wanted to do was … The bit that excited me was just kids learning around stuff that they love. What excited them. My own son went off to school and was bored completely, so he would deliberately get kicked out of classrooms at age five because he was annoyed with the teacher interfering with his thought process. He was interesting at school. A pain in the neck, I would have thought. I wasn’t keen to do home schooling because I wanted to be doing a whole pile of other things as well. So I thought, well, okay, so we need a different type of schooling because clearly this is not working. And because I’d actually enjoyed school, I didn’t realise how many kids it wasn’t working for.

 

We then discovered, amazingly in a meeting with the Ministry of Education, that there’s a lovely, lovely section in the Education Act, section 156, that enables parents within the state system – because I like the state system, I like the idea that everybody has the same options – that within that, if you don’t like the style of education you’re getting that actually a group of you can go and set up a whole new system within the state system. Well, a brilliant little piece of law. And so, well, we decided we would do that. Ironically and not surprisingly, I suppose, the Minister of Education, who was then that guy Smith. What was his name? He was on TV … forgotten his name.

 

Samuel Mann: Lockwood.

 

Vicki Buck: Lockwood Smith. That one. He hadn’t thought about the possibility either and so later on Wyatt Creech became Minister of Education and he was way more open to the concept of innovation because, I think … Actually, many politicians, I think, come in wanting to do things and then find that they’re kind of held back by here are the rules, here are the regulations. We’re going to take you through this journey that’s going to take you many years of your life. And actually that’s not what they came in to do. They came in to change things and to try things. So he was amazingly helpful. It still took a long time to get through the ministry. And so we discovered that we could actually do it.

 

And, yep, they finally approved it and so we were allowed to start Discovery One, which was still based on a state school so it was free. Based on kids learning around what excited them. If you learn around what excites you, first of all you’re going to probably like learning. Because I think we come into the world being naturally curious and excited about possibilities, and then we gradually get that ground out of us. So like “these are the things that you need to know” and “this is what you need to know for NCEA”, so that’s going to be the be all and end all, and there’s never going to be any technological gains or disruptive technologies or innovation of any sort whatsoever.

 

So I think the really key thing is, one that kids love learning, two that they learn how they do learn and that they have fun along the way. When we wrote the submission I had to take the F word, the fun word, out of the submission to the Ministry of Education. It was not allowed to be included so I had to go and delete it all along the way. People who did know about education helped enormously in the process of doing that. There was about six of us involved in that. So we finally got this up and running. And then, from my own selfish point of view, my son got there just in time, for a year or so, before high school. And so then we had to create a secondary school as well, because otherwise our local school was going to be boy’s mayhem. That was completely unfair on boys I had to do that to them.

 

So we created Unlimited. Actually, we created it in about 10 weeks from the approval to the start of the term, which was way fun because it meant during the holidays we were in there with the plumber and doing all sorts of things that were just, you know, these are the things that you have to do. So a lot of fun. I had enormous fun with both of them. I haven’t been involved with either of them for about four years but we may merge the two. But, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed just the incredible energy and drive and passion that goes with young people and what they want to do. And the opportunities to learn that are just so widespread and so ubiquitous that it’s mind-blowing. So, yep, that was incredibly good fun.

 

So I think in many ways, as a parent or as a member of the community, we’re all educators. We’re just not recognised as teachers. I’m cool with that. I have no desire to sort of be a teacher or anything. We got to the end of Unlimited and thought, “Hmm, the university system.” But that’s quite controlled in New Zealand so you have to be really tolerant for that.

 

Samuel Mann: So you haven’t taken them on?

 

Vicki Buck: I haven’t taken on the university system, no. Actually, in many ways the university system has, especially – I mean, I work most closely with the University of Canterbury here – has adapted quite a lot. Especially post-earthquake with the student army, with their engagement with what they want the kids to achieve and with their emphasis on community involvement and active internships and all sorts of things. So it’s been great to see that happening. So, no, we haven’t established a university.

 

Samuel Mann: So now back on council?

 

Vicki Buck: Yep. I came back on three and a half years ago when I got a bit annoyed about what was happening in Christchurch and what wasn’t happening, and the opportunities that you could see everywhere that perhaps weren’t being taken advantage of. And just what happened post-earthquake was this amazing energy. There was no-one in control for such a long period of time, or it felt like there was no-one in control, so you just had to do stuff. If you wanted things to happen, nobody was going to do it for you. You just had to do it. And all throughout the city, over and over again, you see people doing stuff that they probably didn’t even know that they could do, just because they had to start doing it.

 

Samuel Mann: So other than the matter of the devastation and so on, it was your dream come true?

 

Vicki Buck: No, I would never have gotten about it that way. I would prefer to have stayed out of politics, actually. There were lots and lots of things that I found … Like, so I was working in climate change technologies, all of which I love, and the climate change website.

 

Samuel Mann: With Nick Gerritsen?

 

Vicki Buck: Yep, and with a range of other people on all sorts of things and on windfarms and stuff, which I was still involved with till a couple of years ago. So there are amazing, amazing possibilities. So the whole thing about sustainability strikes me as the most pressing issue that we have. We don’t really have a Plan B. We have one planet that we’re fast destroying and, you know, even looking forward, never mind my children’s or their children’s lifetime, this will happen in my lifetime. And you can see it with water happening all around. You know, the need to create so-called economic development by taking as much water as you possibly can for intensive dairying. It strikes me as crazy when you’ve got this incredible resource that is going to be one of the scarcest resources in the world and the most important. So water and food and clean air and those valuable commodities that – not commodities, because they’re not commodities, they’re way above commodities – that you just need to treasure. We haven’t and we so need to.

 

So just from a “what is really important” sustainability and just the awareness of climate change and what we’re not doing and what we could do. I mean, I see it as almost … it’s one of the huge issues of our time. Yep, I can’t ignore it.

 

Samuel Mann: Where did it come from, that passion or knowledge in you?

 

Vicki Buck: It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations. I don’t even know where it came from. It just seems so apparent, how can I not know that?

 

Samuel Mann: Were you an environmentalist at school?

 

Vicki Buck: I think I’ve always been an environmentalist. I don’t think I understood how rapid and dangerous climate change was to all of us, regardless of where we live, and how it affected people grossly unequally, till probably, I don’t know, 20, 30 years ago. Who knows? Who knows? It wasn’t last week and it probably wasn’t when I was nine so sometime in between.

 

Samuel Mann: Somewhere between nine.

 

Vicki Buck: Sometime in between nine and last week, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: I don’t know what sort of council you’ve got but is it hard work, are you pushing that up a hill on the council or the council gets that?

 

Vicki Buck: This council and the previous one have actually been quite green in terms of their environmental concerns. So the awareness of climate change is very real. The importance of the quality of our water is felt strongly and the initiatives that we can take, like watch this space later this year for electric vehicle fleets. Entire compact vehicle fleets that we’ve been working on for a couple of years. We’ve got the autonomous electric vehicle out being trialled at the airport, which has been great fun. Those sort of changes that make possible quite different dimensions are fantastic.

 

We’re spending, probably over a five to seven year period, about 150 million on retrofitting the city and cycle lanes so that when you ride a bike you feel safe because you’re separated from the truck or the car. And I think for a lot of people that’s incredibly important. That makes me ride a bike as opposed to not ride a bike, if I feel safe. And I think that’s quite a different perception for women than men sometimes, and some of the research I’ve seen suggests that. But when you’ve got a city that’s already fitted out, retrofitting it with cycle lanes is an interesting process that requires a huge amount of public consultation. And you have to take the public along with you. So it’s not something you can do in 10 minutes but over a five to seven year period it will happen.

 

Obviously you’ll see in the central city that the speed limit is 30 ks, that the emphasis is on walking and cycling. We’ve just put some money on to extend our bike share so that it’s citywide, this one in the central city but it needs to go citywide as a means of public transport. So your helmet’s there, your bike’s there and you can leave it wherever at any of the other hubs.

 

Yeah, so there’s a … I mean, from our point of view, obviously insulation has been seriously important and one of the things, especially in a climate like this, one of the things we’ve been really, really wanting to do is to increase the building code standard. In the district plan we wanted to raise that to about six green star from the current building code, which we think would have added about $1700 to the cost of a building but ensured the wellbeing of children and their health and education and all sorts of things. The government, unfortunately, wouldn’t allow that to go through and the replacement district plan, it’s not there. So you win some and you lose some.

 

Samuel Mann: In fact, in terms of wellbeing they went the other way.

 

Vicki Buck: It’s the building code.

 

Samuel Mann: But in terms of the wellbeing responsibility of council, they took-

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah, slightly different. This is the district plan so we’ve had a very fast process of redoing the entire district plan. It’s not one I’d really recommend. But if you’re rebuilding a city and you’re rebuilding so many houses, you would think one of the most basic things is that you make sure they’re really well insulated, that the VIM envelope is really important, that you actually build them to a standard that guarantees that those kids are growing up in warm, dry houses, or those adults are living in warm, dry houses. Because you know the impact that that has on education outcomes, on housing outcomes. I mean, on health outcomes, everything. So not to be able to do that was infuriating. Annoying, to say the least.

 

Samuel Mann: So as chair of Innovation and Sustainability-

 

Vicki Buck: That’s just this term, so we’re having our first meeting next week, yep.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome.

 

Vicki Buck: Yep, it’ll be good fun.

 

Samuel Mann: So what’s the first thing on the agenda after-

 

Vicki Buck: There’s a few things. Obviously one of the things that we do here in council is that we have an open session at the council that we started last time called Vox Pop. So anybody can come in with any issue whatsoever that has to do with the city and they get five minutes, and they’re allowed to talk directly to the councillors. So they’re all sitting there, it’s all live streamed, it’s all the media sitting there. Choong, here’s your issue. Make of it what you will. And that’s been wonderful but I think we need quite innovative ways of engaging people. I’d like to see someone involved in some waste minimization things. Obviously I’d like electric fleets, not only at the council but I’d like to see some trial bus routes. I’d like to see us get to the point where that autonomous vehicle was licenced to go on the road. We’ve done all the work on that and so we’re working with a range of research organisations and the HMI has been amazing on that.

 

So there are a whole raft of things. From our point of view, probably the transport fleet is the biggest carbon emitter, although probably the destruction of buildings and the rebuild has used way more than we would … I mean, our carbon footprint will have looked horrific in the last five years.

 

Samuel Mann: I think that’s going to be the most important thing in terms of doing the transition to electric vehicles, is the big fleets.

 

Vicki Buck: So do I, because if you and I want to buy an electric vehicle we’re probably buying a second-hand one. And to get a big supply of second-hand ones into the country, we want a range of things. We want the big companies to be buying them and so what we’re looking at is possibly with 10 other business and government agencies in the city, so it will make a huge difference to the city, just like that when it happens, which I love, those sort of things. But then when they sell the second-hand vehicles, then they become affordable for everybody else to buy. Because I think, although the running costs and they stack up incredibly well, I think that always with renewable technologies there’s that initial capital cost which is hard for people to get past.

 

Samuel Mann: And it’ll normalise it and make it viable for things like mechanics to get training or whatever they need to do to get there.

 

Vicki Buck: Yep. Actually, there’s so few moving parts I think the training will be … you could do it. You could do it as one of your courses.

 

Samuel Mann: It all sounds so positive to me and so obvious.

 

Vicki Buck: It sounds obvious to me too, so what’s the problem? I don’t actually see that there is a problem. I mean, it seems to me that any authority, whether it’s a council or a large business or a small business, has a responsibility to ensure that the environment that they live in is not made worse by them being there and is, in fact, improved by them being there. That seems self-evident to me. So I don’t see the problem either.

 

I think the other thing that’s always really important is the importance of what I see as the strength of Christchurch, is the 386,000 people who live here. And the brains and the thoughts and the talents that reside in those people. And I think quite often we tend to think of cities, you know, pipes and roads and footpaths and, you know. And those things, believe me, not having had them for a while, we love them.

 

But the really, really important part of any community is the people who live there. And so what you want to do, I think, is make sure that everybody feels that this is their community, that they have a really strong sense of belonging to this community. And that the things that they want to do that excites them, not just in education, not just at tertiary. But, I mean, they’re here for their whole life, or they’re here for 10 years, whichever, that period of time that they’re here, that that sense that they can do the things that they love doing. That anything is possible, so the byline I quite like for Christchurch is that anything is possible. And so that’s what we’re sort of working on. That’s got to be true for every age and you’ve got to maybe make sure that that works for people at certain … so it’s not just true if you’ve got a certain income level.

 

One of other areas that I’ve spent a lot of time on is housing which was, after the earthquake, really critical. Our housing policy spans from making sure there are no homeless, which is quite a good goal in itself, right thought to helping people into their first house, which we’re currently working with government. Touch wood. Not yet sorted. But those things are really, really important. I mean, people’s sense of belonging, it is way enhanced if they are living in a place that they feel is theirs, whether it’s a rental or ownership. And making sure that there aren’t people living on the streets who … Some people occasionally want that for a while. That’s fine, but if they don’t want that, that there are options for them.

 

We’ve done some things within the Mayor’s Welfare Fund, for example, where if we can’t within our own social housing, which we have 2300 of and which is now administered by Ōtautahi or Housing New Zealand, that we can actually provide the wherewithal for a private rental. I mean, one of the neat things about Christchurch at the moment is that houses are actually affordable. So I’m not sure if we should tell this, because I’m not sure how many Aucklanders we want here. No, I’m having them on. We actually like them. But, you know, if you’re looking at a million dollars house in Auckland, that’s really hard to come back from. You can buy a house here for, starting with a three, you know, three hundred and something. And you might need to do it up a wee bit but it’s very livable.

 

And that’s fantastic because you kind of have that affordability factor. For example, I was talking to a research group who were over here doing some research with the autonomous electric vehicle, which is on the Auckland campus, and the guys or the team were from Melbourne. They’d looked at the price of housing over there and they were in their late 20s, early 30s, and they were saying, “We’ve just looked at housing here. We want to relocate our research to here because we can actually afford to buy a house.” And at a million plus, you can’t. I can’t even imagine how much that mortgage must hurt. That’s revolting.

 

So there are cool things, I think, you can do within a city. And I think the key one is talent and the sense of possibility and excitement about living in that city, and the fact that your community is really important. You need to create those deliberate bumping spaces where you bump into people in the community, where you have a nice experience, where there’s events and you come away feeling good. Those are really, really important issues.

 

We’ve got some huge issues in Christchurch in terms of mental health, which is not ours but it’s not something you can turn your back on either. That’s like in education. We’re trying to get to the point where if you’re six or eight or 10, we can somehow make available to you all the learning opportunities that are there in the wider community. Not just at your school with your teacher. And in terms of the city itself, like the opportunities for learning through internships and some other some other sort of internships that we’ll create. It doesn’t exist yet.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, it’s probably more than sustainability. It’s the fact that you actually leave the planet slightly better than when you came. It’s probably quite a personal one in that I can see my kids, for example, needing, and everybody else’s kids needing clean water, good air, the rivers actually running. I want them to be able to swim in rivers, not wade.

 

Samuel Mann: And to have some water in them to start with.

 

Vicki Buck: I’d like water in them. Yes, it would be novel. And I also think it’s sort of having some obligation to the other, not just people but the other species on the planet. In order to achieve your aims, do you have to completely screw other people? That doesn’t seem like a good idea. I mean, for that reason I can’t get the slightest bit excited about the concept of drilling for oil. It just seems like lunacy to me that you would even contemplate bringing out more oil into a world that cannot actually burn what we already know about without destroying the planet. So where’s the logic in this?

 

Samuel Mann: But there’ll be people in your city that would see Lyttelton or wherever as being a suitable base for a drilling place, don’t you think?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, very few, I think. Very few people, I think, would see that because, apart from the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary, we haven’t found much of the thing. And then the drilling part starts right next door, so apparently that oil knows, you know, this is the boundary. Never [crosstalk 00:27:37]

 

Samuel Mann: Well, I wouldn’t go there, no.

 

Vicki Buck: We won’t go there because, you know, there’s a big wall. Banks Peninsula, from our point of view, is just this amazing sort of natural wilderness area. And the sea off Banks Peninsula, and off all of our coastline, is so valuable to us that the idea of anything going wrong, that you can’t control, you’re in deep ocean water. You can imagine, there’s no capacity anywhere in New Zealand to deal with that spill. So wait a minute. We’d have to ring Singapore or China or wherever, or America, and find out where the nearest one is. Seven weeks away? Oh, we’ll just wait here patiently while you completely ruin one of the most amazing assets that New Zealand has. You know, its ocean.

 

No, I don’t think there’s many people that are … actually, I think they need a government. And, you know, even something like Brighton Beach, which for that community is so vital and so loved, that the idea of any sort of crappy oil spill coming up … not welcomed. But no, I can’t think of anybody, actually. I’m sure there are some.

 

Samuel Mann: So what’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Vicki Buck: That’s a hard question. I think possibly changing our usage to electric vehicles will be. I hope. I’ll tell you that in a couple of weeks.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes.

 

Vicki Buck: Or yesterday’s.

 

Samuel Mann: No, it’s as if we’re looking back and people like you will be the heroes that people will look back who are pleased that you’re doing this kind of work. So what’s your superpower? How do you describe your superpower?

 

Vicki Buck: Probably optimism. Probably a belief that all of us can do, actually, pretty much anything. And that may be a completely irrational belief. But actually, the more you believe it the more it comes true, which is kind of weird. And probably the ability to laugh a lot. So when I do something completely insane, which is regularly, I’m not hugely distressed.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Vicki Buck: Yes. Yes, I always have.

 

Samuel Mann: Why?

 

Vicki Buck: Because the opposite of that is being passive and it sounds so boring. I’ll just sit here passively and go through life. Like, jeez, I’ve only got one of them that I know of. You know, I’m willing to have more. But why wouldn’t you use everything you’ve got to make happen the things that you want to have happen. I can’t see any reason why you would do it any other way.

 

Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Vicki Buck: I just like the fact that you can make cool stuff happen. There was a lovely interview with somebody from the airport, and he said, “My job is to make cool shit happen.” I thought, “Oh, that’s my job description.” So, yeah, just making cool shit happen. I’ve stolen that from [inaudible 00:31:05].

 

Samuel Mann: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Vicki Buck: In the next couple of years? I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be different tomorrow from this day. It’s not like I can plan a couple of years ahead. About a week is good.

 

Samuel Mann: Alright, take the time off then. What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to?

 

Vicki Buck: I don’t know. I like them all. I like the idea of completely altering the way we do education here. Which is nothing to do with council, really, but I don’t think anybody will notice for a while. I like the idea of some initiatives that people will come up with that we can help. I don’t think we have to do it all. Really, we’ll delegate it to anybody and everybody. There’s 386,000 of them out there.  So, yeah, just the fact that … what excites me is that I know that today and tomorrow and the day after, people will come up with cool ideas.

 

We just put a thing on, on Facebook, about a community fridge. And three groups, like, I’d really like to see these. You know, people have got surplus food, just put it in a pantry or fridge and it’s available to anybody in the community who needs it. Three groups have come back and said, yeah, we’d like to do something about this. I just love the currency of ideas that people can make cool stuff happen all the time. Actually, the thing I’m probably looking forward to is getting back into our house which has been completely rebuilt, not as an insurance thing but as a leaky house. Which is not the way you want to do it but it’s going to, in theory, be a 10 star one, which will be a lot of fun.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome.

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would you have happen?

 

Vicki Buck: Actually, at the moment I’ve been watching that famine in South Sudan and Yemen, and watching those kids not have food. I can’t stand it. I can’t even watch it. And you feel kind of quite powerless about it, so my miracle would be that one … Well, actually, I’d like lots. But one that they’re fed and they get a chance to live their lives. Another one? Would it have something to do with Trump? Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Are those the things that go beyond your optimism? Is everything achievable but there’s things outside that-

 

Vicki Buck: [inaudible 00:33:56]. Really, what were you thinking? No, I tend to be optimistic anyway, so it’s kind of ingrained. I can’t get rid of it. Even after half an hour of Trump I can still get over it. Yeah, yeah, he does test it to the limit. He’s tests it completely. And his advisors, Sean Bannon particularly.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Vicki Buck: No, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I wouldn’t have a clue.

 

Samuel Mann: So if you were to have a billboard that’s not at election time, that you could put up on a big motorway somewhere, what are you going to write on it?

 

Vicki Buck: Probably life is short, have fun.

 

Samuel Mann: Awesome. That F word’s back again.

 

Vicki Buck: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Vicki Buck: My pleasure indeed.

 

Categories
education

Making a difference

 

Steve Henry runs the Centre for Sustainable Practice at Otago Polytechnic.

Making a difference takes a genuine commitment to change

 

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations we’re trying to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Steve Henry, from Otago Polytechnic’s Centre of Sustainable Practice. Stumbled over that because I know that it’s changing. Welcome.

 

Steve: Hello Sam. Hello everyone.

 

Sam: Let’s start with some big questions, where did you grow up?

 

Steve: I was born on the Chatham Islands of all places in New Zealand, eastern New Zealand. North of Auckland, near Waikawa, Curio Bay, it’s where I spent my childhood, before moving to Christchurch, and then further south.

 

Sam: What were your folks doing on the Chathams?

 

Steve: My dad was a farmer. He was the only ever farm advisory officer that the government, MAF, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries sent to the Chathams to drain swamps and make farms more productive.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Steve: I had a very informing moment around that when I was 14 when my father arranged for me to go and work on a farm. Because I saw my father on and around farms all the time. I was very keen to do that. He arranged me to go and have an August school holidays with one of his farming buddies. After day one, I rang him up and said, “Dad, I don’t want to be a farmer anymore. Can you come and get me?” He said, “Sure I’ll come and get you in another 20 days, because that’s what we’ve agreed.” That was pretty informing. And then on about day five, this grumpy farmer said to me, “You don’t like this, do you?” I went “No.” He said, “Well, what do you like?”.

 

  And it was a really pertinent question to ask me at the time and I respect that farmer because I don’t think I could ask that question, or I certainly didn’t hear him. But what I learned from this man, he was actually very onto it, and he gave me a lot of good guidance and we settled on being a science teacher as a way to interact with people. I had a fascination for nature and that seemed like a good place to start.

 

  Yeah. So that was the path I went on and I decided that at about 14, and then by 16 I decided going and learning about the natural world through science was the path I’d take, and to teach that.

 

Sam: So you did the biology and …

 

Steve: Yeah. The biology and chemistry thing and did a degree in chemistry and then microbiology at Canterbury University and ended up teaching, secondary teaching, going overseas in secondary teaching and really loving it. Until of course I realised it wasn’t about science, it was about people. And I loved that even more. So instead of teaching the subject, I began to work with people.

 

  And I had a really informative time at an alternative high school in Christchurch for 3 years teaching there. Four Avenues Alternative School, which is now shut down, an offshoot of Hagley High. And it was kind of the precursor to the Unlimited and these schools out there now which are really liberal and open minded in their curriculum. Very future-focused, and we got to customise learning for youth on average have been expelled from 3 schools. So they’re pretty colourful, but they’re really bright.

 

  And I found a real niche in relating to people whilst rock climbing and being outside. The Four Avenues concept in Christchurch, the four avenues represent the square mile in the city centre and the idea was that that was the classroom, instead of stuck in a box somewhere. So we very much met the learners in that square mile somewhere every day, pretty much. And we did interesting things in there, and it taught me a lot that there’s learning everywhere, if you’re willing to look for it.

 

  And, yeah, a wise mentor of mine said to me, “Don’t teach at that school for any more than 3 years if you ever want to get a job in mainstream education again. Because not only will people look at your CV and run like hell, but you’ll actually change to the point where you won’t want to either.”

 

  So I surfed that fine edge, and that led me to being overseas as a 25 year old in London, going, well, we don’t get back because it’s either going to be Wanaka, Hokitika, or Queenstown. Those were kind of my dream places and as it happened, I ended up in Wanaka working for the local high school there. Getting really into outdoor programmes and establishing outdoor education as a real powerful point of difference.

 

  So I moved from science being the pathway into nature to outdoor education being that and watching people having experiences in nature transforming. And I really got into that space for quite some time. So we established some cool things like seeing new students flooding to either of our school life skills type programmes and using the outdoors as a mechanism for change. Grabbing the Outward Bound and Outdoor Pursuit type models and applying them into a secondary school which was really neat.

 

  And then of course in Wanaka at the time in the early ’90s I watched nature before our eyes degrading. Development of a significant scale and affordability coming in, burning off of, breaking off the hillsides and watching these practises which didn’t really sit with me. So it really awakened a flame in me around, there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

 

  So originally I came from quite a strong ecological viewpoint that what we were doing couldn’t last. I became very interested in working out how to educate for all that.

 

Sam: Taking a few steps back through that, if you were interested in nature, the natural approach, why chemistry?

 

Steve: I thought the path to truth lay in detail at that time. And that hints to microbiology as well. So I got fascinated by lichens and how they operated and the biochemical nature of them. I did a lot of study around them, I studied 10-80 as a major focus for my honours degree, for example. And working with Forest Research Institute at the time, and looking at why 10-80 was the jell baits … were just getting consumed so much so quickly and isolating the fungi that was … and that sort of stuff.

 

  So I got very interested in the small. And then of course I realised that if you don’t understand the system that something’s in, there’s not much point in knowing more and more about this and this. And I think it was a seminal moment in realising that a systems approach was the only way to think about things if you really want to engender change.

 

Sam: Did chemistry give you that system thinking?

 

Steve: Yeah, Chemistry certainly gave me a fascination for atomic theory and how things are different and how things are impermanent and all those sorts of stuff, so it was almost metaphysical for me. In terms of how I viewed it.

 

  I became more interested in the girl in the lab coat who I ended up marrying than the chemistry, to be honest in the end.

 

Sam: Different sort of chemistry.

 

Steve: That’s right, it was. Yeah.

 

Sam: I’m going to ask you at the end if you consider yourself to be an activist now, but were you an activist then?

 

Steve: Very much. Yeah, I was involved in doing things to draw attention to what I thought was wrong. So when I think back to the early days of Hectors dolphin protests and I met Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson who are now at the University of Otago. We managed to get off there by I did Hector Stoffin and we made a fibreglass cast around the body of the dolphin and made this into a live painted model that we carried around and put in […] and raised awareness that way.

 

  When I was in the UK I got very involved in Friends of the Earth there. Went to corporate meetings in a suit. It really taught me that to be an activist there was actually a profession. It was very very different. This was 1989 so it was very much, ICI was still chucking barrels into the North Sea at that time, and it was very much reactionary. And Friends of the Earth took a different stance to the likes of Greenpeace, who were very confronting. What Friends of the Earth did was sit down with suits on, with the decision makers and went “Hey, could we work this out? Let’s do it a little bit better.”

 

  And I got involved in that quite by mistake but realised that I was very interested in bridging the gap from the corporate naiveté to something that made a difference in a long term. Which we know in the end has served me very well.

 

Sam: You mean the naiveté of the corporates?

 

Steve: The naiveté of the idea that we can just keep doing this as long as we like. And wanting to find that middle ground.

 

Sam: Is there also a naiveté that not engaging the corporates is going to make a difference?

 

Steve: Yeah, that’s right. I saw the confronting, head-on activism not working at that time, and I went … There’s got to be another way. There’s got to be a way where, and I was quite influenced at the time by reading Karl-Henrik Robert’s work around how in Sweden, that group of people have begun working with the likes of the polymer industry who are producing a lot of plastics and toxicity. Of how it would be in their interests to actually have a better solution.

 

  And that was news to them. They had done it from purely an engineering point of view of how can we make this stuff. And then bringing in well, how could you do it so that people actually knew there was a good story with it? And I think about hydro-polymer now which is recycling PVC and doing all sorts of stuff in Scandinavia, which was unheard of. And they went on to work it out really.

 

  So that was a very formative time for me.

 

Sam: Around ’89 of course, is when the sustainability as a term really rose to prominence. Can you remember the first time you came across that as a term?

 

Steve: Yeah, I think it was learning about the natural step and swing and, I mentioned Kyle Hendrick’s work. I was pretty impressed that the Swedes had a woman minister for the environment who later went on to become Prime Minister Bruntland. And authored probably one of the seminal reports.

 

  So in New Zealand very much the ministry of environments the sort of short straw that you give to your not most dynamic MP or leader. And what I observed in Scandinavia was it was taken incredibly seriously and largely because they had poisoned themselves in the 16th Century with all the mining they did when they industrialised in a big way and then when the synthetic chemical industry took off in the 1940s and 50s the [inaudible 00:11:51] lakes in Scandinavia really got polluted and people just really reacted to that.

 

  And it was a huge win grow and say I watched this. And we’d file on how long that’s gonna take in New Zealand to happen. It happened in my lifetime that we shifted the thinking.

 

Sam: Sweden’s pretty well off, is that a luxury that they were able to now think like that?

 

Steve: Well, I think I didn’t see it that way. I saw that they were well off because they made some really good choices, like putting the outlet of wastewater for a factory above the factory. And attach it to the inlet valve. You know? By law.

 

  It’s got a lot for me that just seemed like smart decision making rather than. So very much into the upstream thinking the stewardship type models, let’s not create waste, let’s design another system. I was pretty inspired by it. And I’ve always taken a view that I’d rather be inspired to engender change than complain about stuff.

 

  So I felt that the immature type of activism I was involved in in my early 20s, I felt like I got educated to actually solve it positively and Friends of the Earth was the first place I looked to do that when in London.

 

Sam: Yeah. Were you still teaching at the time?

 

Steve: Yeah, I was. And so I came back to New Zealand and ended up in Wanaka and it became clear to me that I wanted to do more than just educate about nature or even in nature throughout their education. I wanted to start educating for nature.

 

  And that was about the time that I got invited by [Jahaket] in Queenstown to run an environmental management workshop for a staff around raising the awareness within their company because they were interested in building a new building which could be environmentally friendly. Which in those days was not really thought about and it was quite. And they wanted to build a building that would be there 100 years by the [inaudible 00:13:54] and it was a neat thing too …

 

  And I found I really enjoyed that. So, I had a pretty open minded principal who was a boss and I said, look, do you mind if I go? A month a week, a day a month and go and do this work that’s really flooding up on. And he realised I was probably going to go if he didn’t give me that so he happily conceded to that. And here suddenly another company wanted to do that and then another one.

 

  Before I knew it, I found myself leaving secondary teaching and realising I wanted to get some credibility in the space. So I set up a tourism company of my own taking clients into the wilderness and really enjoyed that but also realised that my heart was in education and change rather than making a lot of money, which it was pretty easy to do. I was surprised, I set myself a target of earning 100k in the first year of operating that company and I met that and everyone said you’ll never do it, but it was … I didn’t see why you’d want to lose money if set something up with the intent of making it, if that makes sense.

 

  And I realised through that process that money wasn’t motivating me. It was about the difference I could make. So that’s when I learned I needed to learn more. So I went and did a master’s degree in environmental education. And it was ahead of its time really, it was online out of Griffith University out of Australia and was the only thing of its kind that I could find around then. And this was in the early 2000s.

 

  And … Yeah.

 

Sam: You said your heart was in education and change … that rattled off your tongue as a single unit. Do you see those two things together?

 

Steve: Yeah, because for me being willing to educate or … If you’re willing to educate, then you’ve got to be up for change or what’s the point? SO I did a fair bit of training in the corporate sector, you know like leadership training and team building and all that sort of stuff.

 

  And it taught me that unless organisations really wanted to change, it was just synthetic what we were going through. It was just a lightweight exercise. And it wasn’t real enough for me. There wasn’t enough genuine commitment to change.

 

  So I made a commitment that no matter how many of these companies wanted to pay me to support them to grade up. That unless they were authentic about it I didn’t want to know about it. And that became a really interesting thing. And at that time the labour government in New Zealand had the 100% pure campaign had just come out around tourism and there was a lot of optimism how [inaudible 00:16:48] government was still supporting sustainability as a development platform.

 

  And the ministry of tourism ended up contracting a few regions to have a go at embedding sustainable tourism. And I ended up winning one of those contracts to work with organisations in Queenstown and Wanaka. And [inaudible 00:17:06] to support sustainability on the ground in the businesses.

 

  So I got to go and meet and have conversations with a couple hundred businesses over a period of a couple of years. And it was incredibly insightful. As to what people’s motivations. I had this myth before them in my mind that people who own business are really on to it.

 

  And for some reason I felt like the people who were in education weren’t quite as worthy as people who were in business for some reason. I don’t know where that had come from. Perhaps to do with earning money and … The power and the influence that money has.

 

  So at that moment I realised, that when I went and talk to those people I’d rock up. And they thought I was coming in to help sort the recycling out and maybe reduce their energy bill. My first question was why? Why do you do what you? And are you interested in adding value to that? And how do you do that. And they sat down and went, crikey, well, the main reason I run my business is to get away from the wife actually. Or, I came here for a lifestyle and the bloody things grown and it’s ruined it, you know.

 

  And I was amazed what happened. So what was sustainable for one person was certainly not for another, if you get what I mean. That took me back to well, if we really are serious about the sustainability thing, we need to know what it means and we need to know what we’re sustaining. Are we sustaining a really bad business because someone feels obliged to? Or what are we sustaining?

 

  And that led me back to Scandinavia and I ended up going on a study tour there where I went there for 6 weeks and did a tour around business education and government as a part of The National Step internationals group. And it was incredibly insightful for me.

 

  And I did this post my master’s because I had become really interested in understanding that we can only define ecological sustainability from a set of principles. Right? And those are pretty clear at the end of the day. Don’t trash nature in its simplest form. You need to understand nature before you do that. Don’t prevent people meeting their needs essentially, fundamentally from a social science. I got very interested in that.

 

  So when I came back from that study tour I made a decision to ramp up what I did. On a pivotal day I started contracting staff to work for me to deliver things, by this stage I was contracting into various organisations across the country to support their programmes.

 

  I had a fortuitous conversation with someone on a plane from Otago Polytechnic who said, oh, we’re looking at setting up a centre of excellence around horticulture viniculture tourism in Central Otago. And this was 2005 by now. And I said oh, that sounds interesting. So I went and rocked along and had a chat.

 

  And I’d been already in Queenstown and Central Otago area working attempting to open up sustainable tourism so I said, well if your idea of excellence is around financial, social and ecological success, then I’m interested in that. Because for me that’s what sustainable development is, having simultaneous wins across all those areas. That worked well.

 

  And so I got offer that job, and I said hang on, before I take it I’d like to have a chat with your CEO, because I just want to check that we’re on the same page. Rolled on down to Dunedin and met a guy named Phil Ker who I didn’t know at all. And I walked into his office and said, look I’ve currently been offered this, and I just wanted to check that you’re really interested in sitting at the centre of excellence, but I don’t see that your organization’s excellent.

 

  And at the time it was a pretty cocky thing to do in lots of ways. And I realise he was either going to tell me to get out of his office really fast or we’d have a meaningful conversation about it. And of course he laughed and said, okay, so what do you see?

 

  And so I told him what I saw, which was an organisation which didn’t walk the talk if you’re pretending to set up a centre of excellence to provide expertise on that, then you kind of want to come from a place of credibility, don’t you? And we had a very successful conversation for an hour or two. And the long and short of it was, he said, well you come and help me sort out the organisation and take a leadership role in that, and we’ll do that centre of excellence thing once we’ve done that, shall we?

 

  And that led me to met you, Sam, and others at Otago Polytechnic who understood that educating for a sustainable practise and beating that into a curriculum was the most influential thing Otago Polytechnic could do. It’s a bit like Nike changing the recycling in the office but not looking at how they make shoes.

 

  As far as I’m concerned educational institutions, what they teach and how they teach and their curriculum is their bread and butter. It is their product. It was a great moment in 2006 to realise that, hey, here’s a tertiary education institution that’s actually committed and serious about this. And here we are now in 2017. What’s that, 11 years later is it? Is that math, no 9. Yeah 9 years later.

 

  And when Phil and I first had those conversations I said I reckon it will take 50 years. So don’t prod me with resourced effort, resourced focused effort. And I’m not pretending that Otago Polytech is there by any means, but it’s begun the path, and when you’re measuring how far it’s come, yeah, there’s a few indicators that it’s doing all right. A lot of people are saying it is. But when you’re involved in something you can always see what can be done differently and better.

 

  So that began my work at Otago Polytech, which was to go around to various, there was 16, if you like, faculties or schools inside the institution at that time. That’s been condensed a lot now, but at that time I was charged with going around and having a cup of tea with each of those to have a conversation about what could be done to embed broader economic social success thinking into the curriculum. Which was met with open arms but some of those entities, and with utter hostility by others. As expected.

 

  So fortunately I’d learned by going and talking to all the businesses that I had the list of an agenda I had going and the more successful the meeting was. So I wasn’t pretending to go in and tell the midwives how to implement sustainable practise in their … In what they did. Or the nurses, or the designers, or the business school, or the guys in blue overalls training the apprentices in mechanics or building.

 

  I learned pretty quickly to say less and listen better and have a look at where the wins were possibly going to be. And beginning to create a culture of opportunity around it rather than a culture of, you must do this or you’re evil because you’re printing too much. So, it was very much a team effort by that stage, and I joined a group of people who were committed to doing this.

 

  And three years later Phil said to me, we’ve just about run out of time for you doing that, thanks very much. And we’d had a lot of interest at that stage around what we were doing. And we concluded it would be a good idea to set up some kind of centre to host inquiries and perhaps run courses. And so at last the centre of excellence thing came full circle. And we had a look at setting up a centre which we ended up calling the Centre for Sustainable Practice.

 

  And at the same time we got given a generous grant by somebody living in the Central Otago.  And we used that to develop qualifications, a graduate programme in sustainable practise. A graduate diploma. And at level 7 and level 5 certificate level programme. And we’ve since been running those. They got developed in 2009 and 10.

 

  And since 2011 we’ve been rolling out a business programme across the country, that about 120 organisations have been through now called Adding Sustainable Value. And we’ve run that in 9 regions, groups of diverse businesses coming together with the focus to embed social and ecological gain in their organisations. And if you’d told me when we started that that many organisations would have been through, I would have been thrilled. But now I’m kind of like, well is that all? It’s funny how you change your goals.

 

  And the graduate programmes and the graduate diploma in sustainable practise have really … They’re getting a life of their own now and it’s about 20-odd people a year goes through that programme who are wanting to lead in this space.

 

  So yeah that’s kind of the back story to get to where I’m at with that Sam.

 

Sam: All those businesses that you’re working with, are you seeing a pattern of them changing over time, in terms of what they’re coming in to expecting sustainability will deliver? Were they seeing sustainability as a barrier, and now they’re seeing it as an enabler? What are the patterns there?

 

Steve: Well, I’ve talked about the Manawatu, it’s actually a place in New Zealand … It’s pretty low profile, but actually it’s got a thriving economy. And it’s thriving because it’s a real transport hub in the north island. Toyota have got their head office there, there’s a whole lot of serious bits of infrastructure in the Manawatu, which a lot of people don’t know about. Engineering companies, and the likes of Ashhurst Engineering who make most of the pile-ons in New Zealand for transport and stuff.

 

  So some of these big companies have … And so Palmerston City Council recognised that they wanted to honour the local government act and have a sustainable city. Which really, it’s a surprise that so few local governments at the time made that decision given that the local government act at the time said that it was about social, economic and ecological wellbeing. Which has since been modified. But at the time they did that.

 

  So they organised … They had heard about what we’d done down in Queenstown. And by this time I’d realised that individually consulting with businesses one on one was a really inefficient way to use that ministry of tourism grant to reach business. We actually ended up running classes of groups.

 

  We’d get a bunch of high country farmers in the room and then a bunch of tourist operators. And suddenly, at one event we decided to merge this event of high country farmers and tourism operators as a bit of a trial to see what would happen. And they all walked in the room with arms folded and it was like, oh well.

 

  And low and behold, when we began talking, they went, hey our problems are really similar to yours. You know, when the dollar drops this happens, got these compliance pressures, we’ve got all these expectations from people not in our sector. You know we began mapping those and using some pretty simple tools to map the drivers of change.

 

  And Palmerston City heard that we had done this and invited me up to come and have a chat. They said, oh we’ll put on an event you could speak at. Would you be up for that? Oh, yeah, great, fantastic. So there were 110 people in the room. Half of them business owners. It was like, wow, what a surprise.

 

  And long story short is that the Manawatu Council ended up … And Manawatu District Council joined Palmerston City in supporting over 70 organisations, over half of our organisations that have been through that programme have been in the Manawatu. And what they did through Vision Manawatu, which is the economic development agency, was we partnered with them. So they organised all the events and we kind of came in as the experts to support organisations to think about stuff.

 

  So we worked out a way to do that very effectively over four one-day workshops with mentored support. As opposed to come and enrol in a course that’s going to take forever. But it was very much at work about work. The work was the curriculum for each organisation.

 

  And we learned from our experience, the more diverse the businesses in the room, the better learning people were finding. So that got us really excited and some of the companies who went through the Manawatu absolutely transformed the way they saw their organisation and its path in the future. So, we’re in the process of reviewing that programme right now entirely, and it’s been offered in 9 regions across New Zealand.

 

  We’ve had some pretty tough decisions to make along the way. Do we want to mainstream this work, or do we want to keep it as the bleeding edge, if you like? You know, because as sustainability has become more accepted and more mainstream, do we want to keep that edge of bringing the next piece in, or do we want to focus on working with the 30,000 businesses who are tied up with efficiency for example. Who are very mainstream.
   
  So those were decisions we were forced to make. We made the decision to attempt to mainstream this work before we got too far away from it. And in many respects that’s worked because we’re no longer needed if that makes sense. The programme has lost its relevance in the current market because it’s common practise now to implement a lot of sustainable practises that were novel in 2011. And now in 2015, 16, 17, it’s considered absolutely business as usual to implement efficiencies and do that stuff.

 

  So we’ve really positioned our energy now in saying, look, we don’t want sustainable as aspiration. We want restoration and regeneration as our inspiration. So we’re very interested in how organisations can add value to what they do and become more restorative and resilient and regenerative.

 

  Which may be new terms for people but the idea, if you like, that sustainable is cyclic. So if you can imagine conventional being quite linear. Take, make waste type industries. Greening up a bit, curbing that linear arrow a wee bit, and by the time things are sustainable they’re cyclic. So, not doing harm but not necessarily doing good either. Step in to the restorative space and you’re actually doing good while you do things. And step into the regenerative space and you’re actually having an influence where you’re providing a platform for others to do good.

 

  So a couple of quick examples if that’s helpful. Electric vehicles are all the rage at the moment. Great to see them coming in. It’s wonderful. A platform like Uber that has been disruptive to the conventional system, taxi ride can cost you 2 or 3 times as much as Uber and Uber’s come in and gone well, we’re going to do it differently and here’s how we’re going to do it. So you could argue that in ride share, for example, I see the potential to partner with a company like Uber to reduce the number of vehicles on the road in Auckland immensely.

 

  But we have compliance issues preventing that essentially. Uber are up for it, that’s clear. So the question becomes for a company like that, how do you manage the compliance, and how do you work with government to enable things to happen.

 

  And so the challenges are different for every organisation, Sam, to answer your question. The way sustainable would be. I mean, what are we trying to sustain? That has to be the question that’s asked now. Are we trying to sustain a whole lot of conventional based companies which are polluting and are struggling to remain profitable because someone has come in with a better business model which might be new, but it’s actually a better way to do it.

 

  So, I would argue the Uber taxi case, if we could work out how to tax Uber properly in New Zealand, and our laws are behind so they don’t know how. If we could work out how to enable ride sharing which we need compliance changes for drivers who can be paid to ride share. And the argument Uber are pushing is that if you’ve got a driver’s licence doesn’t that mean you’re safe to drive? If someone wants to get in the car that’s their business. And that’s very different from how the Taxi Federation see it.

 

  So you’ve got an issue like that which is actually constraining potentially great change. So I’m really interested in looking at things from a systems perspective and looking at how to get such change happening now. That’s really where I’m at.

 

Sam: Okay, I’ve just invented a four-part scale. Because I can’t remember the five-part scale of sustainability maturity of businesses.

 

Steve: Okay.

 

Sam: And it goes compliance is number 1. Compliance and avoidance. Perhaps that could be 2. And then efficiency gains is number 2. Opportunity, number 3. And 4, it’s the reason for being in business.

 

Steve: Yep, sure.

 

Sam: Okay, percentages of New Zealand business.

 

Steve: My read is that the easiest way is to start at the other end and go, so what percentage of New Zealand business that their sole reason of being in business is to do social/ecological good. Well you can count those on your hand pretty much. Right, you know? These are in the social enterprise type spaces. The Rekindles in Christchurch and they’re not very common. Seeking good by design.

 

  The opportunity organisation … There’s a lot of organisations now in the opportunity space. I put Otago Polytech in the opportunity space. Through its work of efficiency and getting beyond compliance. It’s actually seen that there are enormous opportunities to deliver differently.

 

  For example … We’re talking really differently instead of having taught degrees, 50% of Otago Polytech’s programmes are degree-based. Instead of teaching, why don’t we create an experience for example. Okay so Otago Polytech’s begun doing that very successfully through its business unit in New Zealand. So, that is one of the most sustainable initiatives Otago Polytech’s been involved in. And it’s a bit of a game-changer like Uber.

 

  So instead of people sitting in lecture theatres, having information rammed down their throat which they’re going to forget anyway, we’re saying, let’s harvest the experience you’ve had, and grab the learning from that. And we’ll credit you for that. So that sort of opportunity begins to do an awful lot of good.

 

  Other companies who are really getting into the opportunity space, and organisations, the likes of New Zealand Post, who are absolutely against the wall, with the declining mail service. The disruption’s come at them faster. So they’ve forced themselves into having disruptive challenges to see how they could do it.

 

  Some government departments have done it. Department of Conservation, post-Cave Creek, has done a huge amount of reinvention of itself to look at the opportunity of doing business differently. The question is will the taxi company disrupt itself so it can turn into Uber? The answer is it’s incredibly difficult to disrupt. So the majority of New Zealand businesses are in the compliance and efficiency space.

 

  We’ve realised with our own sustainable business programme, we don’t want to be any more in that compliance and efficiency game space. We want to work with … You can go do other courses for that now. Because it’s business as usual.

 

  We’re interested in that opportunity and reason for being in business space. How can you align your profitability with ecological and social good as you go? There’s some companies that are committed to doing that. And who are beginning to do that very well. They need to be celebrated more, not less.

 

Sam: You said how to align profitability. So you’re happy with capitalism?

 

Steve: Absolutely, I think there’s nothing wrong with people doing enterprise and getting paid for it. I don’t have a problem with it. The problem I have is when there isn’t full cost accounting around that profitability. Social and ecological harm carries the can. So if you like, what we’ve done is privatised our profits and we’ve socialised our losses. To quote Alexa Forbes in all her glory, right, from Queenstown.

 

  And you think about that. Take housing in New Zealand and the affordability of it. The price of allowing the free market to do what it’s done has meant that our housing system has become unaffordable. And for me that’s an unacceptable privatisation.

 

Sam: So as we move away from the sustainability as usual and move perhaps back to sustainability as disruption, what are you doing about that?

 

Steve: Well, we’ve begun in our graduate programmes in sustainable practice, we’ve begun to work on a great project. About 20 people a year are working on their own individual projects. And some of these projects are incredible. They’re all the people’s life’s work, you know? And they’re marvellous things, and I don’t want to name any particular projects other than to say they’re interested in transforming business as usual. That’s what they do. They’re in that opportunity space or in that reason for existing space.

 

  So we’re talking social ecological enterprise and we’re talking changing the trajectory of major organisations. So, with the consent of the owners and directors.

 

  One of the things we’ve realised is we that when we have a huge … When we sat down and designed the graduate programmes in sustainable credit we asked ourselves the question how would nature do this? If nature’s really smart, and over millions of years of evolution it’s figured out a whole lot of things. Well, how could we mimic that in the learning setting? Because nature learns essentially. Things learn. A mollusc learns how to have the right shell or the right colour so it doesn’t get eaten or a bird has learned to have a certain pattern of being. Do you get what I mean?

 

  And so we asked ourselves, what does that look like for learning? And the answer of course has to start with diversity. You can not operate in a single sector. So the dairy sector will never willingly disrupt itself, is my conclusion around that for example. Or those who are real estate agents in the housing sector where they’re making more and more money it seems for doing less and less work as housing is a commodity that’s traded. They’re not going to disrupt themselves.

 

  It’s a combination of having to come in and go right, where can we make a difference? And that’s really what we’ve been asking ourselves the question now. Is how can we make a difference?

 

  And so, perhaps the argument is going away from it being about sustainability and sustainable practise, to how can we make a difference to go down from compliance to efficiency gains to opportunity to reason for being there.

 

  And if people can have their awareness shifted to see the opportunity, to shift along that trajectory. And that’s what happened for the sustainable business programme. Of the 120 businesses that have gone through, I’d say that 20 have changed their reason for being essentially. And probably 50 have done it for efficiency gains, and trying to get their head around this thing that’s coming at them, all this disruption. And the rest have done it for the opportunity.

 

  We’ve very much learned, if you focus on the opportunities, people are much more engaged in the conversation. Much more willing. Rather than saying what you’re doing is wrong, and it’s evil and it’s going to be outdated soon, so stop doing it. Well that doesn’t go down very well. Whereas you say, there’s more and more risk to your brand, there’s more and more pressure coming.

 

  And I think about there’s a beautiful thing called a law of three which has … One of the three is pushing in and this is the activating force if you like. So you’re asking about activism, so this activating force say might be the desire to lower a carbon footprint. And you get this constraining force pushing against that activating force, which is business as usual using carbon. And not having solutions to do anything else or it being not convenient for a business model.

 

  And when those two forces collide that can do one of two things. They can either … And I’m holding my hands punching into each other with fists here, and they can either go up or they can go down. If things go down around there, you go into denial and carbons classic for this. I mean, carbon, schmarbon as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s one of the smaller issues for New Zealand to think about.

 

  You go into this compromise position of it decreasing the energy and everyone loses basically. So you end up making shitty carbon trading platforms and offsets which to me seem quite ludicrous. And complex systems and hide behind the bureaucracy of that. Rather than saying, hey look, we’ve got this confronting challenge coming. There’s an increasing force to de-carbonize. So hey you carbon guys, what is the opportunity for you to move that and evolve it? And reconcile that and therefore evolve.

 

  So in other words the law of three is when you’ve got an activating force and a constraining force, if you can take it into the direction of reconciliation, then you can evolve it.

 

  And I think what we’ve done with those 20 organisations who really got it was to say look. And they saw the change coming. They know what’s coming. Digitalizing things, and ecological challenges, the price of resources. Moving things around. Customers intolerance of single-use products. All that sort of stuff. Driving change. Okay how can we evolve what we do?

 

  And when an organization’s willing to say how can we evolve what we do as opposed to oh the laws coming, it’s going to kick us in the bum, then you begin to have a different conversation. It’s a conversation of possibility.

 

Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability now. You’ve talked about how it was, but what is it now?

 

Steve: It can go on and on forever.

 

Sam: But you’re not using the sustainability word anymore?

 

Steve: Not much, no because I think I’ve found it isn’t effecting change as efficiently, as well as talking about making a difference.

 

Sam: And people see the on and on forever meaning we don’t have to change. Whereas the hidden secret really is that in order to go on and on forever we need significant change.

 

Steve: Yeah.

 

Sam: So maybe we need to make that transformation explicit, as you’re doing.

 

Steve: Yeah, that’s right.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Steve: Biggest success. Designing myself out of the system of the graduate programmes that I’m involved in. Yes, so it’s not dependent on me. I think Otago Polytech’s success at embedding into its curriculum is something I’m very proud that I’ve been associated with. But that’s a team effort. It’s not just me. Yep.

 

Sam: And you can go sailing every day.

 

Steve: I can, I live by the sea and I find that I do much more productive work if I spend an hour a day at high tide out having a little sail.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So, what is your superpower? What’s your sustainable superpower.

 

Steve: I think being able to bridge the gap between the world of being a dirty hippy as I used to be, but not now, I’m kind of a corporate hippy. Being able to bridge the world of being a deep green thinker and understanding natural systems and understanding the systems we’re in and being able to see that.

 

  And being able to relate with a group of people who are either in ties or have no concept of wanting to think broadly. Being able to present to them the case that we’re going to be forced into holism anyway. So being able to articulate that I think is my super power. To motivate people in that conversation, to see the possibility of what they could do rather than, oh my god this is so big. I’ll go and top myself now. Seeing it as a positive opportunity rather than a downer.

 

Sam: What do you do … How do you present it as a positive opportunity for … I’m thinking of the farmer that recognised that you weren’t going to be a farmer. But let’s say that farmer found themselves into dairy farming and they’ve got a massive debt and … We might like to paint them as being baddies but they’re kind of against the wall.

 

Steve: Yeah. And they’ve designed themselves into a pretty inflexible space. So they want freedom more than … Just as I don’t want the cows poo in the water. They don’t really want it there either when you talk to them.

 

  So, looking at what they can do to make a difference and the best thing that you can start with is to have a conversation. Not come to you’re evil, you’ve done it badly. I’ve found that doesn’t help. Being judgemental I guess is what I’m saying. Is that it doesn’t help. Because they know. It’s not that they don’t know. They do know.

 

  My biggest frustration is with the high level of indifference our governments have shown to having some policies with teeth. I mean that deeply disturbs me. And undermines my trust in the governance. In the democracy we’ve got. Which, I’m lucky to have. But it challenges me greatly.

 

Sam: When you’re running a session, do you front load with doom?

 

Steve: Very little. It’s very much. Rights, let’s get the doom out of the way. Who thinks? It’s very much. It’s probably … If you’ve got a day to give it it’s literally 3 minutes. It’s like, rights, what’s wrong. Waterways are stuffed, this is happening, carbon monoxide levels are going up, this is … Right, we’ve got that out of our system, right.

 

  So, now we’ve said all that, can we actually focus now on doing something about it, rather than continuing the mantra of what’s wrong. Because while we put energy into what’s wrong, it will continue to be wrong. Let’s put energy into making a difference, towards changing it. Yep.

 

Sam: What do you do if you’ve got someone that’s stumbled into your class that sits at the back saying, this is all garbage, he’s still a dirty hippy.

 

Steve: No, they don’t come. We’ve kind of … One of the things we learned early is with organisations we don’t just want the environmental manager to come thinks. The CEO either needs to be there, or the leader, you know someone from your leadership team at a big organisation. And they need to buy into the process.

 

  So we learned instead of just one person enrolling and turning up, you’re allowed to bring up to 4 people from the organisation to the first workshop, so we’ve kind of been insisting that the leadership folks come to the first workshop so they can see this is an opportunity not a smashing session. If you get what I mean.

 

Sam: So, you said you used to be an activist. Are you still an activist?

 

Steve: Yeah, very much.

 

Sam: In what way?

 

Steve: I think I’m being influentially disruptive in the education system. But positively. That’s how it feels to me, so I’m kind of being an activist by stealth I guess. But it’s not by stealth because it’s just what I do. And it’s not seen as by stealth.

 

  I’m not out there with placards waving my arms around. It’s in there having conversations and supporting people who are willing to change. And I’ve found there’s more people who are willing to change than I thought.

 

Sam: I think that that was one of the things that we both found quite surprising, was how little opposition there was. Most people didn’t know what to do, but there weren’t many who said let’s not do this.

 

Steve: No, there was a pivotal day in 2005, wasn’t there, when we got 80 people in a room at Otago Polytech, which at the time represented about 10% of the staff. Roughly didn’t it? Or 12% of the staff. Something like that. And someone asked, Phil Ker asked the question, is there anyone who thinks we should not go down this pathway? And there was silence. That’s like right. Let’s go.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Steve: I see it’s that I’m making a difference. That I’m having a life that’s worth living, I guess. Yeah, that gets me out of bed in the morning.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next year or so?

 

Steve: I’m really excited about taking the idea of qualifications by experience and turning that much more into projects. If we’re harvesting people’s experience into qualifications, can we generate those experiences without teaching? Without this traditional idea that you have an adult who stands there, who knows more than you and vomits on you, knowledge-wise.

 

  Through just supporting people to make a difference. Because I think there’s a whole lot of people very keen to make a difference. And get credit for it. So that interests me a lot.

 

Sam: Watch this space. Because we’re working on it aren’t we?

 

Steve: We are too.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?

 

Steve: I think I’d love to see much more cooperative working than solid working. What I mean is to have well-intentioned organisations almost competing in the non-governmental sector. And government I’d love to see a lot more integrated holistic planning/design.

 

  I’d like to see schools drop the curriculum as they have in Finland. There’s no school subjects in Finland anymore in secondary school, which I think is an incredibly wonderful way to go.

 

  Yeah, what else would I do if I could wave the wand? I’d change the tax system to be entirely transactional. I’d use the block chain and these other new algorithms to run a lot of our systems, banking systems, accountancy systems, law systems.

 

Sam: And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Steve: I don’t feel I do really, Sam. What’s the advice I’ve got. I think being a crusader in the sustainable practice space.

 

Sam: Thank you very much.

 

Steve: Be kind to yourself. That’s my thought.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Steve: It’s a pleasure.

 

Categories
education leadership

Inspiring to make a difference

 

Gregory Fortuin is the National Director of Employment Plus at the Salvation Army. He’s got a long history, from apartheid South Africa, insurance in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa’s Honorary Consul to New Zealand, Race Relations Conciliator in 2001 and 2002, and is on board of all of the big things in New Zealand.  Kiwibank, New Zealand Post, ACC, the founding chair of Youth Suicide Awareness Trust, Prison Fellowship, National President of the African Communities amongst other things.

 

Gregory: I was born in Cape Town, so the foot of Table Mountain. But, I grew up in a place called Paarl, and so for South Africans I make it very clear that I’m a Paarlander, which is 40 miles north of Cape Town. That’s the wine country of South Africa. With my dad, and his mum, and his brother had bought ten acres of land. That’s where I grew up, a place called Paarl.

 

Oh, Paarl, of course, was made famous by New Zealand cricketers. Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash, Matthew Hart were all fined for smoking dope in Paarl and got suspended. The W. Indies, of course, thought they should’ve suspended the others for lying.

 

Sam: It sounds like an idyllic place but I suspect it wasn’t.

 

Gregory: No, not when I grew up. Paarl was typical of the real Afrikaner Dutch places. If you were wanting to see apartheid in its real pronounced, or strongest form, Paarl would be it. When the National Party won the election in 1948, my Granny said that if you were non-white you would’ve been pushed off the pavement, even if you walked on the pavement.

 

Sam: You grew up- was it- classified as coloured? Is that how it was described?

 

Gregory: Yeah. Obviously the history of South Africa was that we were colonised by the Dutch first in 1652, and then the Brits came during the Boer War and took over South Africa. Then it was the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the Afrikaner said, “if we can’t beat you over the battle of a gun, we’ll beat you at the ballot box.” Sure enough, 40 years later in 1948 they won the election, and three years later in 1951 they passed all the legislation to do the segregation. Population registration classified all of us as, “white,” or, “coloured,” or “cape coloured,” or “other coloured.”

 

There were an amazing number of classifications just on coloured, or Indian, and Khoisan, African, etc. That classification determined where you could live. If you were coloured then this was the designated area for coloured people. If you were Indian then this was the designated area for Indian people. That just pervaded our life. It’s like I grew up as a so-called, classified coloured, in a classified coloured area, going to a coloured school, and having coloured friends. When I was finally working and walked to the station, and you’d cross the railroad bridge over the small, little, narrow, coloured bridge, as opposed to the wide one for whites. When the train comes you wait for the coloured compartment and sit in the back of the train and when you’d get out of Cape Town Station, you got in by the coloured entrance, etc. When you’re a kid and you’re born into that then you think, “this is what the world’s like.”

 

Sam: What impact did that have on education? Were the schools differentially resourced?

 

Gregory: Yep, absolutely. Something like, in the sixties, it was the equivalent of about a 1,000 rand per capita for a white child, and about 200 rand per capita for a coloured child, and about 90 rand per capita for a black child.

 

The Minister of Education said, in the fifties, that, “even the Bible tells us that they need no other education than to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.” They don’t need fancy qualifications, they just need to be good slaves. We actually had a whole curriculum for Bantu education and for subservient, slave-type education; to be good slaves.

 

Sam: What did that do to you as a young person?

 

Gregory: I also grew up in a conservative church environment. It was about, “you just go to school, and you don’t rock the boat, and you obey the authorities, and you obey your parents.” That’s it. That’s that. From nought until 16 and a half, when I matriculated, I was fairly submissive. It was only at the age 17, wanting to go and study at the University of Cape Town, which was a classified white university, and wanting to do medicine maybe for aesthetic reasons, but I had to apply to the Minister of Coloured Affairs for permission to go study at a white university. And then also to the university, who I knew took a quota of non-white or black students of about three to five every year. So, you’re also competing with the cream of all of the non-whites, so I didn’t get in. Yeah, it was … education was a tough thing if you weren’t white in South Africa. That meant you just had to work so much harder to achieve anything.

 

Sam: Lots of the works that you’ve done subsequently has got a very strong social justice, community development ring to it. Was that always burning there somewhere?

 

Gregory: Yeah, totally. In those churches I grew up in there was an old, illiterate man who, when I was quite bitter about not getting into university, was saying, “you better get over that ’cause you need to get yourself an education.” It took me a while to get over that, and I did some actuarial studies, and I did operation research studies. But, the promise I made to myself was I’d never, ever, put that on a CV or on a piece of paper.

 

When I arrived in New Zealand and I had actuaries reporting to me, some of them, initially, weren’t that comfortable in reporting to a non-actuaries but when I could talk to them about future values and present values and [inaudible 00:08:16]. They asked a few questions about, “did you study?” And I said, “no, I understand what you’re doing.”

 

But, back to the old man. He was the guy who invested in our lives. My mum was 27 with three kids, four, six, and seven, when dad passed away. No insurance, no benefits from the government, etc. My mother didn’t have a formal education so left school at 13, worked in a handbag factory, and then she went to work as a nurse in a hospital. She trained herself. Those were the days you could train at the hospital to become a fully qualified nurse. She poured her life out in wanting to raise these three boys of hers.

 

Other than mum and my Gran, if you rang my two brothers in South Africa any day, any time and say, “who was the person other than your mother and grandmother who had the greatest influence?” They would all say their old man, the illiterate guy, papa swan, who mentored us, and invested in us. It’s about paying it forward for me.

 

When I was growing up apartheid South Africa one of the things I resented the most were the people in my community who were affluent coloured and black people, who could make a difference, who could help us, and didn’t. Now that I’m blessed in being in a position of influence and able to make a difference that finger that I pointed at others then is now very strongly pointed at myself. The drive to make a difference is because of that resentment as well. That if you’re in a position, then, for me, you don’t even have a choice. You should just make a difference. But, papa swan invested in us and this is about paying it forward.

 

Sam: Seems like a good investment he made.

 

Gregory: Totally, totally. It was time, it was sitting us down and having discussions with us about the future. We grew up on this small holding where eight other families lived. My dad bought the farmhouse. Eight other families came and bought their homes and stayed on our small holding. Sometimes mum would come home, having left 6:30 in the morning and arrive back home at 7:00pm, a bit tired, and one of the old aunties would come and complain, “these kids did this,” or “they did that.” Those were the days when we had no right of reply. Mum would immediately believe everything the old aunties say and so we would get our discipline.

 

Sometimes mum would just be tired and she’d ring this old man, or she’d call for this old man, and he’d come sit us down and say, “your poor mum works so hard for the three of you,” and, “is this is the way you want to treat her?” Sometimes he’d just draw some tears from us.

 

My older brother, I know, would often say, “mum, don’t ring that old man, just give us a hiding. Just don’t call that old man, just give us a hiding.”

 

Sam: How did you get from that background into insurance?

 

Gregory: When I matriculated in 1971 and wanted to go and study medicine, I firstly worked in a laboratory, testing raw materials and pharmaceuticals, etc. and thought, maybe, that was the path to medicine. Then I worked with a Muslim fellow at Peterson’s Pharmaceuticals, and he said to me, “did you see this national insurance company called Norwich Union? They’ve advertised and they’ve got something called ‘Glide Time Flexi-Time,’ where you can start any time up until 10 o’clock, and you can leave any time from 3 o’clock.” And we both thought that that was a fantastic thing in the seventies. That was the thing that sort of drew us to go for interviews.

 

I then went and wrote a computer aptitude test at IBM because IBM was their supplier. I passed the aptitude test, and actually went for an interview to do computer programming for them. They came back and said, “look, we don’t have a vacancy right now in our computer area, but why don’t you try our superannuation area.” I found afterwards that, as a non-white, I didn’t quite fit the mould of being in the computer programming area, and so I started off in superannuation. This Muslim guy and I, we sat one side of the partition, while all the whites sat on the other side of the partition at Norwich Union in the early seventies.

 

Sam: Even in a workplace like that?

 

Gregory: Yep, totally. Within the workplace we were told to use the toilet facilities up on the eighth floor with the messengers. They used the weak argument of it’s government legislation. They just didn’t have the will to want to treat us as equal, ordinary human beings. But they did provide me opportunities. There was the Afrikaner Superintendent, who a year later, one of the Afrikaner ladies who was a supervisor for [Team Patricide], and I went and saw this guy who was my boss and said, “I can do that job, why don’t you give me that job?” He said, “yeah, but if I do then you’ll have to get your own employees, because we can’t have whites reporting to you.” So, I went and recruited three young, coloured females. Two of them, their uncle was in the new South Africa, the Minister of Justice, and his two nieces worked for me.

 

I used to leave home in Paarl at 5:30 in the morning, and go and get to the office at 7 and do some work ’till half past 8, when these young kids came in, and trained them, etc. That was the start of a five year journey at Norwich Union.

 

Sam: You left there in 86?

 

Gregory: No, no. I left Norwich Union and joined National Mutual in 78. They were an Australian insurance company and they were brilliant. They had two Aussies who ran the place and in my first year, I actually for a while reported to a guy called John Day. I went and said to him, “I think you’ve made a mistake with my payoff.” He said, “no, no, no, it’s not,” he said, “I have been terribly disappointed that we’ve been underpaying you, and we weren’t paying you the same salaries we were paying whites. I’m just trying to get you to the same level as everybody else.” It was just mind blowing. I really enjoyed working for National Mutual in South Africa.

 

I worked for them for eight and a half years. It was in 86 when they sold out of South Africa with all the pressures applied by the unions in Australia. That’s when I was offered the opportunity of, “do you want to be made redundant in Cape Town, or transferred to Melbourne?” I’ve always let the Aussies know I didn’t come voluntary, it was redundancy or Melbourne.

 

Sam: And you chose Melbourne.

 

Gregory: Yeah, it will forever be one of the hardest decisions I made in my life. I went and saw an aunt of mine who I was very, very close to, and she said, “look, Gregory, you don’t want your children”- I had three young daughters at the time, five, eight, and 11 -“you don’t want your kids growing up with the same bitterness and resentment that you and your brother have towards the system.”

 

I went and saw an elderly gentleman who had two young boys in detention. A lot of people were detained without trial in South Africa, a lot of political prisoners. I was the coordinator of support for detainees in the Boland area and organised for them to be visited by their families, organised encouragement, and organised support for families. I went and saw Mr. Gilfellen, and he said, “oh, no, Gregory, I think you should go, but when you get to Australia make sure you tell them our story. Don’t forget to tell them.”

 

Both my aunt and Mr. Gilfellen also made me promise that I would come back and bury them. That was 1986. It was still a great feeling of abdication. I was heavily involved in supporting people, and helping people, and helping families of detainees. I was vice-chair of the Western Cape Foundation for Community Work and we built 17 preschools throughout the Western Cape. To walk away from all of that was a strong feeling of abdication but at the time I felt that it was the right thing. Although I bawled my eyes out at the Cape Town airport when I left for this place called Melbourne.

 

I remember February, 1986, sitting around the swimming pool in Paarl – in Paarl it’s 40 degrees. Friends of ours who had emigrated to Australia in 83, they visited in Paarl. I said to them, “you guys can run away to godforsaken places like Australia and New Zealand. I’ll never leave South Africa. I’ll fight the liberation struggle ’till the bitter end.” When I arrived Australia at the end of 86 this couple came and met us at the airport and said, “oh, we thought you were going to stay in South Africa forever.” So I learned you can never say never.

 

But Australia was great. You can imagine leaving a state of emergency, leaving apartheid South Africa. In November 86 I sold my house in Paarl, and then arriving in Australia, and for the first time in my life I can go live anywhere. I can buy a house anywhere. My kids can go to any school. To the school ten doors down the road, my kids could go. I didn’t have to ask, in the restaurants, if I was allowed to come inside. I didn’t have to look for the signs on the beaches, and the buses, and the trains. Even today it sounds far-fetched, the life of apartheid in South Africa.

 

Sam: Did you find yourself, not missing, but did you notice things that you released from that you hadn’t even noticed? Or is it so in-your-face that you do notice it, it is obvious?

 

Gregory: Apartheid was like getting up in the morning, washing your face, and having a cup of tea. It was just so pervasive that it became normal. A lot of young kids, when I go and talk to kids will say, “but there were only six million whites, and there were 55 million of you. How come you didn’t just overthrow the regime?” But when have the political power, and the economic power, and the military might, then there’s very little that you can do.

 

That’s probably the biggest tragedy of apartheid, was the fact that people were told they were inferior, and they didn’t believe that they were inferior. It was only, sort of, this generation of 76, which said to our parents, “you’ve been yes-sirring, and no-sirring to this regime all your life. We will stand up and be counted, and be defiant,” that some change came about. So, when I arrived in Australia, I said, “goodness me. These people are free. This is democracy, and they don’t even know it. They don’t appreciate that they are free because they’ve got nothing to compare against.”

 

Sam: What word would you use to describe your feelings toward the system? Was it hate?

 

Gregory: Yep. My aunt, when I went and saw her about leaving South Africa said, “Gregory, I don’t you – or your children- to grow up with the same resentment that you and your brother have for the system.” My brother and I – older brother, far more militant than me – we would discuss, maybe it was time that we went over the border and joined the ANC in exile. But we were Christians, grew up in a very strong Christian household, and so the issue of violence was something that we just couldn’t come to grips with. We wanted to fight the system, but we just couldn’t justify that people had to die in the process of us wanting to fight the system. But that resentment, and sometimes hate, was very strong when we’re in the midst of it.

 

When you see your friends locked up with no trial. When my brother, who taught Sunday School in Cape Town in a place called Belgravia during the seventh riots in the seventies. We had the Trojan Horse incident when the police were hiding in the back of a van and then just shot at people. He buried a five year-old girl, shot three times in the head. There’s just thousands of those stories. Thabo Mbeki, who was South Africa’s Deputy President under Mandela and President for ten years, he sold as a novel what happened to his 17 year-old son. Kids used to just disappear. The stories in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of how they used to either barbecue the bodies or chuck them in the river to be eaten by crocodiles. Yeah, “hate” is a strong word, but as much as I’d prefer it to be “resentment,” but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I hated the regime, and hated the system.

 

Sam: But not the people?

 

Gregory: I think now, in hindsight, it’s easier to say it’s the system that I hated. At the time, it was most probably the people. The people who were the system. But, Dawie de Villiers, who was the Springbok Rugby captain, I met him here in New Zealand when I was Honorary Consul, and looked after him for three days. We went and spoke at a joint gathering and he was talking about the miracle of the new South Africa because he was one of the negotiators with the ANC. When it was my turn I said, “for me, the miracle of South Africa is this guy was the minister of a church – a university church- ten kilometres from where I lived and I couldn’t go to his church. He was preaching Christianity and inclusiveness but only to white people, and then he went into Parliament and became an MP.  He was the oppressor and I was the oppressed.

 

The miracle is we meet here on foreign soil, and we discover that the aspirations we have for our families are the same, and that the values we have are the same. We were just born on the opposite side of the track. That’s the great shame of South Africa. It took us 350 years to agree that all men and women were born equal, and that we would have respect for every single human being. As opposed to the arrogance of only a certain group was equal, or superior to everybody else.

 

My aunt’s words of, “go to Australia” now I’m at a place where I totally understand it was the system, and the indoctrination of people through the system. Obviously there were leaders, there were architects of apartheid, who were responsible for this. The distance has helped with healing the wounds of resentment and hatred. I understand that there will be no future without forgiveness. I understand that when the world model was Nuremberg, and so many of us in the ANC thought, “yep, that’s the model to follow. Just get the bastards who’ve done this to us,” that Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and the leader of the Communist Party, Joe Slovo, pushed very hard for Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Thank God for those people who were genuine leaders.

 

My brother, who stayed in South Africa, and lives in South Africa, probably doesn’t have the hatred anymore but the resentment is still there. I think the difference between us is I left the situation.

 

Sam: That’s quite a massive thing to take. A massively divided community, an attempt to heal it, to say, “we’re not going to go down this revenge route, we’re going to go down a different route.” What can we learn from that about encouraging community change?

 

Gregory: I think it all comes down to leadership. Firstly, I totally believe that Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was preserved for such a time as this. If he was not in prison, he would most probably have died during one of the uprisings. The regime would’ve done away with him. Here was a man who had lots of time to reflect, and he was a different person that came out of prison than the one that went inside. He used to relate this to his children. He reminds them to go to Sunday School, that he went to Sunday School, that he taught Sunday School when he was at 14. His mother was a devout Methodist believer and I think that part of that spirituality that was in his mother was imparted to him, and he tried to do that with his children. What we needed was a leader who wasn’t going to shy away from doing the right thing.

 

You can’t ignore the role that Frederik Willem de Klerk also had. A right-wing Afrikaner and a good Christian made in extending the hand. He read the February 1990 opening of Parliament speech. He came to power in 1989 when P.W. Botha was deposed and de Klerk came to power. He immediately – he was strong. And, together, him and Mandela won the Peace Prize in Oslo. Now, they never became good friends, but they were both people with integrity who understood that we need to extend the hands in order to bring about reconciliation. The number one issue has got to be leadership. People with courage, people with conviction.

 

I judge, as a Christian, from a distance, and had views about Joe Slovo, who was the leader of the Communist Party. He was one of the great people in pushing for reconciliation and sunset clauses, and not wanting to go down the path of revenge And of course there was Desmond Tutu who screamed at apartheid South Africa then, and is screaming at ANC leadership today. Quite rightly so. You need people with courage, but the little [absent mentality], for instance.

 

In 1995 – the Springbok symbol is a hated symbol in South Africa amongst blacks. So, today, a lot of black people still support the All-Blacks because blacks couldn’t wear the Springbok. And this guy called Precious McKenzie in New Zealand, who in the fifties was selected to go and represent South Africa, but was told he couldn’t wear the blazer with the Springbok on it, he’d get a separate blazer with a Protea on it. So, Precious, get rightly said, “get stuffed,” went to the UK, won gold for them, came to New Zealand and won so many Commonwealth golds for New Zealand. It’s only about eight years ago now that Precious was, in fact, inducted into the South African Hall of Fame.

 

Coloured and black people were not allowed to wear the Springbok. When Mandela heard the ANC Sports Committee was going to recommend that they dump the Springbok and go for the Protea, his argument was, “we’ve just stripped the Afrikaner of political power, we need them to do nation-building. The springbok and the rugby is one of the great religions. At this stage we can’t strip them of that.” So, in 1995, when he came out on to the field wearing the Springbok jersey, it wasn’t just about wanting to inspire 15 men to play rugby, it was a statement to 50 million people about inclusiveness and reconciliation. It’s more, those little acts that bring about this reconciliation, as opposed to, “we’ve all sat around and we’ve said that we are now convinced that we need to preach reconciliation.”

 

We all used to run to our TV’s at 11 o’clock at night to switch it off because we didn’t want to hear the Afrikaner anthem called Die Stiem.  Again, in 94 many of us arrogantly assumed it would purely be called Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika anthem.  But Madiba insisted that we were going to learn one verse of the Afrikaans, they will two verses of Nkosi Sikelel. We added a few lines in English. It’ll probably never be a musical masterpiece, but boy, it’s inclusive. If you lead, you also have to do the deliberate acts which then pull the nation together.

 

Sam: You talk about Precious McKenzie. He gave a very inspiring speech when I was at school.
You give such talks as well. What are you hoping to achieve by standing in front of a graduation, or a high school, whatever it is?

 

Gregory: Papa Swan made a difference in the lives of three, so-called classified, coloured kids without a dad. Even in my wildest dreams would I have been the managing director of National Mutual’s corporate subsidiary in New Zealand, or Race Relations Conciliator, or Human Rights Commissioner, or Families Commissioner, or being on boards, and finding myself in a position of influence, but for the input of that old man, and my grandmother, and my mother, and the many people along the way who have helped me.

 

For me, if I can inspire one, or two, or three young people to go on and make the difference, then that’s sufficient.

 

Sam: Does it matter if you inspire them to make the wrong difference? Can you make a wrong difference?

 

Gregory: Yeah, because right and wrong becomes a matter of opinion. So often I get people saying, “let me give you my unbiased view.” Our views our informed our upbringing, by the environment, by our exposures, etc. You just take the life of Fidel Castro, and the polls are all showing about 50/50 whether people believe he was a good leader or a bad leader. I think often it depends on the difference that he made in the lives of particular people. If, as a result of his actions, my family have suffered, then I will say he was a bad leader, and he made a bad difference. But, if my family have benefited, and we’re now living life to the full, then those people are going to say he was a good leader. It’s very, very subjective.

 

I think, innately, for me, it’s about the difference in order to recognise that everybody deserves respect. The difference is saying, I have to encourage everybody because of our common humanity because we’re all inexplicably link and if I can encourage and support them then, at the very least, they can be able to fulfil their maximum potential, and operate at a level where the only barriers are themselves.  It’s more when you inspire them to be the best that they can be, as opposed to saying, “I now commission you to go and be a pastor somewhere, or go and be a maths teacher somewhere.”  You just want to encourage them, and almost, unleash the potential so they can be the best they can be without knowing. That old man who taught us, was there for us, he had no idea where we’d end up and the difference that my two brothers and I will and can make. He was just inputting into the lives of these three boys without expecting anything other than that was the right thing to do.

 

Sam: There’s pictures here of you and your family, and Mandela. If you had five, ten minutes with Trump what would you say? From your experience, what would you- what message would you want? You gave a graduation talk that I found very inspiring, talking about working with people you don’t like. So, what would you do?

 

Gregory: To the president-elect would be to say that, with great privilege, being the leader of, presently, what’s probably the most powerful nation in the world, the Chinese and the Russians will dispute that, but from a Western World perspective that’s a great privilege.  But with it comes great responsibility and he was given many opportunities in his life. He failed at least four times, in being bankrupt, for instance. But, he was given an opportunity every time, whether it was his dad who helped him or the system that helped him in order to achieve. He owes it to his own legacy to ensure that every single person in America, and maybe the world, gets those opportunities that he has. That he needs to do that, without any view of what the colour of their skin is, what their religion is, what their country of origin is, but with a common humanity.

 

He’s shown that he does enjoy having his ego stroked. If you say, “see the heights that you’ve achieved, but you had support in doing that, let your legacy be that you have supported the only people who when you were out on the stage you said you were going to be there for them. Be there for them, but let the them be defined the American preamble to the Constitution, which is all men and women were created equal, and that they all have inalienable rights. Because, some of the stuff that he uttered on the campaign: anti-particular religious groups, or anti-certain ethnic groups, etc.

 

You still have to recognise that he’s been elected as the leader, because that’s the great thing about democracy. Is that you have a system. I mean, some of my friends are saying if Hilary or Trump were the best options that democracy throws up then who wants democracy. But, he was elected and in a democracy you have to accept the result, whether you like it or not. With Trump now being elected I think the challenge for the others is, “how can we help him to succeed in order for the people who we all beckon for? The people we all want to succeed, that they succeed under Trump?” Because he’s not going to go anywhere for the next four years.

 

Sam: And, he’s playing to his crowd.

 

Gregory: Oh, totally. I also think that his loyal followers are suddenly realising that Trump is his own person. I was just listening to Newt Gingrich the last few days, saying, “if he offers Romney the Secretary of State role, then he’s failing those of us who’ve loyally supported him.” But, Trump’s going to do what Trump wants to do, and maybe he’s playing Romney, and he’s playing everybody else. I don’t know. But I do think that he’s sort of been Trump by not doing what they’re all expecting him to do.

 

Sam: Okay, we’re going to have to skip through to now.

 

Gregory: Now I’m the National Director of Education and Employment with the Salvation Army. I was, sort of, in semi-retirement three years ago when I had a phone call saying, we’re looking for a Salvationist, but at the very least a Christian with business acumen. We’re in this new environment where the government is paying for performance and it’s not a place where the army have previously been, in that they used to get bulk money and they used to look at how can they help make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable and the marginalised. The environment’s different and we just need to rethink how do we make the mission sustainable. So I came here three years ago today now.

 

If you look at the education of the vulnerable and the marginalised, then … When the car’s stuck in the mud you can say, “Change your attitude,” or, “More effort,” or, “Put your foot on the accelerator.” You just spin the wheels and you dig the hole deeper. What it needs is one or two people to get into the mud with you and push the car out of the mud so you can then get them going, because the young people that we work with, the 16 to 19-year-olds, just to get them a basic NCA level two or level three qualification …

 

Many people will say they failed mainstream; I say mainstream have failed them, because of the view that one size fits all. Maybe in ten years time we’re going to say did we do education sitting in a class? So for people who don’t fit that norm we have to do things differently. But there’s also social issues. There’s familial dysfunction, there’s alcohol, there’s drugs, there’s just so many other stuff that’s stopping them from achieving, and so when we get 40 weeks to give them an NCA level two or level three qualification; it takes 20, 25 weeks to get the car out the mud, then you have 15 weeks left to focus on can we get them 120 credits.

 

Now, when you bear in mind these were people if they were lucky got 10 or 15 credits the previous year, it’s a big effort to want to do both, but that’s the commitment of the Salvation Army saying, “We’re here for those people who have been left behind,” because no one should be left behind, and it’s about the vulnerable. It’s why William Booth left the Methodist Church in 1865, 151 years ago. “You guys just do religion well, but you don’t do anything for the people in the east end of London. I’m going to start a movement for those people.”

 

I often find myself reminding the Salvation Army that this is why you exist, because you need to do something for those people, so it’s great.

 

Sam: So your passion about making a difference and your business head have found a home in an organisation that’s committed to the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised.

 

Gregory: Yes.

 

Sam: Why did it take so long? What are we doing wrong as a society that it takes a church to do that?

 

Gregory: I don’t know. I don’t know why it takes so long. For me, if I wasn’t exposed to business and didn’t acquire the business skills of understanding what’s the drivers of revenue and what’s the drivers of my expense, and how can I make this mission sustainable, and then what is it that we need to do in order to make the transformative difference … Because in the end it’s not just about, as I jokingly said earlier, the academic buffaloes. It’s not just the NCA level two or three, but it’s also about the transformation of that whole person. That’s what we do.

 

For the last three years I almost feel I’m doing what I was called to do, yet it’s taken me 50 years to get here. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have been as successful and as credible here if I hadn’t gained the business experience and if I hadn’t been exposed to the politics, and the struggles, and the issues of ordinary people. Maybe it’s the school of learning before you can speak with credibility and humble authority.

 

Sam: So six quick questions to end with then. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gregory: Most probably making education and employment sustainable within the Salvation Army.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gregory: Yes, absolutely.

 

Sam: Why?

 

Gregory: Default has never fixed anything. In fact, I think that reasonable people have never brought about any change. They’re good at implementing and maintaining, but in order to see change you need to be a revolutionary.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Gregory: Firstly, it’s faith in God. Sometimes I’ve been surprised that survived apartheid. It’s survived a house burning down, it’s survived a sad separation and so many other things, but faith in God would be the biggest thing. I’ve had a mother who poured everything into her three boys, for both my two brothers and I. We would never ever do anything that would disappoint her. And lastly, we were always going to show anybody in South Africa that we were as good as, if not better than, than they were. We just needed the opportunity.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Gregory: It’s more being able to say no to the many things that I’m doing so that I can spend a bit more quality time with my grandchildren and my children. If anything, I need to ensure that, having lived the values that they understand them and that they will continue those values of wanting to make a difference.

 

Sam: Is it going to be harder to get your kids and your grandkids to have that passion to make a difference, in that they haven’t come from that terrible position?

 

Gregory: Yes. I often say to them, I wish you grew up on the farm that I did. The challenge is to be able to find a 21st century equivalent of my experience. But it’s been genuine, it’s been authentic, it’s them seeing me vulnerable, it’s them seeing me real that, warts and all, that will hopefully inspire them.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Gregory: That old man, Pappa Swaan, who was there for my two brothers and myself … We live in a country where three under-24-year-olds a week are killing themselves and committing suicide, so if I could wave a magic wand it would just be a mental figure for every single kiwi out there, somebody who’s going to be there at 2:00 a.m. in the morning when they ring and say, “I’ve stuffed up; I don’t know what to do.” Not judgemental, but still the strong guidance and the strong voice of encouraging and inspiring them. The magic wand is mentoring, but a genuine Pappa Swaan figure.

 

Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would make the biggest impact in achieving that?

 

Gregory: We have to be kind to each other. We have to love each other, and family matters. In August I was back in South Africa for my brother’s 60th birthday and then for two days mum and the three of us went away, just by ourselves, no wives, no kids. And for the four of us we couldn’t but reflect on it was 55 years ago when dad passed away, and mum as a 27-year-old with three boys, 4, 6 and 7 had to journey to … give her life in order for us to live fruitful lives. And 55 years on, here were the four of us at a resort, all over 60, still loving and enjoying each other and knowing how precious we were to each other.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gregory: We all have the ability to make a difference and we all have to discover our sense of somebodiness, and our sense of self-worth that in this modern world. People think that the challenge is in the fear of others. I think the challenge is knowing who we are, what we believe in, what our values are, and then being true to that. If we could just be true to ourselves and be kind to ourselves, and be kind to others, this will be a great world.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gregory: Thank you.

 

 

Categories
business education philosophy

continuous happiness

 

Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma is from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance. with a focus on sustainable investment, humane business, and the response of technical education to sustainability.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. Each week we talk with somebody building a positive future and we try to investigate what drives them, what is their sustainable lens, how they’re acting as a sustainable practitioner. Today’s sustainable lens is that of Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance and he’s working in sustainable investment, humane business, the response of technical education to sustainability, and so on, all particularly with an Indian context. Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Thank you.

 

Sam: Let’s start with the big questions though. Where did you grow up?

 

Gagan: Oh well, I come from the province of Punjab in the northern part of India. I come from a small village, I was born in that small village, Rampur. I took my initial education from there and grew up there to a middle class family, service family. Yeah, just like that. Then I took my higher education from the same district.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Gagan: Well, it was different when I initially thought. I thought I would be studying law probably. But, as I grew up, I thought that law is not my cup of tea, so I thought I’d rather go with teaching, and I ended up teaching.

 

Sam: What did you do your higher degrees on?

 

Gagan: I did my masters in commerce and philosophy. Punjab University is my university. Punjab University is one of the better universities, better known universities in India, and globally also. Then I did my doctorate in the field of management. I did it on the stock markets of South Asian nations. Yeah, so I studied the linkages between the stock markets of SAARC, South Asian regional block that we have.

 

Sam: The sustainable, environmental, social thing that you have going now. Has that always been a thing for you?

 

Gagan: Actually, it has not always been, but let me bring into perspective the other part. I started reading a lot of literature, not only on my field, not only on management, finance, and stuff, but I started reading literature on different fields like, for example, poetry. For example, on the short studies, the novels, the fiction, the prose, all of it. While going through that, I myself developed the interest to go into the poetry. So I wrote two books of poetry, which were in my local language, Punjabi. When I saw the field of finance and management from a poet’s view, that was a different lens altogether. That gave me a broader thinking, broader way to look at the things. I thought that finance, management, all these things, economics, by itself cannot be looked at in isolation from the other things of the world. This is where the initial change in my focus comes.

 

Secondly, in 2010, I came across a workshop, which was an eight-day workshop on human values and ethics. It was done by an electronics engineer, Ganesh Bagaria.  He is an electronics engineer, but he was talking about a different perspective. He was talking about what is the human goal, what is the goal of the family, how do we look at the universe? This was sensational for me. I was taken aback and I was shaken. “Man, what are you doing? What kind of stock markets, what are you talking about? Have you tried to put your things into this perspective? Have you tried to look at the world from this angle?”

 

The answer from within myself came, “No.” Then I thought it’s never too late to start thinking on the right lines, so I thought I’ll just look at the world of business, the world of management, the world of economics from the angle of a holistic perspective. This is the second way, the second shift that happens in my thinking philosophy. So from then on I shifted. As I said, I did my doctorate in global finance. All the doctorates that I’m guiding now are not in global finance. Those are in integrating finance with a holistic development, or sustainable development as you may call it.

 

Sam: If you had had that lens earlier, would you have not done that doctorate? Or could you have applied that lens to the doctorate that you did?

 

Gagan: Yeah, actually. Again, I did my post-graduation in 2001 and I started my doctorate in 2008. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have finished my doctorate by 2008 rather than starting it, because that lens does not hinder you, it helps. The biggest problem in the doctorate research is to find a problem, which problem to research on. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have had the problem before I could be able to identify the problem, well before. And I would have finished my work and then I would have been better placed to … I think would have been at a more advanced stage in my research on humane model than what I am today.

 

Sam: So this workshop that was transformational for you, it was on human values and ethics. What prompted you to go to that?

 

Gagan: Oh, it’s not so formal, but yeah. My university, probably I’ll put it in a very funny way, that two of us who were pretty naughty kind of. I was heading the department there, so my principal wanted to punish me. So he sent me for eight-day workshop. He said, “You should go there.” So I didn’t even look at the curriculum, what are they doing. I just thought that it’s a different place, so I’ll go, I’ll have fun. The other friend of mine, we thought that we’ll have some wine together and then enjoy the evenings. We won’t go to the workshop, as such. We’ll go on the first day and we’ll go on the last day. We were suited, booted. We wore our ties, we wore our suits. We were on the seventh heaven.

 

Then on the very first day when we went to the workshop, they told us to sit on the ground. The workshop was conducted on the floor. They said, “Sit on the floor.” So how would we, dressed in the suits with the ties, with all those formal pants and all, so how would we sit there? But we just talked that it’s rubbish how these people, I’m kidding. Then we thought, “Okay, no problem. Let’s spend an hour or so and then, well, anyway we are gonna run away. And we’ll be back only after eight days, when the concluding session is underway.  Yeah, that was the thinking, but …

 

Sam: What did they say in that first hour that got you to stay?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah. Actually, it was a very planned workshop. They had the plan to trap people like me. The plan was such that, initially, they got some people who came and spoke for two to five minutes. They were the people like me who were trapped before. They were sharing their own experiences, that “This is how we came. This was the philosophy with which, and all the thinking with which we came. And then we came here for an hour and then stayed for eight-odd days.” There were people who said that, for example, there was a guy who had worked in Septem used to be a real big company. He was a vice president there. He was wearing a kurta and a typical Indian dress. That guy was talking that “I left my job of vice president Septem. Another guy said that “I left my job, IBM, a very high position, and I started doing this.” That got us. We thought that “Let’s listen to everybody. This is not this place to run away, so.” Before I spoke to my friend about my intentions not to leave, he spoke to me and said that “Look here, I’m gonna be here.” So that’s it.

 

Sam: You said that was run by an electronics engineer?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah.

 

Sam: That seems a bit surprising too.

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’ll talk about it in slight more detail. That electronics engineer, he was dressed in a kurta, white coloured. He seemed to be an ordinary man, I mean really ordinary man, because it is Uttar Pradesh in which this workshop was. Uttar Pradesh is the name of the province. I thought that “He is such a layman now. What can he teach me?” When they read his degrees while introducing him, they said that there is no book in the library of the university, IIT, that he has not read. Every book in the library at that time has been seen issued to Ganesh Bagaria.

 

He has been going through the philosophy which we call as coexistentialism. This philosophy is called as coexistentialism. He has been into the philosophy of coexistentialism for long. You saw my presentation yesterday. I quoted A. Nagraj a number of times. A. Nagraj is the man who actually gave this philosophy. He went into the stage of samadhi in ancient Indian system. There is a stage of samadhi where you just get relieved of everything else that’s happening. He went into the Himalayas and did the samadhi for years.  After coming back he didn’t speak anything at all for years. Because he got realised to the coexistence. This is what he writes in his books. Then he wrote 13-odd books of philosophy. If I tell you the ideas of those philosophical verses, he wrote on human behaviour, he wrote on economics, he wrote on science. I mean whatnot, law? Whatnot, constitution? He wrote all those philosophical books, 12-odd books. Ganesh, he read all those books.

 

And not only that, all those books, he was in close company, he came across A. Nagraj like I did with Ganesh. He spent a lot of time and then discussed all those things with him. And he started looking at electronics engineering, or for that matter engineering, from that lens. That’s how he got into it, but yeah, I got into it like this.

 

Sam: So we don’t have eight days, but can you give us an insight into what the philosophy is?

 

Gagan: Oh, okay, why not? About eight days first. It is not necessarily eight days. The workshop is done for one day, for two day. I myself ran these workshops later for two days and three days for my students. Then it is also run for eight days, but as I said, in my feedback … We don’t call it feedback, we call it self-evaluation, which we do on the eighth day, on the last day. What I said in the self-evaluation was that I am afraid that this workshop was not eight day workshop. I’m afraid that this workshop is going to be running within me forever now. Eight days, you’re right you said you don’t have eight days, but I’m sure you have life. Not only you, but the listeners also.

 

What is it all about? It talks about the four levels. It says that, initially, it begins with what is the goal of the human? What is your goal, right? We keep on saying that, for example, my goal is say social benefit. People say my goal is natural benefit, this this this this this. The workshop takes you to the straight white, that through all that, you’re actually not looking at all that. Those are the means to an end, and the end is your own happiness. The ultimate goal the workshop proposes, it’s run in the form of a proposal, not in any form of sermons. Not any form of verdict. It is run in the form of a proposal. It proposes that the goal of a human is continuous happiness. That’s it. I want to be happy and I want to be continually happy, that is it, nothing more, but nothing less.

 

Then, for achieving the continuous happiness, it talks about the human programme. What is the programme that you have to achieve that continuous happiness? About the programme, it states that there are two important things in this whole universe. One is the human. Second is rest of the nature, right? Rest of the nature can also be classified into three orders. One is material order, plant order, animal order. And the fourth one, as I said, is human, so human order. There are four orders in this world. Material order, plant order, animal order, and human order.

 

Then the first three can be put into the head of rest of the nature, and the fourth can be put as a human. So human and rest of the nature. For carrying out your programme, for reaching your goal of happiness, the human needs to be in harmony with the other humans, this is what we call relations, and with the rest of the nature from which we take the physical facilities. In order to achieve the human goal, the three things that human needs to do is … number two and number three, I’ll come to that first. Number two is relations with the humans. Number three is physical facilities with the rest of the nature. And number one is right understanding about both of them. How much is required, how to get it, all of that. It is about understanding about these two.

 

In this way, this is the kind of human programme that is required to attain that human goal. This is the first thing. This is to happen within yourself. At the level of individual this is to happen, this understand is to happen, and then you are to realise that “Yeah, this is what I’m gonna do.” This process begins. Once this happens with an individual, the second thing which the workshop proposes is that it happens in the family. At the level of individual, as I said, at the level of self, what we call, it is continuous happiness.

 

At the level of family, so once this happens within the individual, within all the members of the family, when the family is prosperous … And I have developed my own definition of prosperity where we say that what you have upon what you need. What you have upon what you need. Prosperity has to do more with the denominator than the numerator. While we are working towards what you have, have more, have more, have more whatever you have. And if you do not know exactly what you need, then the glass will never be full. If I remove the base of this glass it’ll never be full. Things are like this only.

 

Therefore, in the family, it tells you about the denominator also. It guides you towards the denominator. What exactly do you need? And what exactly do you need is in terms of both second and third, relation and facility. It is not only about the facility, but also about the relation. When we do it this way, then the family has a possibility to be prosperous.

 

And when the families are prosperous, then the third goal at the level of society is fearlessness. Since when we are not prosperous, we will try to grab it from elsewhere. In poetry, I say usually that when one gets frustrated, one will choose the weapon. And with the weapon, the one who is weak will kill himself and the one who is slightly stronger will kill the other. Both of them are dangerous for the society. And both of them are achieved only when we are, not prosperous, but when we do not have the feeling of prosperity for that matter. When the feeling of prosperity is there within the families in the society, there is a possibility of fearlessness, which I think is a goal at the level of society.

 

And when you are fearless at the level of the society, when you know that you’re prosperous. You do not have to exploit the nature for attaining your own goals. For example, let me bring into perspective the example of my own province, where in order to … Because we people, the farmers in my area, we did not have a sense of how much exactly do we need. So we went for chemical farming and we have ended up damaging the air, we have ended up damaging the water, we have damaged the quality of land, we have damaged the quality of human beings because we are using that much chemicals. Reason? We did not know exactly where to stop. How much do we want to earn? We did not know what we need, so put infinity as a denominator, so the end result was zero. And as a result we kept on exploiting the nature.

 

When we are in a position to attain the first three goals, at the level of individual, at the level of self, we are continuously happy. At the level of family, that we are prosperous. At the level of society we are fearless. Then at the level of nature, we will live with mutual fulfilment. We will fulfil. Just in order to, I’ll take a minute, I know that I’m going a little in too much of detail, but this is eight-day thing that I’m talking about and giving eight minutes is fine I guess.

 

When we look at the four orders that I spoke to you about, material, plant, animal, and human. We look at these four orders. The first three orders cannot think. The fourth one can. Out of material, plant, and animal, these three cannot think. Arguably third can think or may not think, this is arguable, but the first two certainly cannot. Fourth can. And if we look at the damage that has been caused to the nature, the first three are very certain. The fourth is uncertain. If we look at the first three, material, plant, animal, plant knows what to breathe in and what to breathe out. Human body also knows. But the plant also knows what to do, where to grow up. It has a certain behaviour. If I throw this glass from up side, it’ll go down, that’s it, right? There’s no uncertainty in it. If I crush it, it’ll be crushed. If it is strong then it’ll probably crush my hand. The first three are certain behaviours. The fourth does not demonstrate a certain behaviour. And all the damage that has been done to the nature has been done by the fourth.

 

It is important for us not to manage the other things. We are too busy managing material, we are too busy managing plants, animals, all those things. Without feeling the need to manage ourselves, to think within ourselves and understand that it is the human which needs to be corrected, nothing else. This is almost all that the workshop speaks about. As I said, this is in the form of a proposal which one can verify at one’s own level. The good thing about this kind of a workshop is that now, we started small. Those people started very small. Now they are multinational also. We are holding these kind of workshops overseas also. Some workshops have been had in South Asia. We are planning to expand overseas also. These kind of things, wherever required will be done. This is not done for the sake of material. This is not done for the sake of money, no money is involved.

 

Sam: When you, after eight days, went back to work and you went away as somebody that was all into high finance and you went back, what did you say?

 

Gagan: Oh, I did not say anything, I did. Two of the important things that I could do … Rather, three of the important things that I could do. I was too much into research. There were 23 students who were studying in the MBA programme, I was heading the programme department, I was head of the faculty there. I called my staff and told them that “Guys, look here. We are not going to do anything which does not have a purpose.” So all the research, those 23 guys, our students, they were supposed to write a project each. We told them that “Okay, all those 23 projects will be with a goal. And they have to be placed somewhere within this.” I handled it myself and looked at all the 23 topics myself and made sure that those are somewhat related and somewhat placed within this framework. Then we went ahead and did those projects, 23 projects.

 

Okay, now, this is one. I’ll talk about the outcome also. The second important thing was that, since I was heading the faculty, I was also to look after the industry placement of those students. I must admit that this was the first batch of MBA holder, and the placement scenario was not too good. Employability scenario, not many companies are coming to employ those people. So when we did this exercise of 23 people doing their own projects on some meaningful issues, I requested my principal who punished me to come out to give me some funds, and I want to publish a book of the summaries of those 23 projects. I wanted the students to come up with the research papers out of those 23. I submitted all those 23 papers into SSRM, which is a social science research network, and got those published there.  Sanjit is one of my students, but he’s a friend and he was a colleague there, so I got him to do all those things, and he did. He also attended a workshop by the way, and is doing a PhD under me on similar topic.

 

I wanted him to look at these 23 papers and then we submitted it to the network, and then we got it published in the form of a book. Then I sent those books to almost all the industry that was around. To all those companies, with a sworn letter from my end, that “This is what our students have done. I’m sure you’ll look for the right tenant. And I think you can evaluate these people on the basis of that tenant.” So we did that, and what happened next is anybody’s guess. All those 23 people got their own offers, didn’t they? This is how I propose that, when you do the right thing, you do not have to work for the outcome. You work on the input and the outcome follows. This was pretty strange, and after that I’ve never looked back. I’ve thought earlier, I was also thinking that I would have to work for these people’s industrial placements separately, I will work for the research separately, I will work for the academics separately. But then when I realised that this is what, this.

 

This isn’t about this part, but I would again put into perspective one more thing. The other thing that we did was that, both of us who were there at the workshop, we thought that “Once we have some more understanding about it …” So we attended two, three, four more eight day workshops. This time we requested the principal to punish us again. We attended three, four more workshops, and then we maybe thought that there is somewhat clarity about it. We started with a smaller version of it, one day, two day workshop for all the university students at our campus itself.

 

Okay, so we could give this as a thought to those students. By the way, I forgot to mention that this was also a course which my university introduced, compulsory course for the students, which will run into four credits. Three credits later. But what we did was voluntary, one day, two day workshops, weekend workshops. I’ll tell you what happened again, another important aspect of it. The students who went to this workshop, when they come to me and say, “Sir, there is construction going on within the campus. There is labour which is working, they are living in the tents. Their kids are there. They’re here for around a year or so, two years, three years, whatever time it takes for the construction to finish. And those kids are not going to the schools.”

 

I said, “That’s true, but what can we do in it?” They said, “You talked about society in that workshop. We want to begin with an evening school for those workshops, and whichever student is free will go and teach.” I said, “That’s, wow …” I said, “I do not, there’s nothing stopping, so let’s go on.” We started with it. We gave it a go-ahead and the students started with it by themselves. We gave it a name, called Prayas. Prayas is effort. Hindi version of effort is Prayas. So we said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We started with it, we did it, and while doing this thing, I was also looking at the PR part of my college, public relations. Some of my friends who were in the media, journalism and media, they came to me and asked me, “Sir, give us some story. Not news, but some story.” I said, “Okay, fine, I’ll give you one story.” So I got them to interview those students who did that. They did a story, it was a national story, it got published.

 

Next day, newspaper carries the story that the students, the engineering and management students, opened the window of opportunity for the underprivileged lot. Story gets published. Next day, the education secretary of the ministry calls my principal and says, “How dare? How dare? We are promoting and we are boasting that our state does not have a single student who does not go to school. And you are teaching people, you are mentioning in your story that this is what is happening.” So the principal said, “I’ll get back to you.” He called me up, “What’s going on?” I said, “Let me show you what’s going on.” Both of us, we showed him, “This is what is going on. Anything that you want to say about it?” He called education secretary back and told him that “This is what we are doing, we are gonna do it.”

 

Sam: Because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Gagan: Yeah, it was the right thing to do, so we did it. And then the government wrote to us that “We would like to adopt this as a school,” which my principal denied. He said, “No, I do not want the government to do it. I will continue doing it. I will have my people continue doing it because the people can do more than the government can.” These are a few of the things that did follow the workshop.

 

Sam: Just in terms of the framework, the self, family, society, nature … The first one, the continuous happiness self one, is that different to the satisfying rational man generating selfish happiness that you would’ve come across in the finance and the stock markets and things? Is that a different concept or is it the same thing?

 

Gagan: No, it is different. Well, we need to classify in that, individual, you need to classify human into a coexistence of body and self. There is nothing religious in it, there is nothing spiritual in it. But scientifically, there is a thinking pattern within us which can be called self or conscious, and then there is a material component, which is the body. Body, again, acts certainly, with certainty. If you hit like this, it’ll pain. Self is the one which is conscious. So between body and self, and there are needs of the body and needs of the self. Needs of the body are limited, certain. And the needs of the self are different.

 

When you look at the facilities, facilities are required by the body. For example, there is extent, there is a limit to how much you can eat. The body cannot tolerate, we cannot keep on eating, eating, eating, eating, eating. But the self feels, I should eat more, I should eat more. It is the self. Your stomach is full, but your mind still feels, “Yeah, more.” That feeling of more, wanting to have more, is there in the relation of man. Right, so-called relation of man.

 

But when you look at the things from this lens, suddenly you realise that there is extent, we have to be actually relational.  In that way, classifying it into body and self is what is different in this theory. In the typical theories, we only look at human, I think most of us we look at human as body. When we call ourselves selfish, there is no self-involved. It is bodyish, not selfish. I myself often say that being selfish is the best thing to happen. If you know what is in interest of yourself, that’s fine, that’s perfect, then the goal achieved.

 

Sam: So when you apply that lens to technical education, and you’re looking at a school of management or electrical engineering or whatever else it might be, what does this lens offer to how we develop that education?

 

Gagan: Firstly, I’ll slightly modify the question and then answer it. Rather then, remove the word technical and let’s apply it to education, and then let’s come over to technical education in the second stage. Education will give us the right understanding, which I spoke about, about the relations, about the facilities. What do we require? What does a human require and how do we get that? Two things, what and how. What to do and how to do. “What to do” is value and “how to do” is skill. There are two types of education. Value education is the one that deals with what to do question. And the technical education is the one that deals with how to do question. No kind of technical education, or value education, can be enough in isolation. It has to be looked at in an integrated fashion.

 

“What to do” needs to be addressed first, even for the technical education students. Even for the technical students, like we spoke about the electronics engineer, and myself for management, professional student of management, student of finance and economics. What to do needs to be addressed first and then we need to address the how to do part.  You cannot take for granted that these are the skillsets to be developed. We only need to look at the need, that what exactly do we need? What kind of skills do we need? Why do we need that? What is the placement of those skills in the entire system? And then we impart those skills.

 

The technical education, now coming to the part of technical education, needs to look at what exactly is the technicality that we need to impart to our students. Once we did valuable to do that, then we should think of ways and means to impart that. For example, as a school can representation also yesterday, we need management graduates. But do we need management graduates only to solve the multinationals? Only to solve the companies like, for example, you look at the telecom companies, you look at the e-tailing, retailing companies. Do we only need the management graduates to sell their products? Or can the management graduates also look at the problem of the India? For example, I take the case of India. The problem is that we do not produce what we should produce. We are producing what we should not. We are producing through chemical methods and we do not produce through natural method.

 

There is a reason to that. The reason is that when you use the natural method, the output falls initially. Cannot an engineer, who’s an agriculture engineer, cannot he study what is the extent of the fallen output? How much output fall is there? For how long it falls? If we can think about these questions, for how long the output falls? How much does it fall? Are there any natural ways in which we can stop these things? Or reduce these things? If we can think of the ways and means, then this is one part. This is one engineering, thinking about it, finding the answers to these questions. Second is that cannot the education people go out and spread the answer to these two questions to the whole farming community? And then tell them that “Okay, this is what … So don’t be afraid of it.”

 

Once we are able to reach to the farming community, then the management graduates can make groups out of them and get to know exactly what to produce from the market area, from the sense of the market, and then act as a bridge between these two. Engineers can further help, electronics engineers can further help through agri electronics, through concepts such as green engineering and all those things, as to get the maximum out of the system that we already have. The management graduates on the other hand can also tie up with the bigger chains like Walmart, with the bigger chains, and then supply to them the natural product, which you and me and all in India, all of us in India, we are just ready to pay any price for it, provided we get the right quality of food.

 

If this can happen, there’s a very simple solution through which we can not only do good in terms of facilities, because we don’t only require more food in that terms, we also require the right food. The right product is also important, the quality of the product is also important. Going by that, I think this will solve the facilities in a good way, and we will be able to maintain the relations with the human order and with the rest of the natures. In this way, technical education has to fit in this system.

 

Sam: Is this a lens that is universally applicable? Can you point this lens at anything?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, why not? Why not? It is only about understanding the lens first. It is not a material lens that you can just see through. It has to happen within yourself. You’ll have to realise the real things, and then only this happens.

 

Sam: You study humane business, which could be seen as a contradiction, if you’re managing a business in terms of maximising return, but I think you’ve just answered it in that it’s not … That question is too far down the track. You would see the question being asked much earlier, I suspect.

 

Gagan: More, I think, this is okay. Actually, Sam, I’m coming up with a model, I’m doing a research myself on the humane business, so I’m soon going to come up with a model of humane business. Maximising return, I put it the other way. The concept that I am giving is holistic value. We have talked about three things previously in economic literature. We have spoken about wealth, we have spoken about profit, we have spoken about value, and we’ve also spoken about return. What business generates, for me, is holistic value. As I said, if you’re able to generate the holistic value, your product sells itself.

 

For example, we spoke about the natural business example. I do not have to hire a Bollywood star to sell my natural product. I don’t have to pay to him for all that. I simply have to tell my people that this is what is good for your health. And not only tell them, I have to make them realise this. Once that happens, once they’re educated, so it is not marketing, it is education. Once those people, my consuming class is educated about it, your product sells itself. This is where I say that this business is not against the notion of profit. This is for the notion of profit. But profit is a term which we only used towards the stakeholders and that also for the share owners, just for the share owners. If we look at all the stakeholders, who are those stakeholders? All of them? Again, we put it in another way that the stakeholders will include the individuals, it will include the families, it will include the society, and it’ll include the nature. In the individuals it’ll include employees, it’ll include the consumers, it’ll include your share owners, your investors, and the ones who are not connected with you directly. All of them.

 

When you do the right thing, it’ll generate return for all of them. I think that’s more important. Profit? We are not leaving aside the profit. We’re including the profit within it. I’ll take a very small example in a minute. There are millions of farmers in India who are producing, and they’re dependent upon the government to buy their produce. The government in India, I’m not sure if you know about it and your listeners know about it. The government in India comes up with a minimum support price for agricultural produce every year, MSP. The farmers sell their produce at that MSP, minimum support price.

 

I came across a farmer … I came across many farmers, but while interviewing one of them for a research project of mine. I asked him that “What are you producing?” Most of the farmers in my area are producing wheat and barley. He was also wheat and barley. He said, “I’m producing wheat and barley through natural way.” I said, “Okay.” Just in an informal talk, I said that “Mr. Singh, will you please reserve some wheat for me this year?” We were in the month of February, it was in the month of February, and the produce was to come in April. I said, “Will you please keep it for my family, some produce? Maybe a couple of quintals? 200 kilogrammes my family will consume in a year. So will you please keep that?” He said, “No, sorry.” I said, “Sorry? I’m coming to interview you. I’m a university professor. I’m a high ended guy and I’ll pay you whatever it takes.” I thought, “How did he say no to me?”

 

Then I asked, “Why?” He said, “Sir, my produce comes in April, but I only take orders till May previous. So anyone who gives me order till May 2016 will be given the produce in April 2017.” Ooh, one year waiting. This is how the produce sells itself.  Mind you, this produce sells at more than twice the cost. More than twice of the typical produce, which is a chemical produce. And he does not have to use any chemicals in the produce, so his cost also comes down after a few years. This is how. This generates profit. Will you say that this does not generate profit for him? But it also does generate profit or value for the consumer, because other consumers will eat the chemical produce and then they will attract problems, diseases. The land will be in a problem. The other produce, which Mr. Singh is producing, generates not only the profit for him, but the value for all of the four stakeholders. This is what is holistic value.

 

Sam: So how does your framework relate to the notions of sustainability?

 

Gagan: I’ve already explained to you what is this framework all about. Let’s revisit what is sustainability now. UNESCO says that “Sustainability involves not consuming what belongs to your future generations.” Nagraj says that “Sustainability is not only that …” I mean, he does not use the word sustainability as such, but in his view sustainability is not only this.  You do what UNESCO has said while also adding value to the four levels. While also adding value to the human, to the individual, to the families, to the societies, and to the nature. In this way, the framework that we have discussed involves sustainability, but it involves more than that. Or it involves sustainability in a broader way. It does not look at sustainability only in terms of facilities. It also encompasses the relations between the humans or with the rest of the nature. And therefore, we do not go separately, for example, in one man, for society, for governance. We do what we are supposed to do, and everything else is outcome, is a byproduct.

 

Sam: How would you describe your superpower? What are you bringing to the superhero team?

 

Gagan: I’m simply bringing the kind of a need to think on what is required for yourself. Not just be preconditioned and thinking that I require a Nike t-shirt and that’s it. You need more. Not just what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but how will you live between breakfast and lunch? How will you live between lunch and dinner? How do you feel during that time?

 

I’m bringing the need to understand: What exactly do you need? What exactly do you need when you reach that point? Then you need more for your family. What do you need for your family? What do you need for your society? What do you need for the nature? All this, and there is no conflict of interest between these four, right? Usually we presume that there is a conflict of interest between families, there is a conflict of interest between Sam and Gagan, for example. There is not, there is none. I’m bringing this coexistentialism into the perspective. This is not being superhero, this is just being human. There’s nothing like superhero.

 

For example, I once asked Ganesh … We brought it into perspective, I asked him that “Sir, what is subconscious?” Said, “There’s so much thought about subconscious.” He said that “You better be conscious. So if you’re conscious, that’s it.” Similarly, someone asked him that “Do I need to meditate?” He said that “Once you realise what is to be done, once you realise all this.” So meditation goes on 24/7. If you are not to meditate separately, you exactly know what you are to do. Meditation is talking to yourself, knowing what yourself needs. If you know what yourself need through your conscious yourself, there is no need to be subconscious or unconscious of whatever.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, Sam, a lot. On my family front? On my individual front? On the society front? On the nature front? I’ll talk about all of them in a minute.

 

On my individual front I’m relaxed. For example, I know I’m earning enough. I’m not seeing a need to go for extra earnings. I don’t need to go for anything extra than that. I’m okay. This is for my individual front, and I’m happy. I do not have to worry for the things. I do not have to worry for my facilities, I do not have to worry for my relations, I’m okay. Things are fine. Things are going fine. I will not say I have achieved, but I am in the process at least.

 

On the family front, which is the most important for modern man. I will give you two or three important things. My wife and I, we live together. My parents and my wife’s parents live in Punjab, which is a province 300 kilometres away from my place where I work, uni. We go to the families whenever we go to Punjab. We go to the families, we spend time with them, everything fine. When I was to come here, I did not have to worry about my wife being at home alone. There is so much bonding within the family that I’ve spoke about this and both the families offered, “We will come and stay with her.” My parents are staying with here. That’s the one part at the family level. I do not have any confusions, we do not have any questions. My wife had also gone to the workshops though. After the marriage she went to one, and one she had gone into before the marriage itself.

 

Second important thing, which I think the most important thing. My father was diagnosed with a tumour a year and a half back. We thought that we would go through the allopathic treatments and all that. While I was going through the workshop and all, allopathy said that we will have to conduct a Whipple procedure, which is a medical procedure, which is a very lengthy procedure and a very complicated one. You have to remove some parts of the body and then … It’s a very complicated procedure. Very costly too, but cost didn’t ever matter much. Health mattered. We were prepared to go for the Whipple procedure. It was slightly malignant also, the tumour.

 

While I was going through the workshops some years back, 2010, I came across the first workshop, and this was in 2015 when we came across the problem, we got to know the problem of my dad. While going through the workshop and while talking to those people, I had come across that Nagraj, he has also written about the medical sciences. About what are the natural ways to cure different things. What should we eat, what all should be done. So I took my dad to Nagraj. One of the fellows who lives with him, Mr. Sudhan. We went to Sudhan and Amba, who is the daughter of Nagraj, and Nagraj, who was sick. He was at the age of 97 at that time. We went to him, I took my dad to him. They said it’s fine, his self is fine. His self is clean. It is just the body which needs to be taken care of. They gave some medicine, some natural medicine, and said that “You will have to eat these for six months.”

 

We said, “Fine, this is nothing. Nothing much in it.” Just for six months, and this would’ve been in October, so this was pre-conference. He took those medicines for six months. Then I again spoke him that “Okay, this is what it is. What to do next?” He said that “Okay, as it’s your family, let’s go ahead and eat these medicines for three more months.” He kept taking the medicines for three more months. Then, after those three months, we went to him. He looked at, they would just touch from, they would just see the nose and then feel what exactly is the problem. They would not do any other diagnosis that just the nose. Then he checked it and he said, “I think the problem is gone. But, again, as I say for my family, let us eat it for two more months. Half for one month and then further half for the last month and then done.” I said, “Okay, fine,” so we did it. After 11 months we underwent all the tests, all the chemical tests, the CT scan, the 19.9 test, all the tumour tests, everything, and there is no tumour.

 

Sam: Wow.

 

Gagan: This is at that level of the family I think I could not achieved this for any other way. I think this means the most to me, and to you, and to all your listeners. And those guys did not charge anything. I would have paid millions of money and then still, I’m not sure if we could have cured. We would have harmed his body till that required to be opened up. And all the doctors were saying that “This is foolish. You should not do this. You should go for the procedure.” Then when the results came and the same doctor looks at the report and says, “There’s not any tumour. Gone.” This is at the level of the family that I have achieved. That I can relax and I need not to think much about the physical problems that we come across or we may come across in the times to come. And I do not need money for it, I need relations.

 

At the level of society, I think I’m doing something worthwhile. I’m in the process of doing something worthwhile. I’m guiding two, three PhDs which are on this line. In the times to come, I’m going to come up with a model, as I said, humane model of business, which I think will go a long way in the business due to the right thing. That is what will happen at the level of society. It is already in the process of happening. I also know more about how to manage my team because I can understand. I understand myself as a human, so I understand others also as humans. It is easy for me to manage the teams.

 

For the nature? All this is nature. For the nature, you do not have to plant trees, right? There are many people who plant trees. You only have to not to disturb it. That is the biggest thing that you do. You don’t have to disturb the nature, nature will take care of itself. In that way, I think I have achieved these kind of things at all the four levels, yeah.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gagan: Yeah, I’m an activist because I work on myself, that’s it. Working hard on yourselves is an activism by itself. If you work on yourselves and the people can see you, this is what you are doing. The people who are close to you, they understand this is what he is doing and he is able to achieve some results. This transforms them also. This generates the eagerness to understand what you have understood, or what you’re starting to understand. In that way, I believe that activism is not much about showing what will … It’s not much about showing, but it’s more about doing on yourselves.

 

I come from kind of a family of activists. My grandpa was an activist, my maternal grandpa. He was an activist, he was a union leader. My father has been fighting all his life for the literary causes. I also kind of used to think that I’ll be a reactive activist, but then I realised that activism is more about this, rather than what I used to think before.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Gagan: Usually I just get out of bed and do some work for my family. For example, I go to the kitchen straight away and then get some water. I’m used to taking some hot water with some lemon and ginger and honey. That’s my first thing in the morning. That I do not only for myself, but also for my wife. I come from a society which is different. The wives do everything. This is something which I do. Then of course there are certain things, cooking, I do not know much about it, so she does it. It’s not that it’s only her who’s doing all this.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, we have different challenges Sam. Actually, capitalism has 20 different set of challenges at us. I spoke about working on yourself, but the whole world is hell bent upon work letting you work on yourselves. For example, I thought of … the title of my second book of poetry was Man is Never Alone. So I say this in a different perspective, and you can sense your answer out of that, that the whole world is hell bent on making people alone. For example, the selfies, right? You don’t even have to rely upon others to take your photo. You can yourselves as selfies. You do not have to do anything, you just sit in a room then do all the communication by yourselves. While you and I are sitting here, we could have sat here and work on our computers or on our mobiles and communicated to the rest of the world without feeling the need to communicate with each other. The whole world is hell bent upon making people feel isolated. And isolated, but busy. But man can never be isolated.

 

This is the challenge, the biggest challenge is that it is very difficult to realise that they need to think about themselves also. They will think about material, they will think about plants, they will think about animals, they will think about the body, but not the self. The biggest challenge is that capitalism is trying its best not to let this happen. So how will we make it happen? You create a challenge. I’m sure, once we are able to talk to the people and once we are able to demonstrate what is right, rather than preach what is right, the challenge will be met.

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Gagan: Oh, people understand.

 

Sam: That’s an easy one. And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gagan: Well, yeah. Your listeners should not only listen to the show, they should also listen to themself.  Listen to what are their needs in terms of relations and facilities. Then read the proposal that I spoke about. Read a little bit more about the proposal that I spoke about. The website is coexistence.in. They can go there to the website, coexistence.in, and then read a bit about the proposal. And if they need to, I’m being all available to cater to them. As I said, there is no material involved, no money involved, nothing. We can simply speak about this and help them understand what theirself needs.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Oh thank you. Thank you sir.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. That’s Sustainable Lens like a lens we’ve been talking about. On sustainablelens.org, we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Gagan Deep Sharma from the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi.  He works in the School of Management Studies. You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes as well as all the other sort of pody places that you’d find that sort of thing. We’re everywhere. But do like us on Facebook. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

This conversation was recorded in December 2016 at the 5th International Conference on Sustainability, Technology and Education 2016.

Categories
education marketing media

Sustainable messaging

Every student needs to understand that no matter what their life passion is, they can find a path to sustainability through what they’re doing.

 

Ferris Kawar is Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College.  With a background in marketing, Ferris offers an insight into sustainability messaging both on and off campus.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here because I’m in Santa Monica, at Santa Monica College, indeed. Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference. We try to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Ferris Kawar – who is the Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College. Thank you for having me.

 

Ferris: Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re here.

 

Sam: What a pretty amazing building.

 

Ferris: Yeah. Thanks. It’s a unique little space here on campus that we’ve had for over 20 years because a set of professors really recognised that environmental issues were important enough back 20 years ago. They wanted a hub on campus that we could really talk about these things, and cultivate interest with the students, and build it into curriculum. A few years ago they were able to get some funding to make it as sustainable as possible. We can demonstrate energy efficiency, and reuse, and recycling. It’s a zero waste office. It doesn’t have air conditioning or heat in here. We have some very innovative ways of keeping ourselves comfortable and making it a very useful space with a lot of people coming and going. It’s a very effective place to work. It’s great to show off all the time.

 

Sam: It’s a retro-fit in 1920’s bungalow.

 

Ferris: Yeah. Something like that. Maybe 1940’s. Yeah. It was old, draughty, bungalow that is actually replicated down the street. It’s nice to be able to look at our energy, gas, water bills. Then look at the one next door that really houses the same number of people working for the colleges. It’s apples to apples. Yet, our electric, water and waste bills are so much lower than everyone else’s. It’s a great model to show off.

 

Sam: We’ll come back to what you do in your job. Let’s do some bigger picture things first. Where’d you grow up?

 

Ferris: I grew up actually in the Middle East originally. In Amman, Jordan. Moved to the United States when I was 11 years old up to Northern California San Mateo. Went to college in Sacramento. Did my studies in business marketing. Then moved to the Bay Area shortly after that. Worked for an advertising agency for a number of years. Before I realised a really wanted a change. Didn’t see myself in advertising for the long term. Started to look around to what else I might want to do.

 

Interestingly enough, 15 years ago when I moved to Los Angeles to think about what I really wanted to do. I found myself here in Los Angeles. I ended up taking a workshop at Santa Monica College that was a sustainable living workshop. That was funded by the city. Taught you really how to reduce your foot print in every area of your life. I ended up taking that workshop. It blew me away. Opened up so many doors to possibilities. I said, that’s what I want to do. That’s where I want to focus my attention, and use my knowledge for creating messaging. I come from a marketing advertising background. I said, “That’s what I really want to do. To get the word out about sustainability.” That was 2001.

 

I actually ended up teaching the course here on sustainability. I outreached it to residences in Santa Monica. Then I went on and did some other work around Los Angeles in other areas. A year ago, I had an opportunity to come back and be the Sustainability Manager for the college. It was a nice full circle story. To be able to come back and see how the college has grown. Really built on it’s sustainability credentials. It’s fun to be back.

 

Sam: Let’s step more slowly through some of those shall we.

 

Ferris: Sure.

 

Sam: John.

 

Ferris: Right. Now they did go way back.

 

Sam: I’m going way back.

 

Ferris: My father’s Jordanian. My mother’s American. They met in college here. My father was a hospital administrator. He had an opportunity to open up a hospital in Jordan, and return to his home company. They thought, well, what an opportunity to raise our children there. Have work for him. I went to an English speaking school. That’s why you don’t detect much of an accent. I never really had one. I lived there until I was 11. I think it is such a great opportunity to live in another country. Learn that other people learn different ways. That’s really helped me be patient with people. I realised everyone really wants the same things. They might not have the same background, and social norms. They may not understand the value of recycling the way we were brought up to once I came to the United States. I know that doesn’t make them bad people.

 

When I go back to Jordan I notice that the recycling is not something that happens. There’s no system set up. That doesn’t make them bad people. They also reuse the heck out of everything. Far better than we do in the United States. I get to have that view from both sides. That view helps me understand people within the United States and my LA California. To see how different cultures see sustainability or don’t see it, but that they’re still probably interested in it. You just have to make it accessible to them. Introduce it to them in a way that makes sense.

 

Sam: It’s interesting how America, in particular, has jumped to the lowest form of the reduce, reuse, recycle pyramid.

 

Ferris: Yeah. That-

 

Sam: It doesn’t mean you can get away without reducing your consumption.

 

Ferris: That’s right, but recycling has been the best thing that people can really do. My last job actually was a Recycling Specialist for the city of Burbank, here in Los Angeles. I did that for six years. I was constantly surprising every group I spoke in front of saying, “Recycling should be synonymous with trash.” That’s the worst thing that you can do. You really want to focus on reduce and reuse. That’s why those two things were first. When you ask people, “Well what does that mean?” So few people really understand how important it is to not create the trash in the first place, even if you go and recycle it. They don’t understand the long journey these items have to take to get recycled. The amount of embodied energy it takes to create this thing in the first place. It’s going to create all sorts of pollution in the processing of the material. It’s quite a task we have to educate them.

 

Sam: From Jordan back to Northern California.

 

Ferris: That’s right. When I was 11. Went to finish my schooling there.

 

Sam: Had you been coming backwards and forwards until then?

 

Ferris: I had. Every two years we would come to the United States. I knew a little bit about American culture. Back in Jordan, my school was filled with expats and their kids. It wasn’t too much of a culture shock coming here, but it still was.

 

Sam: As you were a young teenager. What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Ferris: That’s the problem.

 

Sam: Young teenager get you past wanting to be an astronaut and whatever else …

 

Ferris: Honestly, sadly, I didn’t have any strong calling. I went into business because my dad was in business. It just seemed like a nice, safe thing to go into. You can apply it to anything. I really didn’t have any strong calling. It wasn’t until I was 30 when I stopped and said, “You know what? I don’t see myself in advertising.” This was fun for a while. Was really interesting. It made me feel like I was contributing. It wasn’t until I took the Sustainable Living workshop that I realised, oh my gosh, how much damage I had created? Creating ads to some things that people don’t need. That are just fueling the consumptive society. I always say this is my penitence for all those years.

 

Sam: I’ve talked to some people in advertising and marketing who are quite defensive of their role in sustainability. That their role is actually not necessary to sell more stuff, but to add value to stuff.

 

Ferris: They’re telling themselves that to make themselves feels better. Certainly there are some products, more and more are making their way onto the shelves, to give people options from the conventional products. I know the industry. I worked in it. I know that we all tell ourselves things to justify what we’re doing for a living. I think it’s important that we understand how powerful advertising is, but media as well. Not just advertising. They are very skilled practitioners in understanding the human psyche to make sure that they are getting people to buy a product even if they don’t really need it.

 

I think we saw, if you look back just after World War 2 the idea of modern day consumption really took root in this country. Before that people really purchased things on how sturdy was that product. How long was that going to last you? Not, how does it make you feel as a person. How does that product give you some kind of a value in terms of how you feel? Does it make you look good or not? Modern marketing has made people forget about how well made is this? What was it made with? How does it benefit my community? Now it’s just use it up, tosses it out, get the next season’s cover and repeat. They’re very masterful.

 

Sam: For someone with a background in advertising, who is not going to be defensive of marketing and advertising then…how real, how blatant is green washing?

 

Ferris: Green washing it’s definitely out there. You have to be very careful with it, but there are plenty of places to go to find products that have been vetted by organisations that you can trust. I mean, for me Environmental Working Group is an organisation that vets cosmetics, suntan lotions, underarm deodorants. All sorts of other beauty products. I will turn to them, because I am not a scientist. I am not going to be able to really look at … It’s too time consuming for me to try and figure it out on my own. You have to sometimes trust others, but really turn to ones who you can trust. Just be cognizant of it.

 

Even with green washing there is some value in it. It pushes that company. They’re always running the risk that they’re going to get caught. If they do, people are pretty diligent to call them out on it. Then force them to live up to the expectations that they put out there. 10 years ago, no one was even trying to green wash. It’s actually progress that we’ve got green washing, unfortunately. That’s sad to say. At least, it’s now part of the conversation and something we have to watch out for.

 

I find it interesting. I helped start a guide of green businesses. We started on Los Angeles. We researched every single business in Los Angeles that was consumer focused, not business to business. We had to walk in as secret shoppers. Figure out who was offering some kind of a sustainable alternative to your conventional products. When I first did it, this was 2005. Sustainability just wasn’t part of the conversation in the media. Every business owner was just completely honest whether they had something or not. You didn’t have to be really guarded about were they going to try to sell themselves as green. We did that guide, and released it.

 

Then we redid the guide two and a half years later. It was really interesting. In just that period of time. From 2005 to 2007, 2008, businesses had realised, wow, people really care about this stuff. I want to be a part of this movement. They were willing to embellish and to misrepresent or over represent how green their product lines were. You had to really start to pick through who was being honest and who wasn’t. It was a good sign. It made us have to be far more vigilant.

 

Sam: Somewhere between marketing, and you didn’t call it an epiphany, maybe you did, a workshop you went to here…

 

Ferris: Yeah.

 

Sam: Did you just stumble in through the door or was it something that was niggling or something?

 

Ferris: I knew that I enjoyed the outdoors. That was as close to an environmental direction that you can get. I had been thinking, well, what can I be doing? Where do I want to spend my energy? I just happened to read this course list. I think I was going to take Spanish and something else. I saw, oh, a sustainable Living workshop. I thought of myself as a pretty green guy. Lived in San Francisco for eight years. I recycled. Really once I took this workshop realised how little I knew. That’s really true of most people. We all think of ourselves as pretty environmental. Really, I’m doing everything I can. I don’t want else I can possible be doing.

 

That’s just human nature. People see themselves in a more favourable light than most people see them. Studies show, especially if you talk about recycling. If you asked the average person, 70% or 80% of people think that they recycle everything, all the time. Then you go through their waste bin. You realise, okay, only 30% are actually doing it right. Only, maybe 50% are actually doing it. Then only 30% are actually doing it right. That’s just human nature.

 

Anyways, I realised how much I had been missing. How deep this rabbit hole goes. I always say, “It’s like peeling back an onion.” You find out oh, I didn’t know about this issue. Then you peel back that layer and oh, there’s a whole other level of issues below that. You keep peeling it back. I’m not even half way through the onion right now. I’ve been working in this field for 15 years. It makes decision making really difficult. My wife looks at me and goes, you can’t just make the simplest choices. I said, “No!” There’s consequences to every choice. Once you know you can’t go back. I would rather be an informed citizen then to be blindly going through life, and creating damage. Not willing to address it. I think that’s what we kind of do. It’s better to hold that stuff at arms length so that you can just plead ignorance. Not feel guilty.

 

Sam: That’s the deal isn’t it? There’s the catch. The ignorant choice, let’s just carry on having a party and buying stuff, is a simple choice. We’re not offering people a simple choice.

 

Ferris: No. It’s complex. It is. I wish there were a way to bottle this, and/or package it in a simple term. One catch phrase. We’ve been working on cracking that nut for a long time. It just, we’re not there. No one’s really done it very well. Yeah. I deal with that all the time. I do messaging for the campus. For the students. In terms of transportation. To professors in terms of the curriculum. After a while, they start out and they’re pretty interested. Quickly their eyes can glaze over and they’re overwhelmed. It’s frustrating.

 

Sam: We’ll skip over some of the things you’ve been doing between now and then. Focus on what you’re doing now. You mentioned that you were at the City of Burbank and other things. Now at the Santa Monica college. You’re a Sustainability Project Manager.

 

Ferris: Correct.

 

Sam: Is it just you?

 

Ferris: I have an assistant. I have 14 student workers who really run five different eco-clubs. Those clubs range from a gardening club, a bike club, a plastic free SMC trying to get disposable plastic off campus. One that’s looking to get more vegetarian and vegan options in our food service. Each one of those, one runs a garden where it’s students teaching other students how to plant and be self-sufficient with your food. We have a bike club that’s really helping students become self-sufficient with their bikes. We hold a bike repair clinics. We fix bikes a couple of times a week at no charge. Constantly trying to get people back out on those bikes. Just because the chain comes off they don’t use that as an excuse to start driving again.

 

We have another one called Eco Action. Where we hold events. It’s using week long events to teach about sustainability. Like Earth Week. On sustainability week, we do massive beach clean ups where we have 600 plus people come down and clean up our beaches. You know? During these weeks we’re holding workshops. Do it yourself workshops. Debates. Movies. Events where we hold a free farmers market for students. Give away 1,000 pounds of produce.

 

These students are really my outreach arm. They re using their clubs to introduce sustainability to students in all sorts of different way from, like I said, transportation biking, to growing your own food, to food in the cafeterias and this such. It’s not really just me and my assistant. We have our minions.

 

Sam: That’s quite some commitment from the institution.

 

Ferris: It is. That’s not something that most universities really have. It’s been fantastic to have them supportive and allowing us to cultivate it over the years. The student association which is the student governing body, they have a sustainability director. It’s terrific because their president, vice-president, and treasurer…among their top leaders they have created a sustainability director position which is quite another commitment from the college. That they want to see sustainability infused throughout the campus.

 

One of their biggest coups I thought, was they hold the purse string for a lot of college departments. Through the year, as departments want to hold an event that is focused around students. They go to the student association and ask them for money to hold it. Generally thousands of dollars. They said, “It’s now our policy, if you hold your event it has to have recycling and composting. You have to use compostable materials for your servings.” From your folks, cutlery, to plats, and cups. It all has to be compostable. That’s, I think, overnight changed the way that people thought about throwing an event on campus. It caused all the departments to stop and think how they spend their money. When you throw an event it doesn’t just mean you’re going to create a massive amount of waste that day. All of that material can either get recycled or composted. Just with the stroke of a pen, there power as a leverage point to get the whole college to really think differently about events and waste.

 

Sam: How high up in the Santa Monica structure, physical structure or in terms of policies and mission statements and whatever, where do we go to see sustainability?

 

Ferris: Well, we have a brand new president. Only a couple of months old. Our previous presidents have been big supporters. The president, two presidents ago, signed what we call the ACUPCC American College President Climate commitment. That person signed this letter saying that our college will make every effort to reduce its carbon footprint over a period of years. That was 2009. That is really driving what we do for the years forward. Since then, we have been able to have one of the five ILO’s, which is Institutional Learning Outcome. Those change every few years. They are kind of also our guiding principles of what our college wants to have our students get out of these years that they’re with us.

 

One of them has to do with sustainability. That they will become sustainable in their actions. They will learn to live as sustainable citizens. We talked a little bit earlier about global citizenship as a requirement for graduation. It’s a series of classes students or a set of classes students need to take to be able to graduate with an AA degree here. They have offered at least some of those classes their sustainability focused. They recognise that to be a global citizen you should be knowledgeable about sustainability.

 

Sam: Is that all students have to do a compulsory sustainability course?

 

Ferris: No. Not all students. They have a choice out of a set of classes to take. A few of them are sustainability oriented classes. They could take classes that deal with other cultures. They don’t have to just take sustainability classes. They are offered as an option. You’re talking about-

 

Sam: It’s alongside, things like social justice…

 

Ferris: Correct.

 

Sam: They can’t avoid this sort of thinking.

 

Ferris: Yes.

 

Sam: It might not be specifically sustainability.

 

Ferris: Yeah. I would like to see it infused as a mandatory lass across the board everyone needs to take. There’s so many other courses that are mandatory. How hard it is to get to add another one to the list. There’s really three ways that we have sustainability in our curriculum. One of them is we have a Sustainable Living workshop. Very similar to the one that I took 15 years ago right here at this college. It’s still being taught here. It’s an eight week workshop that teachers students how to reduce their personal footprint. It’s a non credit course. It’s just for extra credit. We have about 70 professors who offer that to their students.

 

It’s really great because you get students who are not self-selected environmentalist. Typically, when you say hey, we have an environmental course. Why don’t you come and take it. Most of the students who show up are the ones who already know this stuff, who just want to go deeper. Well this particular course, you’re getting students who may be getting a C, and they just want to make sure that they pass. They’re taking the extra credit. It is a life changing opportunity because they’ve never heard this material before. It’s an hour and a half each week. We talk about energy, water, waste, chemicals, transportation, food, and shopping. We have experts come and talk. We have films and field trips. It’s a really, really robust course. That’s one way. You get a lot of professors who support it by offering extra credit.

 

Then you have a whole subset of professors who are weaving sustainability into their curriculum. Such as english professors, business professors, art, anthropology, psychology, sociology, public policy. That’s terrific. I’m constantly trying to expand that. Get other professors to recognise that they can use sustainability as examples in whatever course it is. We have a fashion design course, and a cosmetology course. Those professors just recently came to me, because I held a green career fair recently. They were actually interested in having some speakers come to their classes that they have never thought about. Oh! Nontoxic nail polish. Wouldn’t that be interesting to talk to our students about. Fashion design that took into account the damage that seasonal changes in fashion create.

 

It’s actually expanding quickly. That’s the subset. Then there’s another area that we call it the Sustainable Technology programme. We have an Energy Efficiency certificate. A Recycling and Resource Management, and Photovoltaic Installation certificate that you can get. This is more for students who really want to change careers. Who know exactly, they just want to get into this field of work. They can come. They can get a certificate from us. We help them get out into the working world. This is one of those, we call it CTE programmes. Where they are certificate, technical, education. Try to get them out into the workforce. Then we also have an Environmental Science, and Environmental Studies degree that students can take, and to transfer with.

 

Those are all the areas of curriculum that we offer.

 

Sam: Do you think that students coming through now getting it?

 

Ferris: More and more. Definitely. They are getting it. They’re getting it from other areas. There are plenty of studies that show that this is what students are really interested in. I wish that the professors would get it. That there students are getting it and they’re looking for those examples. They really are. I think the students have heard it long enough. They just need it to be applied in a way that’s accessible in each programme. Whether they’re a business student or in fashion design. They need it to be made accessible so that they can say, “Oh! I see now.” Because, yeah, sure recycling. Great. Well, that’s bottles and cans. When you talk about recycling in dollars and cents. How much it can save a company in an accounting course. Then you go, oh! Okay. These things really do matter. Waste is not just the cost of doing business. It is an opportunity to make the business more money by being smarter about it. I don’t know. I’m constantly fighting to get more professors to embrace these examples. They’re usually the hardest to change the minds. They’ve been doing this for years.

 

Sam: With a background in advertising, how are you using those skills in this job?

 

Ferris: Well, it’s was using what I know about messaging really. It’s a lot of promotional material we create. Understanding that you need to simplify your message as much as possible. It’s a complex message, but as much as we can we try to break it down so that it lands. Most people are overwhelmed with emails and messaging all around them. When we put out any email, or brochure, or posters, or banners, all that kind of stuff, we try to distil the message down as simply as possible. That they can get our top line message and then if they need to drill down offer them the website to go to.

 

Sam: That works when the message can be simplified. Can you simplify wicked, complex, messy problems? Which is the essence of sustainability?

 

Ferris: No. It’s very difficult. It’s not easy. Say for our transportation campaign, we have 12 different options that we offer for getting to campus without your car. From apps, to bus, and trains, car-pooling, websites. All of these tools that we give people. We really focus the message on reduce stressed, and time, and money. That’s what people really care about. I don’t really mind if take a bike, or carpool because it actually saves them money, not the environment. The end result is they are saving both. That’s what matters to me. I try to play down the environmental aspect of it. I know that 80%, 90% of the people really care more about how long does it take me to drive, and fight traffic, look for parking. How expensive is it to fill up my tank every week. Be the one responsible behind the wheel. I try to focus the message on those things that I know people care about universally. Rather than, hey, this is better for our air, and for our kids, and for our future. That’s just too amorphous.

 

Sam: Does it matter if they’re changing behaviour for the wrong reasons?

 

Ferris: At this point, no. Ultimately, I would like them to change for the right reasons but I feel like we have tried to get them to change for the right reason. People really are not responding that much more than they were 10 years ago. A little bit more. We’re making some gains. There’s some other things that need to happen in society before we get to wholesale, real, tangible changes. You almost need to do it in other ways. Get them to change for other reasons, or to just institute mandates. Just go that route. Say, well, okay, we’ve used the carrot forever. We have to use the stick a little bit. You know? Maybe. I don’t know. I actually can’t think of an example that we would use on campus here.

 

The City of Santa Monica has an example where they said, by mandating that residents can’t put in spray irrigation anymore. They have effectively gotten rid of any new lawns going into the city. You have to have spray irrigation for lawns. You can’t drip or these other targeted irrigation techniques. They pretty much just said, “You can’t have a grass lawn in our city anymore.” Or they said, “You can’t use plastic bags.” We tried to get people to let go of plastic bags for a very long time. At one point, they just said,”Well, that’s enough.” If you want, to pay for a bag. You will get a paper bag, but you will have to pay 10 cents for it. They mandated getting rid of styrofoam. All of these things. After a while, you can try to educate people about the dangers of having all the stuff in our environment.

 

At the end of the day if they are just not going to make those choices on their own. Sometimes just having to mandated it just works very well. In each one of those cases that I mentioned, the sky didn’t fall. Business adjusted. It didn’t really cost anymore to your meal or to your shopping trip. People started to remember their bags. Get used to other packaging materials. That was that. It all passed very quietly.

 

Sam: Putting in place systems that offer a better alternative, so that people aren’t able to use the…

 

Ferris: That’s right.

 

Sam: This is better life not a lesser life argument.

 

Ferris: That’s right. They’re doing it in transportation by narrowing streets. They call it street diets. Widening bike lanes. I agree with all those measures. We’ve for so long made it so easy to drive. Where parking was free. Streets were wide. We’ve filled up all those parking spots and those streets with cards. It was so convenient. Gas was cheap. Now they’re saying, well, let’s not make it so easy for people to make that choice. Let’s incentivize other options. People are finding other reasons to love getting out of that car. Being freed of the constraints of just having cars as your only option to get around. Now that people are forced to try other options they’re realising, wow, this is great. I don’t have to be the responsible one behind the wheel. Deal with parking tickets. Paying for parking passes and all that kind of thing.

 

Sam: Is all that enough? When you said that you opened a door, went through a rabbit hole, are we challenging ourselves far enough? I’m thinking of the student events that require to have compostable cookery. Wouldn’t we be better off having china?

 

Ferris: Yeah. We do that here at our office. It does become problematic when you have an event for 2,500 people. That can be a big cost to rent all of that. Yes. That is ultimately where we need to go. Every department on campus should have place settings for 20 people. At least everyone in their department. There’s always going to be a birthday party. An event that they have throughout the year. They should have their own. You’re absolutely right.  We are still taking baby steps when we need to be moving in leaps and bounds. We are not moving fast enough to keep up with the pace of the closing window of opportunity to keep the climate somewhat stable. We know it’s not going to be what it has been for so many generations. To keep it livable by our standards.

 

Sam: what’s it going to take to move an institution, or society, or even a family, to that leaps and bounds side?

 

Ferris: I think it comes back to media having a responsibility for their messaging. I think that most people get their cues for living from the media they consume. Whether it’s magazines, TV commercials, the news, music videos, films, TV shows. They are all putting out the message that life is fine. Everything we’re doing is fine. Continue as you have been. Even though, once in a while, they’ll do a news segment on ocean acidification is a real problem. They’ll cover that topic. Then they’ll be a commercial for a seafood chain. Or Oprah will talk about a real important environmental issue. Then turn to the audience and say, “Now for Oprah’s favourite things. Look under your seat and see all the things you get to go home with today.”

 

We put 2% into, hey, here’s some really important issues happening to us. Then 98% of the time, people are lulled back into a sense of security that everything is going to be fine. No one has changed their tune anywhere else in society. I’m surrounded by the message that things are fine. Don’t worry about it. Let government take care of it. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry your pretty little heads. People are constantly lulled back into that feeling about how I don’t really need to make any changes. I think media needs to realise they have a real responsibility to society to work into their TV shows, into their messaging, actions that represent where we want to be. They’re always trying to represent exactly reality.

 

Unfortunately, the people who are writing the scripts are not, what I think. are the most conscientious people on the planet. Most of them live here in LA. You see them in a coffee shop writing their next script. They are very, you know? I don’t think they are who we really want to be emulating our life after necessarily. They want the next big car. They want a big flashy house. They think everyone can live in a 5,000 square foot mansion. Everyone now aspires to the live a life of the rich and famous. Instead of having what really matters to people. I think when you get down to people really want time. They want their health. They want time with friends and family. That’s not what people seem to be going to work for. They tend to take on extra jobs because they have to pay for the extra house. The condo they have in the mountains. The boat that they bought. The accumulation of things.

 

Instead of reflecting the way life is, well, let’s try to reflect the life we should be living. Put some ethics back into our journalism, and the media that we produce.

 

Sam: Has the switch to social media given us a window to catch up that fast moving window that you talked about before?

 

Ferris: Yes, it has, because people are not just limited to the corporate owned news giants. Just even the regular TV shows that are produced by NBC, CBC, ABC. We have the opportunities to be entertained by a while new range of people. Which is good and bad. We have the potential for being able to be exposed to better messaging. Is that what we’re actually getting? Not necessarily. Sometimes. I use my Facebook page to constantly enlighten my friends about issues that I think are very important to me. I’m not taking pictures of my meal and posting them. I’m using that to hopefully get through to some people.

 

Sam: With the exception of people that are your friends, and probably mine, the danger of social media is the ability to tailor your feed. To only stuff that you want to hear about.

 

Ferris: Yeah. That’s true.

 

Sam: It’s not challenging us at all.

 

Ferris: That’s true. Even in news, they’ve shown that if you’re interested in this range of politics they will tailor your news feed to that. That is dangerous.

 

Sam: Do you think it’s important that students on campus are challenged?

 

Ferris: Yes. Absolutely. Up ‘til now, we’ve been coddling our youth. Protecting them. They are going to be living in to a world that is very different than the world you and I grew up in. They need to be ready for the realities of that. Be proactive in helping to change their future. I’m sure every commencement speech has had similar words. I feel like it’s never been so true. Everyone, this is the most important decision in their life. How are they going to contribute to, get involved, in the decision making for their future. If they want to have the easy living that they had growing up? They’d better get active. We have not set them up very well for a nice, easy life. I’ve got two young kids. It really hits home for me. It’s a distraction. Knowing that they are not going to have the same opportunities that I had.

 

Sam: What’s your go to definition of sustainability?

 

Ferris: Being able to take care of your needs without sacrificing the needs of future generation. Pretty basic.

 

Sam: If you could have a sustainable superpower, how would you like your sustainable superpower to be described? What is it that you’re bringing to this hero action?

 

Ferris: Are you saying like a sustainable super hero or a … got you. Well, I’d say that person was able to, with a single blow, knock the senses into all media giants. Knock the money out of politics. Those two are to me some of the biggest hurdles. Those are the heart of the problem. The reason that we don’t make more headway is because of the money interest in power that don’t want things to change. People don’t see it because the media doesn’t give it much credence. The majority of the people don’t really see the connection. I think that if those two were addressed we could actually make some quick progress. Everything that we need to survive into the future is off the shelf right now. We’re not waiting for a magic bullet to be created. We don’t need a super hero to come and save us. It’s off the shelf technology. We just need the political will. To have the political will, those two things really need to change.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Ferris: I’ve seen in California, the biggest success we’ve had are some new laws that are mandating organic recycling. There are two laws that said, first of all, businesses of over a certain size and apartment buildings over a certain number of units have to start recycling. Then there was a compositing law that said if you are a business that generated a certain amount of organic waste, you have to start composting as well. There’s a third one actually said for all cities and municipalities who had been taking the green waste, you know? The green cart … Up till now, that all had been used as cover for landfills.

 

This sounds asinine that people would take the time to separate their garden clippings, grass, and leaves. Put them in a greet cart. A separate truck would pick all of those up. Put them all together. Then they would take them to a landfill. Instead of turning them into compost, they were being used as what we call alternative daily cover. They would be used as covering on a land fill. It would keep down smells, birds from landing and picking up trash and carrying it off into neighbourhoods. That was somehow okay. They would get credit for they diverting that green waste from a landfill, but it was being used. They said, “Well we have to cover the land fill with something every day.” Instead of tarps, they used green waste. That’s still stuff that turned into methane and leachate.

 

Anyways, they now have to find a way to compost all that stuff. In just a couple of years, those have been the biggest wins for me. Composting to me is one of the most elegant solutions to so many different problems that we have. It’s the quickest way to get from a stack of negatives to creating something positive in the environment. They are now going to have to create a whole bunch of jobs, and composting facilities throughout California that are really going to change the amount of Methane gas that’s being distributed. All sorts of other things.

 

Sam: Have you got the food waste from the food halls on campus sorted?

 

Ferris: Not completely. We compost 250 pounds of organic waste from our cafeteria through the digestive tract of about 40,000 worms on campus. We have compost piles that are organic learning garden. Here in our office we use worms to eat through our food waste. Now we have a green waste collection system also for all the other campus green waste that goes to be composted. Still some is making it into the garbage, but it’s relatively small now.

 

Sam: Your building’s got lots of clever things like the solar tubes for the lights. You don’t have the actual lights turned on. You’ve got a very, very clever heating system. Powered essentially from the heat of the CPU’s from the computers.

 

Ferris: Yeah.

 

Sam: Are you seeing those things leaking out into the rest of the campus?

 

Ferris: No. I’ve only been here a year. I focused most of my tours on students. Just figuring that most of the campus had experienced this building. Now I realised over the last year, that every time a new faculty or administrator or facilities person came through here, they were looking at it like it was the first time they were seeing this. I really need to focus on getting open houses happening here, so that they really realise what the potential is for their offices. Especially in terms of zero waste. What they could be doing. Yeah. There’s a lot that we could do. Although, every new building on campus is going to be LEED Gold. Which is one down from Platinum. One down from the highest rating. That’s our commitment. At least the shell of the building will be built pretty sustainably. There is how you fill it, and how much paper you use, and all of that stuff can be done better. I think I can have more influence there. Our facilities in our college has committed to building green. Every new building from here on out.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Ferris: I do.

 

Sam: In what way?

 

Ferris: Well, I am not just doing my job and fulfilling my stated goals for the year. I really think that the students can be a big influence. I can be a big influence on the students and how involved they get in the politics on campus, or the politics outside of campus. I definitely have my opinions, as I stated, about campaign and finance reform, and media reform. That those are two real key areas that need to change for my job to get easier. Even though those two areas are well beyond the scope of my job. I think, well, wait a minute. Why continue to nibble around the edges of this problem when the real heart of the matter is we’re being stopped by too much money in politics. People not learning about any of these issues because of the failure of media.

 

Sam: You have students on campus that are right across the political spectrum.

 

Ferris: Sure.

 

Sam: How do you message it so that it’s, not down the middle, but clearly, particularly if you’re seeing sustainability as including things like social justice it veers it off to the left. How are you not disenfranchising the right from the sustainability thing you’re trying to do?

 

Ferris: Well, quite honestly, first of all … This is something I want to do. I have not been really been an activist and putting this into my messaging out there. Having said that, I think if I just plainly said to people there’s too much influence on our politicians by organisations. Almost, everyone will nod their head. Some people would be saying, Yes! Those unions have way too much influence on our politicians. Yes! The corporation gives the $100,000 cheque has too much influence. They both agree with my statement. My statement is still true. Then I say that those unions and corporations shouldn’t have that much influences on a politician. A politician should be freed up to make their own decisions. Vote from their heart and their minds, rather than from whose going to give me the next campaign contribution. I think that it’s possible to have a message that is a political and be true at the same time, and you will strike the chord with everyone across a political spectrum.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Ferris: I am blessed that I get to come to work. Get paid for the work I would be doing anyway. I get to have the best conversations from facilities people, to the students, to faculty. Then interviews like this. Obviously, I can talk forever on this topic. I frequently do. It gets me up everyday. I would be out there doing this for free if someone wasn’t paying me for it.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Ferris: I’m done with challenges. Okay. In terms of my job, one of the biggest challenges is transportation. Getting people on and off this campus. Doing it without a single person, in a single car. I’m really excited actually to see some new things developing. We just got the new train that came to town. That is serving all the way into Santa Monica and taking people downtown. Have never had that in the last 60 some odd years. We have just a whole new array of technology and services that have just surfaced in the last year. That are filling the gaps of what we call the first last mile. That has kept people from using an alternative form to get to campus. You know? So many people remain tethered to their automobile.

 

They drive it because they’re afraid. Well, what if I get to campus and I have to leave unexpectedly? My kids gets sick or I have to leave early or stay late. I just want it as a safety measure. Now we have car share parked right on campus here, so that people can rent a car. We have bike share. They can use it to go to lunch or go to another campus for a different class. Go down to the beach. Go to the bank. We’ve got new apps that tell you exactly when the bus is coming. It takes the guess work out of am I just going to waste part of my afternoon waiting for the next bus.

 

It’s all these little things that have popped up and are making it really easy to say, you know what? I’m just going to leave that car at home. Make it a bit of an adventure. If something comes up, which 98% of the time it doesn’t, but if it does, I got options. I can take an uber home. I can rent one of the cars if I need to. They’ve even got a car on the street that is an electric car. Doesn’t cost anything to drive for the first two hours. You can get most of your errands done in essence for free. You’re driving around in an advertising wrapped car which I have a little bit of a problem with. But, hey, that’s the only kind of advertising that I’m really supportive at this point.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning. What would it be?

 

Ferris: Okay. It would be to have the President say, “Every professor has to use some kind of sustainability examples in their course work.” I think that it’s easy enough to do. There’s plenty of great examples out there. Every student needs to understand that no matter what their life passion is, they can find a path to sustainability through what they’re doing. They don’t have to give up feeling good about what they do just because they love to design clothing. The days of leaving your values at home while you go to work are over. We can do both now. We need to show our students that it’s possible. That they need to just get a little bit more creative. Continue to follow their heart, but also their mind. The ethical part of their mind.

 

Sam: That’ll be an interesting Presidential directive. Some people would argue you couldn’t do it because of academic freedom reasons.  But you couldn’t get away with teaching in a racist way, or in sexist way.

 

Ferris: Right.

 

Sam: How can we let them get away with teaching it in an unsustainable way.

 

Ferris: Right. I’ve been saying the same thing. We don’t allow people to yell fire in a crowded theatre. Yet, we can allow a news channel to call itself a news channel when they have an agenda. They are omitting facts, or cherry picking facts, or manufacturing facts. You know? How do we allow one thing under our first amendment right, right to free speech, and say, oh, we can’t limit people’s speech? Yet we do. We do it for good causes. I think this is a good cause. I think we have to change our … Well. Let’s see. We have to really consider how much damage our current system creates. How we can best address it in the quickest way.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Ferris: My advice is always vote with your dollar. Every single dollar counts to help drive the right kind of investments, but think bigger. Don’t just think of the things that you buy at the store, but your investments. Then think even bigger than that. How is your local government spending its money? Up to the national level. Where are we putting our incentives? Is it for things that are truly beneficial to society or not?

 

Sam: Thank you very much.

 

Ferris: Thank you.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me Samuel Mann. We are broadcast on Otago Access Radio.OAR.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org.  On sustainablelens.org we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are playing their skills for a sustainable future. In our conversations we try to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see a world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Ferris Kawar who is the Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College. You can follow the links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens for iTunes and other places for free. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

 

 

This conversation was recorded in May 2016 at Santa Monica College.

Categories
education

Educating for professional dilemmas

Geoff Scott

This is one of the big problems of the sustainability movement, the green movement, is they assume, falsely, that change is achieved by brute logic. Change is not achieved by brute logic. It’s achieved by, in fact, listen, link, leverage and lead.

Tonight’s guest is Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University.   He was in Dunedin to help Otago Polytechnic celebrate its 50th Anniversary by presenting a keynote at the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Symposium.  Many of the resources Geoff refers to can be found on the FlipCurric website.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann.

 

Shane’s not here tonight but I am joined by Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University. He’s Pro Vice- Chancellor but also runs the Office of Sustainability there. He’s the leader of the UN-endorsed Regional Centre of Education for Sustainable Development. He’s the Executive Director of sustainability at the university. He’s the co-chair of the Sustainable Futures Leadership Academy. In 2010 he undertook a stocktake of sustainability in Australian universities and a long list of other things. But we’ll start with you. Where’d you grow up?

 

Geoff: Manly, surfing. Born in 1945, first surfboard in 1956 with a man called Midget Farrelly, who just died recently. Actually he was the first world champion. Midget and I started on the same day with a eighteen-foot board in Manly in 1956.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Geoff: I have no idea, really. I’m 71 now and I’m still not sure what I’m going to be when I grow up. That’s one of the wonderful paradoxes of life, really. My career has been one of strategic serendipity where, if you’re not completely obnoxious, when someone says, “Can you think of anyone for some job that I never knew about,” they put your name up and you didn’t even know the job was there. This is the myth of intentional career development by six steps, really. I think I just wanted to do outdoor stuff basically and live by the sea, really. The rest of it … I feel lucky, I was a baby boomer. Seemed to come along without a lot of strain actually, in those days.

 

Sam: Did you get to live by the sea?

 

Geoff: Yeah, yeah. I lived at Manly and I was a young skipper in the West Indies at one stage. That was in the sea, really, for a couple of years. We now live by the harbour in Sydney and I surf every day.

 

Sam: Wow. What did you do when you left school?

 

Geoff: When I left school I went to Sydney University. First in family at university. My mother and dad were so paradoxically perplexed but proud that they came down to Manly Wharf when I caught the ferry out for my first day and waved me off like I was going overseas. My first tutor was Germaine Greer. My first day at university in ’63 was Germaine Greer. That set me up for a life of anarchy.

 

Sam: What were you studying?

 

Geoff: English, history and maths. I got into a whole lot of faculties but Dad thought because we’re first in family and didn’t have any money, that if I took a teacher’s college scholarship, that would give a lot. That gave ten quid a week as well as paying your fees whereas if I need medicine, I’d only get the fees paid. I became a teacher of English, history and maths.

 

Sam: You didn’t have any particular ambition to be a teacher?

 

Geoff: Not really. In those days it was actually quite a prestigious thing as opposed to now. When I got quite a good result on what was then called the “Leaving Certificate”, I had a choice. I certainly put down teaching as a choice, and engineering. I got interviewed to work in engineering and then I got into medicine, as well. The financial arrangements at home dictated, really, that my choice of the three turned out to be teaching.

 

Sam: And did you go teaching?

 

Geoff: Yeah, yeah. After I finished I taught for two and a half years in high schools in Sydney. Then I left and went overland with my girlfriend, Carol. Took us a year to get from Sydney, we hitchhiked from Sydney to London. except for a plane from Bangkok to Dhaka. Took us a year. There was a hippie trail. It was all quite safe in those days. Like Afghanistan was stunningly beautiful and very safe and Iran was good. It was not at all fraught.

 

Sam: It’s hard for people to get that sort of experience now, isn’t it?

 

Geoff: It’s just changed completely, in terms of sustainability, social harmony, actually top of the agenda and cycles that have been through life. I drifted into the sustainability area almost because when I was travelling, I was so taken by the multiple cultures, the way in which people lived, the way in which they could sometimes, although they never have labelled it, live sustainably and all. We stayed with people in little [camp-ons 00:04:57] in the middle of nowhere. The way they actually sustainably lived their lives stayed with me. They were decent to people. They were humane. There was a certain social sustainability about them. Their economic, they didn’t have a lot of money but, by goodness, they seemed content. Consumption was not happiness for them.

 

Yes, travelling, as we know, it’s a cliché. I’ve actually written a little book about it on the two years there. We call it “Travelling with the Princess of Serendip”, which is that wonderful story of happy chance, serendipity.

 

Sam: You found yourself in London?

 

Geoff: Yes, naturally.  Lived in a basement flat with rising and falling damp, down actually in SW four or five. I think we were down at Hammersmith or somewhere like that, or maybe Fulham, I can’t remember now. It was the ’60s. Then we went south. That’s how I became a yacht skipper, just through serendipity. I was sitting in a bar in Tanner Reef with my girlfriend and next to me was a bloke from Seattle who’d been made redundant by Boeings. He turned to me at one stage and he said, “Would you be interested in an adventure?” I said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “I’ve got a thirty-two-foot yacht down there. My wife got seasick and has gone back to the states and my friend got claustrophobia, and I need someone to help me sail it over the Atlantic to Antigua in the West Indies.”

 

I thought, why not? That’s how I came to be in the West Indies. Once I’d sailed, I was automatically, in those days, seen to be a really highly competent mariner, so I got jobs. I was a mate on an eighty-foot yacht, then a skipper. Delivered yachts around the West Indies and did charters with people from New York, just found myself at Galveston and left that and displayed it around the States for a bit. Met a whole lot of sustainability-oriented hippies. The way you end up and what you end up being interested in life is never really articulated. I’m only articulating it to myself now because you asked that question, connected to sustainability. I didn’t have any vision about that. I was too busy drinking beer and [inaudible 00:07:13] and surfing. But you’d experience …

 

Sam: How long did you manage to pull that off for?

 

Geoff: I came back to Australia, I taught in Wood Green School in Whitney for a year and for a six-month stand in the Balearic Islands in Spain and then I got back to Australia about ’73, so I left in ’69.  Then I just serendipitously walked into a senior tutor’s job at Macquarie Uni. I was out actually in to academia I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea so I thought maybe I’ll do education administration so I went into Masters course in that and I was walking up the corridor with my board shorts on and some bloke said, “Hey, you. What are you doing?” I put my head around. This bloke called Tony Johnson said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m enrolling in a Masters course.” He said, “You’ve got a degree?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Would you like a job?” I became a senior tutor in education and that’s my career, really. I ended up being a Dean of Education and all those sorts of things over the years, and a Pro Vice- Chancellor and it just sort of came out of me going up to the Macquarie Uni, not knowing what was going to happen serendipitously and Tony having to, for some reason, call me back.

 

Sam: He liked the look of your shorts …

 

Geoff: Otherwise I would’ve walked off into some other life, really.

 

Sam: You did a PhD there?

 

Geoff: No. What I then did is I did the tutoring work there. Then I was enrolled in that Masters and then I thought … My mate Bob went to Canada, to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto and he said, “Mate, do your Masters over there,” so I got a job working at the School’s Commission for a year or two and then Bob came back and said it was great so I just sort of thought that’ll do for me. I went again, serendipitously, and I did my Masters there and then ten years later, my friend Michael Thorne, who I met then in the Masters, he then asked me to come back and got me a big scholarship to do my doctorate so I did both my Masters and my doctorate in Toronto. Met my wife there, go over to Canada every year now.

 

Sam: What is your PhD on?

 

Geoff: It was on what do you do on Monday to make change work in the universities and colleges. There’s too much talk about what should happen and nothing happens on Monday so my doctorate was about, what do you do on Monday to engage mad people who don’t want to change.

 

Sam: Who don’t want to change.

 

Geoff: And those who do but are overly enthusiastic and how do you work out what we should all try and do that’s digestible as well. We’ve written books about, Michael and myself, wrote a book about if your listeners are interested and are in higher ed. It’s called “Turnaround Leadership for Higher Education” and it’s actually the story of how I then took what I learned in the doctorate and applied it as Pro Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney Uni to turn it around and it starts off with the quote. The opening quote in the book is, “It’s been said that elementary school teachers love their students, secondary school teachers love their subjects and academics love themselves, and therein resides the problem of change in universities,” so it’s about that. I said it in a caring and nurturing way and I know there’s not a single academic in New Zealand who would fit that profile, of course.

 

Sam: Of course not. “Turnaround Leadership”, where’d that phrase come from?

 

Geoff: It came from a book Michael wrote about school days so I’ve worked with Michael, we’ve worked on trying to bring the three sectors together for twenty-five years now because they tend to operate in their own granular empires with their own cultures so Michael wrote a book called “Turnaround Leadership in Schools” and then we were commissioned by Jossey-Bass Wiley to write the “Turnaround Leadership for Higher Ed” book and they liked the idea of it being the same thing because what you’re really trying to do is to turn around a very slowly moving ship with many decks and many people on it. The nature of the leadership, therefore, isn’t a charismatic leader. It’s all of those who are leading on the various decks to actually have some intent about turning the ship.

 

Local programme leaders in sustainability, for example, in courses are the key arbiters in whether any chance happens. It’s not the Pro Vice- Chancellors and the leaders and the strategic plans, they don’t make any change for it. It’s heady on power. Local heads of programs and their teams to take on, in our context of our [inaudible 00:11:39] and take on the notion of, in a sense, re-framing the curriculum around building sustainability into what people learn in a social, cultural, economic and environment in a way that is powerful and relevant and makes them work-ready plus for tomorrow rather than just work-ready automatons. It’s about …

 

Sam: What started your academic career was all about empowering leaders or what are the tools that leaders can use.

 

Geoff: As we know, change is learning. If you haven’t got to learn something new, there’s no change, it’s just window dressing. If you take a university and you want to change something … That’s mine, that’s me. If you want to change something, then what you really got to do with that is you’ve got to actually do four things in this order, always, to get change to work in any institution. First you’ve got to listen to the case for change and some options that have worked for others somewhere so the people can see feasibility built in but also in a social notion that it’s desirable and you listened and you try and work out what those that have to take it on, what they would see as most relevant, feasible and desirable to have a little go at. That’s listen.

 

Link is to bring together what most people are happy to have a go at and you actually tell them. That’s why when you do stocktakes you’re actually intentionally using, as a change till, to illuminate to people that in a sense a lot of people are already doing bits of it and some [inaudible 00:13:11] are willing to have a go at a bit more. Listen, link and leverage is always the third thing you do. With leverage, what you’re doing there is you’re actually picking some people who are further down the track who are willing to have a go at the cunning plan under controlled conditions with the students helping with co-creation in order to see what would really work in practice.

 

The motto of leverage is not really aim, aim, aim, aim, get it all done and make everyone do it. It’s ready, fire, aim. Ready, we’ll have a go at it. This group’ll try it for us. Fire, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see whether mister Cockup visits or not. We’ll work out the bits that do work and aim is what works. The final L, listen, link, leverage. The final L, which is lead, is actually to utilize that peer group to help people learn to scale up the change in their own suitable way in their own context. Listen, link, leverage and lead.

 

The research we did on turnaround leadership for sustainability in higher ed, which was a commissioned national project in, I can’t remember now, 2013 or whatever it was, was actually about finding leaders who have done that in order to let other universities and colleges around the world who wanted to learn from successful travellers further down the path how, basically, they’ve done the listen, link, leverage and lead. That’s all it is. That’s available if anyone’s interested and that’s full of cunning plans from fellow travellers further down the path, is all it is.

 

Sam: At what point in your career did sustainability become explicit in the work you were doing?

 

Geoff: Because I was Pro Vice-Chancellor, so I was a provost at this Western Sydney University. Western Sydney University’s got about forty-five thousand students. It’s got the local residents who come to that university are from a hundred and seventy different countries so it’s highly multicultural but not with international students. Sixty-five percent are first in their family. My job was to try and turn it around but at the same time, given their profile, there was all sorts of material that you could use as part of the living laboratory for learning about social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability so when I was provost, this was all bubbling around. None of this is ever clear. You sort of learn after a while what you’re doing.

 

When I was provost so I thought rather than … I was provost of the campus. I thought rather than do the usually thing of give students biscuits and cups of tea when they’re going into their exams and having a student sort of community committee sort of thing, clubs and all of that stuff … I thought, could I get a theme? I think I met my friend Daniella Tilbury about that stage and she said, “Why don’t you just sort of look at building it as a living laboratory for sustainability?” What we did, we built one of the campuses of Western Sydney University as a living laboratory for sustainability, but we also built into the curriculum recognition for doing work that was sustainability related to that campus. Then we set up a rolling fund from my friend Leigh Sharpe to Daniella with the turnaround leadership thing so it’s all a messy story that goes together.

 

Leigh had mentioned they had a rolling fund at Harvard. She’s from Harvard so … Serendipitously the deputy Chancellor at the university was the guy who was a former minister for the environment in New South Wales government, Kim Yaden. When I talked to Kim I said, “Kim, mate, what about we set up a rolling fund where we actually get these people to do, in a sense, blue economy projects which is making money out of waste.”  Staff and students could put out proposals for funding with a return on investment of seven percent to actually make the campus more sustainable with a return on investment so the rolling fund idea is [viable]. We started with five hundred grand and I think it’s up to three million now.

 

The students were able to do it as a community action subject we invented. They could do with a project report or the community action project that, in this instance, they had done that related to the … We called it “SURF” of course, Sustainable University Rolling Fund, given my background. They would put it up and we had bankers on it and we’ve had very little default. Return investment’s been very good and they did it all sorts of ways that was environmental. That was the standard pipes and pumps and that sort of stuff you’d expect at campus but there was social sustainability stuff. There was a whole lot of stuff related to the establishment of a Muslim relationship society for the university. There’s a whole lot of indigenous projects were invented.

 

Then with the students and the staff, we then invented a big one which was called the “River Farm”. This is all how you do it in life, really, you just have to notice. Creativity is a sideways glance in life. We noticed there was a hundred acres down on the Hawkesbury River in Sydney and so we thought that was going furlough, what about we make that a living laboratory? I was on the Australian government’s Green Schools Implementation Task Force, which was for VET colleges, right? For training tech colleges. I thought one day, “What about if we got all the trade students from the co-located vocational training college to help us renovate and restore the old original farmhouse, which was the first white farm settlement on the Hawkesbury River, as a sort of living testimony but to do it in a green way?”

 

We got all of the builders, the applied electricians, you can imagine the landscape gardening people came in. We then got the artist to come in and actually plant a garden of the original indigenous foods that grew on that hundred acres by the river twenty thousand years ago. Then we got the environmental sustainability students from the university to advise the tech students on how to renovate the house in a way that was sensitive but they put all sorts of cunning things in as they did it. When the school kids would come on, we have three thousand school kids a year come onto the living lab here, meeting students from the university who then encourage then to think about doing sustainability subjects. They test the water in the river, they look at the feral plants, they look at the indigenous plants, they look at the cultural history stuff. The VET students put in using the water tank, every time you wash your hands a radio comes on because the radio is hydro-powered so they put all the nice little touches inside the house. That’s the River Farm.

 

That’s a long story but it’s important because the message I wanted to leave there is that you don’t learn about sustainability in the classroom. You learn about theory has to meet practice and it has to meet it around something that’s real world and there has to be a moral purpose behind it all. The motto is “we’re more likely to act our ways into new ways of thinking than to think our way into new ways of acting.” This is one of the big problems of the sustainability movement, the green movement, is they assume, falsely, that change is achieved by brute logic. Change is not achieved by brute logic. It’s achieved by, in fact, listen, link, leverage and lead. It’s achieved by learning by doing before learning by being told, but you can do it in that order.

 

Sam: Take a couple of steps back. Why sustainability as badging a whole pile of things that you could have called “Social justice or conservation”? Was “sustainability” a word that coalesced … Where’d that come from?

 

Geoff: That’s a great question, really. I think, because by that stage then I was in the United Nations University and we’d set up a whole campus then, after the River Farm was a Regional Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Development and I got sucked into this, as you mentioned at the outset, of being co-chair of the sustainable futures leadership academy. It was really, in those days, quite strategically sensible to use the word “sustainability” as a label because it was the Decade of Higher Education for Sustainable Development, 2005 to ’14. This enabled us, when we got the Regional Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Development, which … Basically what the United Nations requires for you to get the endorsement is you actually have to link and leverage all of the groups that are working in the NGO sector in business, in the schools and the VETs and everything, into working together on a common theme rather than working parallel or in competition. That’s how you get judged.

 

Calling it “the Regional Center of Expertise in Sustainable Development” meant we got to put the United Nations logo on the gate. We also got to get a lot of funding because in those days sustainability was actually still reasonably trendy and there were departments, both state and federal. Remember Kim Yaden, right? We had contacts so we were bringing in about a million a year in grants because we were able to put in grants for social, cultural, economic or environmental sustainability, or in some instances a mix of the four, to both state and federal groups for funding. We also go sponsorship funding from business because they can write it off and it looked good. It was literally chosen. Whether sustainability goes the way of “green”, because green, that’s why we’re using the word “blue economy” now, not green, because green tends to bifurcate. I’m with you or against you. Sustainability’s a bit of a messy term but politically it’s not that bad and it’s got that notion of sustainable development so you still allow development in.

 

Sam: Don’t you think the people who drive bulldozers just hear the “development” word and …

 

Geoff: Yeah, it’s an oxymoron, sustainable development, in a sense because if we keep developing we’re going to run out. However, you’ve got to be a bit pragmatic in life and you’ve got to allow the idea that if we’re going to develop, we’ve got to do it in a way that’s not absolutely mad. This links, actually, very much to my current work as a Australia’s national senior teaching fellow where I’m looking at, what should universities and colleges be doing to develop graduates who are not just work ready for their day but work ready plus for the future? The “plus” is actually about four things. First of all, there’s what we’ve established as there are many, many government instrumentalities and businesses who are actually looking for graduates in professions who are sustainability literate. There’s a sustainability edge, not the least of which if you take examples like engineering, there’s alternative technologies, for example. It’s not just there, it’s actually across every profession, accounting and whatever.

 

The first plus is “sustainability literate”. We continue to use that term until people look at all. The next one is being change-implementation savvy, which relates directly to what we were chatting about earlier. Every undergraduate should actually learn how to manage mad people on Monday when they get out there, not just assume that they’ll learn when they get there. They need to be alerted to it and they need to have the opportunity to realize it’s okay for dilemmas to face you, for things to go wrong. The art is how you manage this sort of thing, is what’s going to make a good professional.

 

Sustainability literate, change-implementation savvy and thirdly, and I’ve just been to the States now to a whole lot of universities, every undergraduate in my view should have a chance to be inventive. By “inventive” we don’t just mean inventing for inventing money. We really mean ethically entrepreneurial, able to in fact invent solutions that relate to social sustainability because, in a way, if you’re into capitalism, you still need to have a harmonious society to productive in capital. Fractious societies do not have a very good GDP. It’s pragmatic, if you know what I mean.

 

Sustainability literate, change-implementation savvy, inventive and the final one which is really interesting, I’ve worked with twenty universities in Europe at the moment, they’re very interested in this.  Every graduate from a university have emerged, having come to grips with their own personal value position on the four tested assumptions driving the twenty-first century agenda and those four tested assumptions are, first of all, consumption is happiness. When in doubt buy an iPhone 7. Growth is always good for everyone, as long as the GDP’s growing it must be good. Consumption’s happiness, growth is good, information technology’s always the answer, as distinct from Twitter, seen by some to be online bar full of people passing around random ideas that actually have no voracity but they take it on in trends and people act on it. ICT’s sometimes the answer but sometimes not.

 

The final one’s globalization’s great. When in doubt, make sure we don’t have any biodiversity in our human relations. Let’s make sure we’re all the same everywhere even though we know that the essence of adaptability for an uncertain future is, in fact, diversity. Growth is good, consumption is happiness, ICT’s the answer and globalization’s great. What I’ve done in that national senior teaching fellowship, if you look at those pluses, it’s not just sustainability literate there. The tested assumptions are actually about the underpinning value proposition we might want graduates, ninety-five percent of the world’s leaders have a degree. I’d kind of like them to come to their own position on those assumptions, even if they don’t agree with me. You can see where I’d be going on those. When they have to make a hard decision politically or when any of us is faced with a dilemma we end up taking, when the fork road situation’s there, the ultimate jump is actually one that’s based upon values, not upon logic.

 

Sam: You said “Green, not blue” but of those assumptions we’re testing, at least half of politics, probably more, thinks the opposite of what you were saying there.

 

Geoff: You know, at least half but that’s the point. Why shouldn’t we make that contestable and actually explicit in a university education rather than allow, if you like, the popular culture to actually have it unquestioned? That’s what we’re working on in Europe at the moment in the Copernicus network of universities, the twenty basic ones but this is another fifteen. Whether it’s right or wrong, all it’s saying is we’re not actually about vocational training in colleges and universities at all. If we really want the leaders of tomorrow to actually be able to lead, and I refer you to the first debate that occurred a couple of days ago, that’s the alternative.

 

Sam: In the second one of those work ready plus things was the change implementation and you mentioned dilemmas there. Maybe that’s one of the challenges that education hasn’t really come to terms with because we don’t actually have the answers for a lot of this stuff. We like to think, even if we’re beyond thinking that we’re the sage on stage, we still like to secretly have this idea that we have the answer that we can tell people even if we’re going through hoops of getting them to think about them themselves or whatever.

 

Geoff: There’s a difference between having the right answer and being a designer where you set up the mechanisms for people to take your view into account as a reference point along with many others, but I’ve learned a away in which they can test the voracity, in real time, about what they should do. A parallel for that is what we’re now talking about from that successful graduates research we’ll be doing around the world, is setting up, possibly in every single undergraduate professional program, a unit or a paper, as you call it here, called “dilemmas in professional practice“. That’s sort of feasible. Rather than having to say to everyone, “You’ve got to change the whole curriculum and everything,” what you do there is you get the successful early career graduates in the profession concerned.

 

They identify in the first three to five years when they were most challenged, they tell you when the killer moment was. They then say how they handled it. They then make sense of how well they handled it against the top twelve capabilities for successful graduates in that profession. Then you can use that in the dilemmas of professional practice, you can have a group of three or four can take one killer, one after the other, in two week blocks and look at what they would do, what the person did, how it relates to their capabilities and then the assessment could be a formal exam, an exam room, of an unseen case. At least we’ve alerted people to the fact that the real world is not certain. You’re only tested, really, when things go awry, which is like dilemmas, but you could do it in a slightly feasible way by calling it a subject, “dilemmas of professional practice”, which brings it together. In that, that is where you could alert people to the plus bits.

 

Sam: How do we get people to see those dilemmas of their professional practice might be at different temporal or spatial scales from they’re used to looking at?

 

Geoff: The people being the students?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Geoff: Yeah. What we’ve done, we just finished a study now, which has actually gone to Tertiary Education Commission here yesterday and relates very much to what the Productivity Commission is talking about we should be doing, which is using successful early career graduates three to five years out as your material for validating your program level outcomes as new source, not just what we, the experts, think. Like you were saying earlier, you allow the experts who are the early career graduates to tell you what they found really counted and they came up with the dilemmas.  When you’re teaching the subject called “dilemmas of professional practice”, then what you’re actually doing, it’s not so far removed. It’s for those travellers just down the path, which gives them the scale issue that you mentioned. Actually, it’s not like a person who’s been in it for forty years talking about their dilemmas as a CEO of Wally or something, “This is me, I’m out there, I’m just ahead of you.” That’s what people like.

 

Sam: Can they talk about what happens if your boss told you to go and do something, which is clearly unsustainable. What do you do about that? You haven’t had to have that discussion much with students anymore. They’re kind of prepared for that.

 

Geoff: Yeah. I think, what would you do when Mister Cockup visits really should be a substantive design element of the undergraduate curriculum but you’re going to need all the skill and knowledge. We’re not eschewing that … Saying you get rid of it. If you’re going to be in construction engineer you’ve got to understand the structures and you’ve got to understand how materials work together but you’ve also got to be able to work with clients and you’ve also got to be able to manage it when suddenly someone’s done a pour and the pour is actually the wrong one in the wrong spot and it’s setting.

 

Sam: You said before that you don’t learn sustainability in the classroom but isn’t that kind of the problem that if somebody’s trying to teach accounting, we need to give them something which they can incorporate into what they’re teaching and not be able to teach accounting over here and then some other day, on Monday, go and teach them sustainability and go and walk down a river or something and then we’ll come back to accounting?

 

Geoff: The idea is that if you have dilemmas of professional practice, for example, you’ll pick up the integrated notion of those various things, number one, number two. It doesn’t stop you alerting students to the options in accounting in terms of where sustainability is already under way in Deloitte Touche where they have three hundred sustainability accountants around the world working with people on carbon credits, for example. One of the other issues is the notion of overgeneralizing or over-specifying but the art is to in fact try to and embed whenever you can but pragmatically that’s not always possible. Look at the expansion in Australia of higher ed. You’ve got sessional teachers. How are you going to get them into the zone on all of this, you know what I mean? You’ve got to work out actual subjects that actually … Develop a baseline, for example where whoever they are, once they know what it is and what the assessment is, they’re actually at least briefed on it because there’s a soft teaching, briefing thing for the students and start on what to do.

 

I don’t think we’re going to get to restructure universities and colleges away from, really, what is a nineteenth-century model which is a whole lot of disciplines that are unrelated to one another. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and get little ways forward where people can see that maybe it does work and that’s why the dilemmas of professional practice one is actually trans-disciplinary when you think about it, such that you wouldn’t have to say it. You’d have dilemmas of professional practice in accounting, which we’ve done. We’ve done it in medicine and sports management and journalism and engineering and IT and all sorts of things. Every one of them has a personal and interpersonal hot component, which means you bring in … You don’t call it “STEM”, you call it “STEAM”. You’ve got to have the A into science, technology, engineering and maths.

 

Sam: We’re exploring the idea of a modern BA. Why do we like the notion of the BA? We like the notion of a BA not because it’s got Latin and art history. Some people want to learn those things, those are wonderful. With the loss of humanities around the world, society recognizes that it’s missing out on something. It’s missing out on that critical creative … able to articulate, all those sorts of things. Can we get that set of capabilities without having to make people learn Latin and political studies or whatever it might be, or art history?

 

Geoff: As studies of successful early career graduates, what we’ve got is a capability and a competency framework that we’ve developed which, if you look … I’ll explain this very quickly. I’d say you’ve got personal capabilities like being able to remain calm when things go wrong and that’s part of a dimension and that we call “self management, self awareness”. You can learn that. You can’t be trained in them but you can learn it through experience. The interpersonal being able to listen, link, leverage and lead genuinely. This is not [inaudible 00:36:15] and then I’ll try and do to them what I want to do because my ego’s so vulnerable over here on personal. You’ve got personal, interpersonal and cognitive is not actually problem solving but diagnosis; people learning how work out what’s going on here, technically and humanly, when things are going awry or an opportunity’s come up. It can be positive or negative, right? Underpinning that, that’s capability, that’s nuanced and the three things go together. You’ve got to have the right personal to enable the interpersonal to be relaxed enough to do the cognitive, otherwise you’re having a hyopthalmic meltdown. You can’t bloody diagnose anything the competencies are the skills and knowledge and that’s generic skills and knowledge and role-specific skills and knowledge. In engineering or accounting or medicine, of course you need those skills and knowledge but you need the above ones in order to enact them.

 

If you then look at the arts, what the arts are about, Latin and history and so on, in a way enable you to get access to the personal and the interpersonal but also to moments when people were faced with dilemmas and had to do the cognitive, the diagnosis, and work out which way to go. You can’t do it through osmosis, by saying, “Learn Latin and I hope you get these other things.” My personal view is you start with what successful graduates in the area you’re about to go into have said are key personal, interpersonal and cognitive things and then you bring to there the dilemma-based sort of stuff. Then you make sense of it by, for example, and I’ve done this: if you look at the top rated capabilities for all of the vocations, and we’ve produced a book on this, we are to do with things like being able to remain calm; being able to work constructively with others, including not just your own mates; being able to give negative feedback in a way that ends up being very constructive; being able to set priorities and not just react to everything equally.

 

Then if you look at the world’s religions, which you can do if you it after, you know what I mean? You can say, “It’s very interesting, guys. Let’s now look at,” there’s a book called “Comparative Religion” by a guy called Burke in 1963 at Oxford, where he was just interested in looking at the value propositions of the world’s religions. He was a scholar of religion, of theology, [inaudible 00:38:29], Buddhism, [inaudible 00:38:31] and Islam is all about actually thinking of the groups and the others and not yourself. There’s certain underpinning lessons from the humanities that you can bring to bear by starting with successful people like me further down the track telling me what I need to do because I’m no actually interested in just the generic theory. I’m interested in starting with practice and backward mapping myself to the context later on, if you see what I’m getting at.

 

My views are that you don’t like we used to do in engineering in Sydney Uni in 1963 when I went there and had Germaine, where the engineers are asked to read a novel in first year. They just went feral. If they’ve been told about successful early career engineers and the emotional intelligence that’s needed, and someone had labelled after they’d experience that how that actually aligns with a harmonious and productive society or organization by referring, for example, to Burke or something, you know what I mean? You do it after you’ve started with, “what am I going to do”, not “what do you think I should do”.

 

Sam: The short question is the big one. The role of education, some people would argue, is about an abstract critical thinking, it’s not about pushing barrows. People treat sustainability as if it was a religion that we are trying to get everybody to follow.

 

Geoff: Yep and that’s the problem. That’s that notion of George Bernard Shaw, reformers have the misplaced notion that change is achieved by brute logic, right? Just because you go and lecture them, in fact what you’re going to do is turn them off. How do you do it? You’ve got to listen, link, leverage and lead so if you go in working with a company, you don’t go and say, “You’ve got to be sustainable,” you do a blue economy project and that’s … The listeners are interested. It’s the most wonderful book, you just put it into your search engine, just “Blue Economy“. We have a hundred projects operating around the world out of the same United Nations University that endorses our RCEs, Regional Centres of Expertise, where you’re making money out of waste.

 

Just as a very quick example of one, the students from Pretoria University go into a community up at Phalaborwa, Northwest South Africa where there’s a citrus grove that’s broke. The engineers brought in by the Bank said, “Just automate and you’ll make money.” The task of the Blue Economy team is to see how could we actually keep the jobs of these people, even improve them and think laterally about how to do it. That’s the inventiveness. Here’s what they did, right? They had a whole range of people, they had plant biologists, they had chemists, they had tourism, students and a range of others all went up and their job was to go out and do some community diagnosis.

 

Phalaborwa’s on the north gate of Kruger so they found all these game lodges full of rich people my age all sitting there with a very high end camera shooting the big five and then sitting around at night having very pleasant meals in front of open log fires, right? The tourism students came in and said, “Where do you get your orange juice in season?” They said, “Oh, we fly it up frozen.” Would you guys and these people here, sixty-five, seventy year olds, be interested in … They got to meet the local township who would bring in the orange juice and talk about the township as they did. “Oh yeah, that would be fabulous.” We can do it under the price of Pretoria, that’s good.

 

While you’re at it, you’re not allowed to chop down wood here so can we bring in wood for you for the geriatrics to sit around to talk to the people? Yeah, that would be good. Then the plant biologist said, “Well, would you be interested in shiitake mushrooms? We can show the local group how to in fact grow shiitake mushrooms on the detritus from the citrus leaves when they prune.” They brought in the thing and shiitake mushrooms and in fact large international coffee groups are now growing shiitakes on their waste coffee grounds out in the background and they pay money. Then the chemist said, “Hold on, don’t throw away the orange peels. We’ll get a lemonade press, which we’ve got twenty thousand [inaudible 00:42:40] to get it.” The lemonade press presses lemonade oil, which you get a lot of money. The return on investment, that was paid off in six months.

 

Then the guys working with the bovine cattle development program said, “Don’t throw the orange peels away, we can feed them to the cattle because they’re a clinching agent for the first round of cattle.” The point is I count probably four or five sources of income there so instead of doing the one automate thing, you’ve actually kept the jobs of the people, the people have got to meet these other people there who’ve actually … Social understanding doesn’t hurt. Everyone’s got a job and you’re not wasting anything. That’s the Blue Economy. Why would not this be happening out this door here, the students …

 

Sam: What’s your go-to definition of “sustainability”?

 

Geoff: What is my definition of it? There are numerous ones about the Brundtland and all of those ones. My view of sustainability is that the world is able to work in a harmonious, decent way where there’s a reasonable equity of distribution of resources for people and we don’t actually use up all the resources for the kids of the next generation. Tied into that is another subject which, again, therefore you’ve got to move to alternative energy rather than carbon. My university’s working with five universities now on solar semiconductors. Once we get that, we’ll be able to separate hydrogen from oxygen and water using only the sun.

 

Sam: You said there used to be money in it. Why isn’t it trendy anymore?

 

Geoff: I think it’s come back since Paris. It went down. Copenhagen was a real zeitgeist in 2008. You’ve got the global financial crisis hit. Suddenly this is was people do. Crikey, forget that. That’s all too fluffy. What about my pocket? Then you have the Copenhagen conference, didn’t work, was a failure. So the politics of it was if you look now at what’s happening with China, if you look at the commitments that were made in Paris, there is an intent, a substrata of more positive attitudes. I think it’ll come back whether the word sustainability gets used, we’ve got a global action plan out of the United Nations. We had a big stock take last year of the decade and the global action plan is the next step. That’s really being taken up by the States. Europe is really impressive. China has got a lot to do but it’s at least making really quite significant carbon type targets and so on. I think the big dilemma that we still face around the world is social and cultural sustainability. That’s actually, to me, is part of the four pillars. Whether it’s called sustainability as a term, I don’t know.

 

By the way, you’ve got one regional center of expertise for sustainable development in New Zealand right now, we’ve endorsed it. That’s at Waikato. Hosted by the University of Waikato but it’s centered, they all are around a theme and the theme is the Waikato River, social, cultural, economic and environmental.

 

Sam: Can we get there with technology change or is it going to take system change, people change?

 

Geoff: I think you just answered the question, in a way. It’s the mix. Technology’s not the answer, it’s a tool and it can be a dangerous tool or a helpful tool. The issue is who controls it with what tacit assumptions, which is why it’s so important to at least have folks think about their position, even if they said, “I don’t care,” I still have to send a text.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these talks, we’re calling it “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. How would you like to describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to this?

 

Geoff: Moral purpose. I think we’ve lost our moral purpose in education. I think it’s gotten unrelated to tacit assumptions but the key thing that … It’s not my super power, it’s the thing I’ve discovered. Basically, what I discovered really, it’s not a super power but it’s a super insight, which is probably better because, as you’ve already detected, I think the idea of the charismatic person is not it. What I’ve discovered there is my university that I was at in the turnaround, because sixty-five percent of the students were first in family, when I said to the staff, the academic staff and the professional staff, “How many of you are first in family?” Most of them put their hands up, I said, “That is our moral purpose. If you guys have got that far through a decent education, why don’t we do it for the punters that are coming through the door now?” That was far more powerful engagement mechanism for change than talking about brute logic or intrinsic motivators like you’ll get fired or we won’t get any money. People march to moral purpose and I think we’re losing it because I don’t think anyone is actually clear on their position on the tacit assumptions. I know mine.

 

Sam: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Geoff: I think … It’s not my success at all but the actual turnaround at Western Sydney University, when I came in 2004, it’s an entirely different place then as it is now. We improved overall satisfaction on the national course experience questionnaire, for what it’s worth, by twenty-five percent. We improved retention by six percent and retaining first time family students to get a degree gets the family a profoundly improved life. Western Sydney Uni, for what it’s worth, is now number forty in the top one hundred universities under fifty years old in the world. The old money can get on and do their own thing but out moral purpose, we’ll do that and we’re quite happy. I think that’s an “us”, it wasn’t “me”.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Geoff: No, not an activist in the sense of demonstrating. I’ve been on my fair share of demonstration, as you can imagine, in the ’60s but I’m action-oriented. I’m not talk-oriented. In other words, I’m very much about, in a sense, the motto of my little career is “good ideas with no ideas on how to implement them are wasted ideas”. I’m in favour of not wasting the good ideas and that means, what do you do on Monday? That means how do you not become an activist yourself, but how do you build the enacting will of those who do the change anyway, because you never do it yourself. I’m not really an activist. I am an en-activist.

 

Sam: Do you think we have a responsibility to be producing en-activists.

 

Geoff: Absolutely, and that’s why I think work ready plus is so important. It’s the future and the sustainable future of the planet depends upon, I think, us doing a lot more than just training people to be automatons for today because ninety-five percent of the world’s leaders have a degree.

 

Sam: We have this faith that education is going to make such a difference but I’ve seen a graph that shows the growth of education over the last two hundred years, pretty much mirroring the growth of unsustainability. Why do we think education’s going to solve it?

 

Geoff: I’m not sure there’s a cause or connection between the two graphs there but I don’t know. It could easily be something to do with the population but my personal view is that change is learning and unlearning and if change is a learning and an unlearning process then universities are charged with helping people learn and that’s why the work ready plus has that … Helping people learn how to engage people with change is the first thing. The second is the tacit assumptions bit of work ready plus, is there’s a profound difference between change and progress. Change is just something becoming different. Progress is something becoming different in a way that people have applied a value judgment to that they see as being beneficial and this comes out of education. By education, I don’t just mean universities or colleges, I mean VET colleges and schools. I think the more we actually look at capability development, not just competency development, the more we’ve got a chance for a sustainable future for the kids that will follow us.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Geoff: The surf.

 

Sam: I knew you were going to say “surfing”.

 

Geoff: Yeah. It’s a sort of … Also feeling useful. I’m retired now. I’m an Emeritus Professor so I’m over here in Otago and it’s a balance of life between … Last week I was down at our cabin cross-country skiing and surfing and what a blessed life I’ve had. The serendipity of where I was born and when and I’m not really a mouth about it but I kind of like coming and doing stuff like chatting to you guys and stuff because it makes you feel useful. It’s something more in life than just doing it all for yourself but you need a little balance. You need to have a bit of pleasure, a bit of fun, a bit of a laugh. What gets me out of bed most is if I’m with a bunch of friends and we have a giggle, really, because laughing is perspective.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Geoff: Staying alive.

 

Sam: Finding that perfect wave.

 

Geoff: Finding the perfect wave, yeah. I’m seventy-one now …

 

Sam: You haven’t found one yet?

 

Geoff: Yeah. Oh, you do and you don’t. Every wave is different, like life. In fact, that’s that wonderful metaphor about what we need for the future is people can learn to ride the waves of change, which means you’ve got to pick some. If you get new ones, you don’t try and pick every wave. You try and pick the right way. It’s not a very good analogy but it’s a start.

 

My feeling about, I suppose, the future for our world is I think it is at a bit of a fracture point and I think it’s actually very tied up to the fulminating rapidity with which IT is changing. The amount of information is doubling every, whatever it is, every two years or something. How are we going to get our head around all of this and all of this interactivity? The idea of actually coming to a classroom as opposed to people tweeting to one another around the world and what does this mean? What happens then in terms of political movements? I think it’s a bit of a challenge for education to get its head around that which is really hard to predict in the IT area.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?

 

Geoff: I would love to see the politicians of many countries around the world actively try to get their heads around looking at something more than just the short term planning that goes on in the electoral cycles to something that’s sustainable and it’s very difficult because of the confrontationalist way it works but that notion of some mechanism that would enable politicians to actually look at a strategic development plan and then to work with higher education, skills and VET colleges around their little role and helping people learn how to do change that relates to a sustainable future. There’s about eight different areas in what I’ve just said there in terms of any chances but I still don’t think it should mean that we should give up.

 

I’ll certainly, while I’m still around and kicking, I’m happy to talk to that because I think education could be losing its way and I think if politicians can start to return to see education as more than just creating work ready people or work ready plus people and have that with intent and I might say I’m quietly interested in the New Zealand Productivity Commission’s report that’s just come out today on the future of tertiary education. It talks about some of the issues that I’ve raised here today and the study we’ve just done on successful early career graduates in engineering in New Zealand, I was very impressed that New Zealand was interested in doing it, to try and learn from the engineers. There’s a plan to actually now do it with accountants.

 

Sam: In terms of the change that relates to a sustainable future, what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact?

 

Geoff: Smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact? The smallest … It’s not small but it’s sort of small I think in terms of the amount of money that’s being spent in the world and that’s that solar semiconductors. They’ve got it almost now where the energy that you can produce using the solar semiconductor by separating the hydrogen out using only the sun is actually just getting over that which you need to reproduce more semiconductors. Once they get that, we’ve got hydrogen. Once we get hydrogen, we can have hydrogen cars, hydrogen power and all you’re getting when you burn that is water. That really, in one fell swoop, it’s portable. Hyundai, all these car companies, BMW, have all got hydrogen cars right now. The problem is you can’t fuel them sustainability because you’re having to use coal to make the electricity to separate the hydrogen. Once we can get the sun to do the work for us, I think that would be quite a dramatic change.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Geoff: Maintain the rage, brothers and sisters. Think of moral purpose. Think just occasionally around the tacit assumptions in the sense, the dependent variable being not happy but contented. If one finds one is being continuously discontented because one has to wake up at all times of the night to check ones Twitter feed or whatever it is, is that the right track? That is totally and utterly a personal decision.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Geoff: Pleasure.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, “OAR.org.nz” and podcast on “sustainablelens.org”. On “sustainablelens.org” we’re building a searchable archive of conversations of people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations we’re trying to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of emeritus professor Geoff Scott of Western Sydney University. You can follow the links on “sustainablelens.org” to find us on Facebook to keep in touch and you can listen to Sustainable Lens on iTunes and other poddy places, as well. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

Categories
adventure education

place of outdoor education

Jo Martindale

 

It was an idealistic assumption, that if you cared, you would just naturally act, but that’s not the case at all and  you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.

Jo Martindale is an outdoor educator.  Her current research concerns place responsive outdoor education.  She tells us how she is developing approaches to reconnect: how to transform caring into intrinsic motivation to look after your place.

 

Shane: Let’s turn to our guest tonight who’s Jo Martindale. She’s an outdoor educator, welcome to the show.

 

Jo: Thank you.

 

Shane: Jo, where were you born, were you born here in New Zealand or …?

 

Jo: No, I’m from the North of England, lovely county called Cumbria. Generally, I’ll refer to it as the Lake District because it has that within it but I actually come from the industrial part of the bottom. But you can forget that because luckily I had the lakes to go and play in, as a child.

 

Shane: All right, so what brought you to New Zealand?

 

Jo: Oh, the typical old story. Met a kiwi guy back in the UK, he wanted to come home. Sounded like a great adventure and here I am.

 

Shane: What was it like growing up in Cumbria? I mean, you had the lakes to go and play with and though that’s quite an amazing and beautiful area of England but it’s quite changed from what it used to be. There’s lot of sheep farming there, and it’s quite a modified landscape. It’s an old ancient landscape isn’t it?

 

Jo: It is and there’s certainly heaps of history there. I know just going and exploring the local villages, you’d find ruins of old castles and I used to go and climb around the walls and imagine what it must have been like when it was actually a full building. I think it was a great place to grow up. I was in an actual town but it took nothing to get into the countryside.

I suppose now living in New Zealand and seeing a lot more of the natural environment, I can now understand that how modified it was but as a child you just knew no different.

 

Sam: It’s interesting how far people in the UK travel to get to those supposedly natural environments. I remember being taken sailing from somewhere and travelling for 2 hours to get to their boat which was on Ullswater . Then sailing for couple of hours and then driving 2 hours back again, through the industrial north. It very much does enhance that kind of sense that nature is out there somewhere.

 

Jo: Yeah.

 

Sam: We can go and visit it sometimes. It’s nice to have it there and most of the time we don’t go and visit, which living here we just don’t have that same disconnect. You and I both come down past the harbour every day.

 

Jo: Yeah. That’s definitely very true actually. I remember when I got my first job in an outdoor center and it was mainly working within a city, students coming out and I was amazed that they’d never seen sheep in real life before. You’d walk around the lanes and you’ll be picking blackberries and things and they just couldn’t believe you could pick food to eat it. They thought it came from cans and other such things. They just had no understanding.

 

Shane: Well I taught in a central London school as well. Some of the kids didn’t actually realize that milk came from cows. They thought it was just like something else you drank like soda or whatever. Were quite horrified when they realized. They didn’t make the connection between the cows on the bottles to actually the animals and that’s where the source of the milk was coming from. That was something that wasn’t their experience and it was really shocking for me. It was obviously very traumatizing for some of them but it was quite shocking for me to realize that these kids just had never actually been outside the city. A lot of them hadn’t.
It’s probably hard for people in New Zealand to understand just how big London or this big metropolitan area is, just how vast they are, how far into the countryside they travel and how hard it is to get actually into this thing in 2 hours, well that’s nothing if you live in London and you’re trying to visit a beach.

 

Sam: Sorry, we can’t spend the whole hour reminiscing about living in central London. What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Jo: Well apparently at the age of about 3 when I got my first climbing experience, I did tell my parents I wanted to be a climbing instructor when I grew up.

 

Shane: That’s pretty good.

 

Sam: What did you do at school to achieve that?

 

Jo: Yes, school was something I went to because you had to go to, and I spent most of my time daydreaming looking out of the window wishing I was in the fields and things over there and just made sure I got good grades at the end of it. Schooling itself had nothing, no bearing on it. I did manage to during PE, get my PE teacher to allow me to go climbing at the local leisure center instead of attend PE classes.

 

Shane: Sounds good, that was pretty awesome.

 

Sam: What did you do when you left school? What got you into working in outdoors?

 

Jo: I’d met a local fireman down at our local leisure center who just loved introducing people to climbing. That’s how I got into it before I left school. As I left, I just decided I had enough. I was going to go off and work. I was going to travel and do all these other things.

 

The same guy that I came to New Zealand with, ended up with a job in a center in North Wales. I just decided to follow down there, and just went down as a campus system, no real experience just enormous spare time, run off to help with the sessions and they put me through my single pitch training while I was there that summer. The end of the summer finished and it was like I just knew that was what I wanted to do.

 

I think a lot of it was working with the inner city students. I had this idealistic notion that by taking them from their environment and putting them into what I considered to be my environment that I could make them somehow realize that if they just looked after their environment a little bit better, it would be nicer place to be in and therefore in general life would be better and nicer for them, as I said very idealistic.

 

Sam: The thought was that they would be in this nicer place enjoying themselves outside, having a good time?

 

Jo: Yeah, and get that connection and go back and be able to reapply it in their own, in more suburban environment.

 

Sam: We’ll certainly come back to that. You got yourself in New Zealand.

 

Jo: I did.

 

Sam: Then what?

 

Jo: I tried to get a job in the outdoors but I was very land based and didn’t know anyone here, really struggled. I went and volunteered for 6 months, at what is now Hilary outdoors and Tongariro. During that time taught myself to Kayak and realized that most of those staff there had come through the Aoraki Polytech program. I decided it was time to road trip. Came to the South Island and on my way around popped into Timaru and decided that I would have a chat to them and just started studying there the following year in their 3rd year.

 

Sam: Eventually to a degree?

 

Jo: Yeas, so I did the 2 years at Aoraki and then went off. I had no real, where I was going. I was just feeling my way through and headed up to Nelson, to just climb for the summer as you do and hung out of Paynes Ford and someone told me about this climbing wall that was open up in Nelson and that they were after people to work there and guide at Paynes Ford. I thought, “Ah! Sounds pretty good.”

 

Went down for an interview, found myself in that job and decided that, it didn’t really have enough meaning and purpose and so ended up going down to what we came forlorn to do and got an interview with them working with American teenagers and they do this one day personal development day, is the best way push it, where they sow the seed and expand these teenager’s lives.

 

Sam: You do that in a day?

 

Jo: No, not at all. Yeah, good concept and it was great work. It was actually not until 2008, I went back to doing my degree at CPIT.

 

Sam: You did some study there, you were looking at secondary school teacher’s perspectives.

 

Jo: Yeah, that’s what I did for my research while I was there, because I’d worked with so many schools and so many teachers and I had this grand concept of what education outside of the classroom was and I wanted to find out whether teachers actually also believed in this idea that it was cross curricular and that it should be for every subject area and how they can come together.

 

It’s like on an intellectual level, they all understood that. Yet when you got them down to the practical level of asking them about applying it, it always ended up falling back with a conversation to PE and health and doing school camps.

 

Sam: How is it actually structured in terms of school curriculum. Is there a thing that says outdoor education or is it scattered across everything else or …

 

Jo: Well outdoor education does come under PE within it but education outside of the classroom is just a guideline that can be picked up for anything. Any field trip, whether it is for geography or history, art, anything is classed as education outside of the classroom.

 

Sam: They don’t need to be kayaking or climbing mountains in order to get that benefit?

 

Jo: Not at all.
Sam: But it will make it more fun?
Jo: Potentially.
Sam: Can you get that same benefit across the curriculum, if that’s what you’re doing. If you’re camping or kayaking and things, does it still have the benefits?
Jo: It can though. I depends on how you actually teach it and how you apply it. As one of my … It was actually for one of my post grad papers, I designed a year 8 camp for the local high school where I was living at the time, which is a water based camp, it was in Warren Place and managed to get links into English, Art and all the technologies as well as the PE and health side of things.

 

Shane: How would you get English in there because a lot of people would struggle to figure out how you get English Literature into camping?

 

Jo: Well with English Literature, I mean it’s about them writing so you can get them to either write poems or stories or even just about what they’re actually doing. With many places around New Zealand, you can find books that have been written about it whether they’re fictional ones or factual ones that you can then do for reading, so you can then tie, say a fictional book which is just based in a real place, into the real place when they go there.

 

Shane: All right, and then you could follow the book around and that kind of thing around.

 

Jo: Yeah, definitely with some of them.

 

Shane: What kind of other activities would you be able integrate, what other subjects? Obviously, History might be one.

 

Jo: Yes, History, with a lot of places in New Zealand you’ve got both Māori History and then the European History that follows on later. New Zealand might be a young country but it’s really rich in History.

 

Shane: Do teachers understand that? I mean obviously you might have some teachers who were taught in the old method and aren’t used to these concepts. How did they receive them?

 

Jo: All of them received it really well. I mean when you talk to them, it’s like they say, on an intellectual level they definitely understand it. I think for a lot of teachers, their workload is really high. One of the biggest barriers was actually time to be able to actually develop things and then of course they’ve got that whole trying to organize time tabling and it’s really hard for teachers to get any students out of the class, other classes.

 

Shane: How do the kids like it?

 

Jo: Personally I think that students benefit greatly from getting out of the classroom and most of the research I’ve read would agree with that. I think there’s only so many people can learn in these abstract subjects and most of us need to be shown real applications for things for it to really sink in and understand.

 

Sam: You did your finishing degree at CPIT?

 

Jo: I did, yes.

 

Sam: Then what?

 

Jo: From there, I was running my own business, I was still working so I did work pretty much full time throughout doing my degree as well.

 

Sam: That’s taking students from a whole pile of different institutions and school and things on these camps and so on.

 

Jo: Yeah, definitely and working with different Polytechs at that level as well. I realize that I’d enjoyed using my brain as part of the degree and initially thought I’d go into teaching and do my post grad in teaching. Only, I discovered that a lot of the teacher’s colleges, well one, don’t let you do it by distance and two, the ones that did talk to me, as if I was just a school leaver and I didn’t really enjoy being talked to like I was about 19 when I was actually in my late 20’s at the time.

 

I used to work on the PE camps throughout the PE school here at Otago University. On one of them, I came into the room and I had Mike Brown was in there and Allan Hill was in there as well and I was just chatting to both of them sussing out their varying post grads thinking good to keep my brain going and talking about the pluses and minuses of both of those. Essentially, I went with Mike Brown due to the fact that I could do my post grad by distance and it didn’t have to be in the location it was happening.

 

Sam: You were running for a while, you were running or helping run the outdoor education program at Aoraki in Timaru.

 

Jo: Yes I started …

 

Sam: It was mostly an Alpine course?

 

Jo: No Aoraki is definitely multi skilled.

 

Sam: Okay.

 

Jo: They are definitely known for being strong for their mountaineering. They’re also really strong in the white water kayaking and the rock climbing as well.

 

Sam: That’s teaching people to do what?

 

Jo: I worked on the level 5 Diploma. That was teaching people basically to become outdoor instructors.

 

Sam: To teach other people to do …

 

Jo: Teach other people so that basically when they left at the end of the level 5. They’d be I suppose entry level instructors in the outdoors.

 

Sam: Were they teaching people how to kayak, or were they teaching people math and science through kayaking?

 

Jo: No, there it was definitely much more about teaching the basics of the kayaking and the climbing. I suppose bush and tramping is probably become my most passionate area of outdoor education due to the fact that it’s got so much potential for being able to integrate things easily.

 

I did spend a lot of time with the students getting them to think about how to get people to really integrate with bush and a recent assessment I actually ran with … One of the activities they ran was actually about drawing while they were out there in the bush. You can pick the back of tree and things. You can get actually get them drawing on that while they’re out there. You can actually even use the natural materials or leaves if you’re around Dunedin.

 

Sam: I suppose that’s really about that grand concept that you talked about, about the education outside the classroom. One way to achieve that is by getting the teachers to be aware of the outdoors. The other end of it is getting the people who know about outdoors, to know about education.

 

Jo: Definitely, very slowly yeah. To some degree, there’s the research out there to show why all this should be happening. I think there’s a real disconnect between the research and people reading it and applying it. I would say that probably a large number of outdoor educators, one, have gone into it because they like doing practical things, not reading academic papers. A lot of it, I think is getting a lot of this research put into normal terminology and accessible for people to actually get to understand.

 

Sam: You have been today with Otago Polytech Outdoor Adventure Diploma out at the aquarium?

 

Jo: That’s right, yeah.

 

Sam: That is because they do get some education about the science?  Is that so that they can be interesting, guides, they can talk about the fish and stuff, what’s the reasoning behind that?

 

Jo: I mean that’s definitely part of the reason. We definitely talk about value adding when you take your students, clients, whoever they’re, out. Part of that is being able to talk about the environment that you’re in. Today, we were out of the marine centre and that was looking at activities they could use. Also making sure that they understood a little bit about what was actually going on in the marine world. It was definitely very much linked back to the whole, how everything is interconnected and in an intricate web.

 

We often see that given to us on above or on land version. But it’s very rare, we actually put into the ocean and look at how that is all intricately linked. I think one of the biggest messages the students got today, was how, we talk about all these multiple oceans and seas around the world but ultimately it’s just one ocean and how it actually affects everything.

 

You had this beautiful NASA images up there showing how the varying sea currents transport things around the world and it really is linked. Just trying to get them to see that. Just because we live on land, how everything we do on land still affects the sea vastly as well.

 

Sam: The Otago Polytech tagline is that every graduate might think and act as a sustainable practitioner. What does it mean to be a successful practitioner as a outdoor practitioner?

 

Jo: I suppose with that, often for outdoor people they will go immediately to the environmental side of things and think about protecting the national parks, the trees, the plants, if they’re more kayakers stopping damming of the rivers and pollution. I think that often failed to see the sustainable side of when you’re back at home. It’s one of those things that definitely is a little bit of a push pull inside of me because I know that to some degree outdoor education really pushes consumerism with all of the beautiful gear that we have.

 

A lot of our clothing and equipment is made from petrochemicals, it’s all plastic based. There’s definitely a lot of thinking to go on there. I know there’s some courses that do some amazing stuff around getting students to really start thinking about, where everything they use comes from and what actually is going on and even down to how far they’re travelling to get into the outdoors because we say we’ve got the harbour right here yet so often when we talk about doing the outdoors. We pack our students into buses and we’ll bus them out to a national parks somewhere and that’s then deemed to be wilderness and the outdoors, when it actually is literally on our door steps.

 

Sam: But compared to some other activities, the impact per well-being benefit, I just invented a measure, must be okay.

 

Jo: Definitely, yeah.

 

Sam: It’s not like they … You’re not teaching them jet boating.

 

Jo: No.

 

Sam: Although you have been a quad bike guide, I see.

 

Jo: Yeah, it was quite good fun for a little while.

 

Sam: They are aware of that kind of balance?

 

Jo: Yeah definitely, yeah. I think the younger ones probably struggle with it. We do get a lot of school leavers come in and there’re still teenagers. It is definitely more about them, it is more about having fun. It’s definitely about drip feeding that awareness into them. I think a lot of that probably does come to that, even New Zealand students are getting less and less exposure to I suppose essentially, the natural world.

 

Sam: I suppose we in the West are the ones that can teach outdoor education – it’s a luxury, these outdoor experiences, kayaking, climbing whatever, that’s a pretty selfish hedonistic act. On the flipside of that, you’re teaching people how to be guides and to look after people. There’s an interesting balance on where they sit on that.

 

Jo: There is and you definitely, I mean you’re right. Rock climbing, mountaineering, it is very selfish at end of the day and it’s very much a middle class white European thing to be doing. Sometimes you go, “Well why are you climbing that random bit of rock?” I think a lot of it does come down to, even just that being outside and that whole well-being and feeling of well-being that you get from being outside in nature and those wonderful hormones that are released to make you feel good.

 

You’re right, when you transition from the level 4 to the level 5, you spend a lot of time actually really explaining to them that they’re now moving into the more professional realm of taking other people out and that, I’m actually quite brutally honest with them and tell them that it’s no longer about them, It’s now about other people and that they need to actually get that mind shift, it’s like when they gotten their own time, that’s when it’s about them. When they’re interesting or guiding, it’s now about others instead.
Sam: You’re now working on a Masters in Sport and Leisure Studies?
Jo: I am.
Sam: Tell us what the topic is?
Jo: My topic is looking at the place response of outdoor education. I suppose in a synopsis that’s more about, for me not going necessarily often to the wilderness. It’s much more about using the local natural environment, and getting people connected to their place, so that they actually get to know what is here and that you can do all these amazing things close and locally, learning about the history.

 

That, the ethic of care you can get by having that connection with your people in your place, how it might manage to lead to you actually, talking care of and looking after and improving your place. It was another of those idealistic assumptions I had that if you cared, you would just naturally act and through my research I’ve basically discovered that’s not the case at all and that you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.

 

Sam: How did you find that out? What did you do?

 

Jo: I actually worked with a local school for my research. We started off at this school and we biked from there into the centre and we actually went to Otago Polytech. We went to their edible gardens and got a tour around there. We had Ron Bull actually join the group. He did a kōrero  to start the journey off and he unpacked that while we were at the Polytech for the students and really linked beautifully through his story telling, how we really are part off the whole world and nature rather than a part from which is how we often see ourselves as humans.

 

From there we continued biking into North East Valley, and we actually got to camp at Bethune’s Gully for the night. The big focus was to go slow and make sure we really took things in along the way. We then had a local herbalist join us as we walked over Mount Cargill to explain a lot of plants and things and their uses and what they could eat along as we went. We got down to the other side of the Cargill Road and we had an educator come in from Orokonui, who explained the forest and some of the legends of the whole place.

 

Then basically carried on round to Quarantine Island over the side to the Albatross Colony and then final leg was to bike back to school. The whole way around was meeting with local community groups and local people so that it was local people that were telling the stories of the varying places. For those students, most of them hadn’t even been to some of these places even though they’re literally right here.

 

Sam: Encouraging them to experience and to celebrate the place, their place.

 

Jo: Yeah, definitely

 

Sam: Did they?

 

Jo: Yeah my interviews at the end definitely showed that suddenly their picture of Dunedin had improved incredibly. They had gone from saying that the shopping malls were the best thing about Dunedin to starting to talk about some of the beaches and the inlets and the places we’d visited, which was amazing to see.

 

From there we then ran some environmental advocacy sessions which was basically more taking them through their journey again and looking over some of the issues they’d actually seen as they’d gone around and helping them actually formulate how to plan out an action that they could take.

 

Sam: Just nice and slowly through that: connection to place.

 

Jo: Yes, connection to place, got a big tick.

 

Sam: What was the next bit in the …

 

Jo: The next bit was a few sessions to actually look at the issues they’d seen while on the journey. Because obviously there’s plenty of issues around Dunedin. They talked about them. It was ones they remembered. They worked out which ones they were really interested in and felt like they’d liked to look at further and they were taken step by step through how to make a plan of action.

 

Sam: Connection to place and they got from that, concern for the environment in particular around that place.

 

Jo: Yeah.

 

Sam: Then you got them to think about advocacy on the basis of that.

 

Jo: Yes.

 

Sam: That worked?

 

Jo: That part of it did beautifully. The bit that I left very airy fairy with them, because this was the crux of my research if you like was whether or not they were to actually do the action. All they knew as I was going to coming back to see what had happened within those sessions post that time.

 

Sam: Did they?

 

Jo: They did do a small action. There was a whole heap of things that really shrunk what they did. But within that interview part of my questioning was around whether or not they would continue, would they get into anything else and that was where I think I felt a little bit crushed because essentially, there were two that said they might mainly through things like the Enviroschool’s schools groups that they have running or other environmental groups. I think there was one mention that if they have time and I got a couple of outright no from them.

 

Sam: Nice and slowly through his, connection to place tick. Environment advocacy plan, tick.

 

Jo: Yes.

 

Sam: Environmental advocacy, half tick?

 

Jo: Yeah.

 

Sam: Transfer from that to a general ethic of care, no?

 

Jo: An absolute no, yeah.

 

Sam: Okay, so why not.

 

Jo: The reasons that I came down to were primarily priorities, was what it really came down to, is that they just didn’t see it as a priority that everything else in life was far more important. When I reflect on that, I think that’s how we often end up putting it as well. For a lot of us, we prioritize things and so the more the lovely environmental side of things gets shoved down because all this other stuff we deem to be more higher priority, yet in the grand scheme of things it’s quite I suppose short sighted.

 

I think that the other problem is, is that often because of the way the message has always been put out around sustainability, I think the students naturally went to the looking at almost making more work on what they may have to give up. Through this whole thing I read a fascinating book by, was it Per Espen Stoknes called “What we think about when we try not to think about Climate Change“.

 

It was a fascinating book which took me into the environmental psychology realm which I hadn’t actually delved into before. A lot of his message is that, when we’re talking about trying to do environmental things, it’s nearly always about giving things up and what we should no longer do. His big message is that we need to start thinking as educators about re-storying that and about the benefits and the gains we get from changing rather than always looking at what we’ve got to give up.

 

Sam: In this case, you would have thought that they would see the benefit of looking after the place because they’ve enjoyed it.

 

Jo: It’s that disconnect still between how they live up at home and place. Their biggest thing that really struck them was the plastics from the Albatross Colony, they were horrified, the birds having eaten the plastics and how it can kill the chicks. They decided, because we along the way did some little bits of beach clean ups.

 

They decided that their big thing was they needed to somehow help stop the plastics. Their way of thinking about it rather than trying to reduce, I suppose plastic use in some way and how you could go around that, was more about we need to get better at recycling.

 

Sam: How do we take this initial interest in the place, even the caring in the place, how do we turn that into some deep seated wanting to make a difference and making a difference?

 

Jo: From all of my extra reading, I think the biggest thing is there’s no one magic pill as the big thing. From having now delved onto that psychological side of things, a lot of it comes down to the fact that you need to start being able to look beyond yourself and that being able to look beyond yourself means that as a person, I suppose essentially you’ve got to have pretty good well-being which took me down the track of positive psychology and looking at what they’ve been doing around well-being and getting people basically to look beyond themselves and to start thinking a lot more about others.

 

Sam: Is there a message in there for education outside the classroom that it’s not so much about just going outside and them enjoying it, but going outside and somehow being beyond themselves so that they can enjoy helping other people when they’re outside the classroom learning about science?

 

Jo: Yeah. I think definitely actually, there’s certainly research around how by helping others it makes you feel better as well and that you can see things actually changing and happening. Definitely just taking people out to enjoy and thinking that change will happen. It might do for a very minute percentage but for the majority of us it will be no deeper than enjoyment.

 

Sam: I’m presuming that you would still see a balance on the side of going out and doing outdoor education.

 

Jo: Definitely, yeah. For the overall well-being of people. There’ve been so many studies done on taking people into nature. By nature it just needs to be green space, whether its forest, bush or just green open fields and the beach and how it really does improve people’s well-being. There have been a few studies done even on how it can enhance your academic performance.

 

Sam: How green does the green space have to be?

 

Jo: Well I know they’ve done studies in hospitals where they’ve actually just been able to look out of a window and see something green. I know there was a university study done for students sitting tests and they actually just showed them pictures of green space and it still had some effect.

 

One that I was reading was about getting people to walk outside and one of them had route that was very much trees, grass, the more rural and the other was very much urban on pavement, concrete around them, and when they did the retesting, those that were in the natural setting, definitely had greater sense of well-being.

 

Sam: Somehow we need to be able to do that without making worse that problem what we started with, with the “nature out there somewhere”.

 

Jo: Definitely.

 

Sam: The city is our environment too. Is it worthwhile getting people to do urban orienteering, urban treasure hunt, sort of stuff? Does that have enough benefit to make it worth doing for outdoor education?

 

Jo: I don’t see why not. I mean it’s still using the same skills, it’s still going outside and I suppose it ultimately depends on your definition of what outdoor education is. If it’s more about education just being outside, then definitely. I know in Dunedin they’ve started putting, looking for those little sections of nature within the city. There is that campaign about putting little billboards up around the spot to help you see that there is nature everywhere.

 

Sam: Okay, some questions to finish with. What’s your go to definition of sustainability?

 

Jo: I always struggle with this one because it’s such a hard to define word. For me it’s definitely about making sure that you do not exceed the resources of the, I suppose the planet, of the place. You’ve got to live within your means, so that you’re not degrading it, in any way and that it’s here for future generations.

 

Sam: Hard to scale that though. It’s hard for me to know whether or not this thing that I bought is exceeding that limits somewhere else.

 

Jo: Yeah.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Jo: The biggest success?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Jo: Oh. I’m stuck on that one, I‘m sure there’s lots. I think probably when I got to actually get … I really wrote the environmental paper at Aoraki before I left and got that running. That was definitely on the back of having just done my environmentally sustainable education paper, through my post grad. I’d got such a far better understating of what environmental action was and that whole idea that it needs to be about, actually trying to find solutions to the problems rather than just band aids.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Because you appear on Facebook, on beaches and stuff before dawn and up top of mountains before dawn. I know what literally gets you out of bed in the morning but what motivates you?

 

Jo: Well, apart from the sunrises, I actually think that getting outside and fresh air first thing in the morning is just the best way to start any day. It’s people. I absolutely love working with people, at the end of the day and knowing that, ultimately trying to get people to make their place better, it makes the place better because it is so intricately interlinked.

 

Sam: Do you consider to yourself to be an activist?

 

Jo: Probably not. I tend to like to do things on a low key way.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Jo: The biggest challenge is actually trying to, I suppose get my ideas more into fruition around place and getting people intrinsically motivated to actually take action and to improve their place and to form that connection with it.

 

Because I still think that as New Zealanders we’re quite disconnected from our place. We may know where we live and where we’re from but we don’t necessarily have that deep rooted sense of connection, as well as hopefully find a more permanent job.

 

Sam: You live in a nice place.

 

Jo: I live in a beautiful place.

 

Sam: Is there something about New Zealand, feeling of being a young country do you think? I mean places like Cumbria, it’s not a natural landscape, it’s a very modified landscape. You very much know that people have been there for a really long time.

 

Jo: Yeah, definitely. I think some of its perhaps, New Zealanders like to think about always travelling off to distant places and it takes them to go away to realize what they genuinely had. I think it’s also just starting to creep in more as people spend less time outside and more time indoors, more with electronics stuff, instead of actually being outside and just playing and getting to know.

 

Sam: There’s a premise that New Zealanders’ relationship with environment is a raw one. It’s more like we’re still breaking the country in.

 

Jo: There’s definitely still a lot of that more pioneering I suppose attitude.

 

Sam: Is that a different relationship with place?

 

Jo: I would say so because that’s more about on the whole, I suppose controlling the place rather than actually necessarily living harmoniously with place. If you look at the calendar that were used here, we’ve just taken the calendar that was over in the UK, and plonked it here.

 

As a real simple thing, we celebrate Easter in Autumn  and we celebrate Halloween in Spring and it’s like we’re celebrating death when we’ve got new life and new life when we’ve actually got death. We’re just very topsy-turvy with even those things, just disconnect you further from the land.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, by tomorrow morning, probably about 4:30 or something knowing you and Mr. Thompson, what would that miracle be?

 

Jo: That miracle would be for people to stop, I suppose essentially … Perhaps see the benefits of actually changing, actually see how ultimately, we’d all live better if we perhaps started to look more locally for things rather than having to have everything imported in, and that we actually lived in communities because by living in communities it’s not just communities of people, it’s also communities with the land and what is around us. That way we would actually know our place with so much more depth and have so much better support systems around us as well.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Jo: I think my advice would definitely be to go out, explore and learn about your own backyard and where you actually live and actually really get to know and get to know the people. I mean how often do we not even know our next neighbours or the people that live across the street. Actually start to form some of that community bond and be able to help each other a little bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
development education geography health Inequality

teaching social activism

Bob Huish

There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements…Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience?

 

Our guest tonight is Associate Professor Bob Huish from Dalhousie University. He’s part of the International Development Studies Department at Dalhousie, and a recipient of the 2015 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada.

His research explores ways in which social activism can lead to comprehensive development outcomes. He focuses on global health inequity and the role of activism in bringing about improved provision of healthcare and resource poor settings. Beyond community based health advocacy, he examines how medical education acts as a determinant of global health and equity, particularly with regards to Cuban Medical Internationalism.

It is well known that while many diseases favour the poor, the ability to treat and prevent illness tends to favour the affluent, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later. He pursues research about the pedagogies of activism and the organization of social resistance. He also explores the role of sport for development with special attention to Cuba and how this facilitates comprehensive development as well as organized forms of resistance.

At the moment, he’s currently working on following four areas, might be some more when he talks about it a little bit later on: Cuba sports internationalism solidarity, the pace of activism in the future of the university, global health assets, and human rights activism in North Korea.

He’s presenting a lecture entitled, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Bounds.” Dark connections between offshore capital sanctions and human rights abuses in North Korea, which sounds very exciting there. It’s on the 14th of September at 1:00 PM, it’s in St David St lecture theatre. You also have one on Tuesday, which we just found out about before the lecture at 5:00 PM on Tuesday. I’m going to talk to you about that in a second.

You’re also currently the Ron Lister fellow in the Department of Geography, the University of Otago, which is why you’re here. Welcome to our show. Welcome to New Zealand.

Bob: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here and loving being in Dunedin.

Shane: This all sounds really fascinating, but tell us what the lecture you’re giving on Tuesday.

Bob: Tuesday is the Ron Lister Visiting Fellow lecture. That’ll be at 5:15 on the campus. I believe it will be in room … I’ll find it for you.

Shane: You find it and get back to us. (Burns 2)

Bob: Yes, I’ll get back to you on that. It’s going to be talking about some of the research I’m doing involving North Korean human rights. As geographers, as the department of geography, we are all about going to places, experiencing that place, learning about the land, the life, the interactions. What I’m talking about on Tuesday is as a geographer, how do you research a place that you cannot go to, that is totally forbidden.

To go to North Korea, if you were there as a tourist, you would spend about €4000 for a week there, and you’d be given this veneer tourism. If you were to go in there illegally, you would risk your life. It’s very hard to get to see the realities of a place like that. Yet we know that this is an area that requires both scholarly and moral attention. How do we address it? That’s what I’ll be talking about on Tuesday night.

Shane: That sounds really exciting. Before we get into that, this is just absolutely fascinating stuff for me here. These are really, really interesting topics. We’ll go back and we’ll talk about, you grew up in Canada, I take it?

Bob: I did, yes. Six generations, Canadian, both sides, mother side and the father side.

Shane: Where in Canada were you brought up?

Bob: I was brought up in a place called Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Wasaga Beach’s claim to fame is that it is the longest freshwater beach in the world.

Shane: Wow. Was that mean that you spend lots of summer evenings down on the beach?

Bob: Absolutely. It’s a place where you have 18 kilometers of pristine beach. It’s inimitable. Then a couple of areas of the beach, we would let the tourists come over and take over and destroy the place, but we would maintain at least a good 16 kilometers for local activities. Now it’s a provincial park that’s protected for environmental sustainability as well. Lovely spot.

Shane: Is this what got your interested in geography? What made you become a geographer? Was that something that happened in school, or is it just something?

Bob: It was. I grew up wanting to travel and explore and take photos along the way. I remember telling the guidance counselors at the high school that I was going to either be a pilot or a National Geographic photographer. To be a National Geographic photographer, good luck. All the best to those to do it, but it’s a very competitive field. I figured a pilot would be a good way to see the world. When I went in for my medical test at the age of 16, the physician who did the test, you go through a few things, gets onto the eyes and he takes out the colour blindness book, and I’m seeing numbers that he doesn’t.

I remember him laughing out loud about how hilarious this was. I just saw, at the moment, my entire career and future just fading away. I went and talked to a high school teacher, Dave Knox, who had a radio show himself, avid rock and roll fantastic, but also very dedicated geographer. He pointed me in the direction in geography. It’s a field that will, pardon the pun, but it’ll take you places. I’ve stuck with it ever since.

Shane: Brilliant.

Sam: Shane’s always incredulous that people want to be geographers. We of course understand why you’d want to be a geographer.

Shane: It’s just that in school, it’s taught in the most boring way. Once you get to university, it resembles nothing compared to what you did in school. I’m always fascinated by this, physics is natural continuation but … Did you get frustrated with how high school teaches geography?

Bob: At the time, I was fortunate to have some really good high school teachers. Dave Knox was one, this other guy, Wayne Hunwicks, he was a fantastic teacher. I was really fortunate to have that growing up. Now looking back, to look at what a lot of geography is presented, in Canadian high school, I can speak to specifically, there is a disconnect. I think that when students come into university and they have an idea of what geography is in terms of making maps and capitals and mountains and ice and whatever else, to see the rich context that geographers, researchers and university professors bring to the table, it can be a very uphill battle for students in the first year or so.

Then once you realize how appreciated geographic research is in other disciplines, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Shane: Yeah, you always just think it’s like what you learned in school….boring, but it’s not, it’s just absolutely fascinating and really … You examine so many different areas of life. Let’s rush on. You obviously got interested in health.

Bob: Yes.

Shane: How did you get interested in health?

Bob: It was when I started doing work in Cuba. My Master’s project involve trips to Cuba to do work there. It was more in a historical, cultural geography framework. When I was in Cuba on the first day of arriving, this would’ve been April 30th. Still a bit chilly in Canada. You have a group of Canadian students who are coming down to the Caribbean for the first time, and we are exposed to this beautiful Caribbean sea. The first thing you want to do is jump into it.

No matter what culture you’re in, what language you speak, a red flag on the beach means what?

Sam: Danger.

Bob: Stay out of the water. Next thing you know, I’m the first guy in. It was this wave that came up, crashed over me, over my head, took me down and did one of those things where you’re corkscrewing. Smash, right into the rocks. I had my shoulder hanging open. I remember crawling out with one hand out of the beach and these two guys come in and they say, “we’ve got to take you to the hospital, man.” I thought, “I don’t want to go to a Cuban hospital, this isn’t what I want. It’s okay, I’ll walk it off.” You look over and the shoulder’s gaping.

They put me in the back of a ’53 Oldsmobile, picked up another guy who’d cut his foot open on a beer bottle, and we went straight to the hospital. We were both stitched up, cleaned up and out the door in 20 minutes. The next day, a nurse actually came by the hotel and said, “Hey, how’s that guy with the shoulder?” This was a time when some of the most wealthy and affluent countries were exercising extreme austerity on their healthcare systems. To me, being in a resource poor country that has many democratic and social problems, to extend that healthcare to a foreigner for no cost really resonated. I wanted to know why that was.

From there, it opens up a whole new area about what is healthcare, why does place matter to it, what can we bring to learn more about how this experience can be repeated.

Shane: Do you ever reflect on that one moment possibly changed your whole direction of your career?

Bob: It definitely did. What I did was I went back and started to do research in Cuba for a few years. After that moment, I started to look more about the health indicators. You see that in almost every category, Cuba, whose economy is not that great, especially then, it was in line with Mozambique and Vanuatu in terms of economic growth, but its health indicators were outperforming most European countries, certainly outperforming the US and Canada in many regards.

When you start looking at the data about what their health indicators are, their capacity to train physicians and nurses, their approach to health, not as a product of a physician’s craft, but as being produced from issues of community sustainability, that opened up the whole gates. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Shane: That’s quite a different fundamental point of view approach to healthcare and approach to community and approach to resource allocation. What have you learned from that? You’ve probably learned huge amounts, but what main teachings have you got from that?

Bob: When I offer my course on global health in Canada, the first question I ask my students is to define what is health, just to define. You’ll get a few answers that’ll come back. It could range from the absence of illness or to have good functionality as an organism. Some people will identify that it’s the broader conditions that maintain health and well being.

If any of your listeners have an iPhone or a dictionary on their tablet or computer right now, just punch in what’s the definition of health. It will probably come up in just a regular dictionary, the absence of illness. I find that very interesting because no other definition in the dictionary defines something for which it is not. You do not identify an apple as not being an orange.

We have structured so much of our attention on understanding what health is, as being the absence of illness. We really don’t understand what maintains and produces health in the first place. It goes far beyond bio medicine and it has a lot to do with social equity and justice, social movements and the ability for people to take care of each other. That’s a really important and under explored area for health and health studies.

Shane: Did the revolution in Cuba and the focus on community and … Do you think that produces that different philosophical framework?

Bob: Absolutely. When you look at what the Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, those guys, when they got into that, it was about agrarian reform, it was about land redistribution. That was their movement. There were other movements in Cuba. There was an urban movement, there was a student movement, there was a communist movement. They all had different goals.

With the Cuban revolution, the first thing was land reform, and then education, and then health. It wasn’t until 1962 that Cuba officially nationalized its healthcare system. Now, it’s one of the greatest drivers of its economy. It’s opened up doors around the world, even to warm up relationships with the United States. Initially, it wasn’t the focus. The focus was to try to get access to resources and education for the poor, and then from there, build health capacity.

Shane: On reflection, is that the right order to do it in? I think a lot of people keep saying, how do you best promote healthcare? I think your dad said this, Sam, was about having educate first, and then the health improvements go in. Remember that conversation we had? Is that something that you would agree with? Is that order right?

Bob: Yeah. The fact that if you look at how our health systems operate around the world, they’re usually there to make sure that there is good employment for health workers and that patients don’t go bankrupt in the process. Most well functioning healthcare systems follow that guideline to a degree. Very few of them really look at health promotion and disease prevention in the same close net, well organized sense.

When you look at a lot of health promotion material, it’ll often deal with individual behaviour change. Don’t smoke, try to drink less, exercise, et cetera. Just look at the smoking factor, for example. You walk into a doctor’s office, they’re going to ask you if you smoke, no matter what it is. If you have a cut on your toe, are you a smoker? That’ll come up. We know that in most societies, it’s the poor, the people who are the lowest income brackets, are also the most frequent and heavy smokers. Why do we look at something like that in terms of individual behaviour change and instead of seeing this as an issue of equity, of demographics, of income inequity, of social equity?

If you re-approach the question that way, you may be able to find strategies that are more effective than simply putting up bus ads to encourage people not to smoke.

Shane: It really is very much community based, equity. What can the west learn from this?

Bob: Let’s go back to Cuba for a minute. Some people call it the Cuban paradox, where you’ve got such a low income on a national level compared to wealthier nations, yet their health determinates right across the board are fantastic. One theory is that the levels of income aren’t that great in Cuba. The person who earns the top and the person who earns the least, there isn’t that great of a differential between the two. There’s some research on that that came out of the Whitehall Studies in the ’60s in the UK that tried to look at how income differences matter.

Then evolving from that, there’s another theory that says that really, it’s about social equity, it’s about class and hierarchy, and your position to have sense of responsibility, autonomy and control over your livelihood, that that matters a lot more to health than differences in dollars and sense.

Shane: This is the work the Spirit Level Address looked at. Of course, they’ve done more research since.

Bob: Exactly. In the Cuban case, there’s a lot of evidence to show that because it has that relative level of social equity, they’ve been able to produce these health outcomes in a way where people have a better sense of health, and hence their health services are not invested as much as other systems are in repairing people, as opposed to maintaining that health. Now, with increasing inequities arising in the country, this could be something that will be a challenge that they’re going to face.

Shane: I was looking at the … You’re talking about sports for development and how it’s being used as a way of, in Cuba, to promote social equity and development. I reflected on, that sounded really like the GAA (Gaelic football).  In the sport and revolutionary movement skills, it reminds me of the GAA in Ireland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when it was really a front for the … A way of getting people involved in the Gaelic revival movement, and then obviously involved in revolution, their war of independence.

That’s really interesting. What did you learn from that? How does Cuba use sport, and what sports do they play?

Bob: What’s really interesting about Cuban sport is that you look at the Olympic medal county, Cuba and New Zealand are right next to each other, where they ended for medal counts. They usually punch above their weight quite a bit when it comes to elite sport performance. The other factor is that about 95% of the Cuban population at some point in their lives, participate in organized sporting activities. This could be off to a gymnastics school or a baseball camp, something in that way, or if you’re ever in Havana and you’re up between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, you’ll see these, they call them grandmother circles, where you’ll have the seniors coming out and doing tai chi and yoga in the park on a daily basis.

The encouragement that people are active in sport is a very strong national value in Cuba. It’s done in a way where you want to encourage as much participation as possible. Community level stuff where it’s participatory. Then from there, begin to offer streams for advanced elite performance. That’s very different, how a lot of countries, Australia and Canada in particular, groom their elite athletes. It’s usually, you take a lot of money and you invest in a few athletes who are likely to perform at certain sports well, rather than actually trying to draw out elite performance from national participation.

The other thing is that when you retire, if you’re an elite athlete, you still have an occupation with the Cuban ministry of sport. You become a coach, you become a teacher, you’re not unemployed looking to do something different when it’s done. You are still part of the system. It’s a lifelong career to be I sport in Cuba.

Shane: Do you think those systems will fall apart as it opens up?

Bob: What I find very interesting is that there will be some changes, of course, to Cuba. Where they’ve put their attention and emphasis in their development stream is by investing heavily in education and healthcare. That includes sport, sport’s a part of that. In the 1990s when they lost 35% of their GDP, 87% of their exports in 1992, 35,000 people went blind due to the lack of vitamins, the average Cuban male lost 40 pounds, that’d be 20 kilos or so, in a year. They thought the whole show was going to end.

Where most countries that were faces economic crises at the time, where they created this austerity that went into health and education in particular, Cuba expanded schools, expanded hospitals and expanded seats for medical students, and they offered scholarships for foreigners to come in as well. Fast forward 15, 20 years, and now you have at the forefront of their economic growth is a provision of healthcare services to other countries. Now you’ve got 36,000 Cuban health workers working in 66 countries around the world. In some cases, when they do partnerships with the Gulf states, with South Africa, they get quite a good amount of remuneration for that. When they partner with Haiti, nothing. They do it for charity.

The country of the Gambia, I love this one, where the Gambia had a malaria crisis in the early 2000s, late 1990s. They said, “We need to get on this. Cuba, can you help?” “Sure, what would you like?” “We’d like doctors.” “We think you need a medical school, so we don’t have to keep sending you our doctors all the time.” 250 Cubans come in, they build a medical school, they provide community care, they address malaria in this way where you had 600,000 cases in 2001 down to 200,000 cases by 2006, and now it’s under 100,000 cases a year, which is an amazing decline.

When they start talking about what can you give us back for this work that we’re doing here, Gambia, who was quite broke at the time, said, “Do you like peanuts? We have a lot of peanuts. We export peanuts. We can give you preferential trade deal on peanuts.” Sold. Then later, third country partners like Taiwan and Norway came in to offer financial assistance with those projects.

Shane: Wow. That’s incredible.

Bob: It’s a shockingly different way of thinking about foreign aid, about what global health is, and about the importance of actually creating capacity within communities, as opposed to just always doling our or giving out extra resources in that way. Those doctors who worked in west Africa and Cuba carried on, other delegations have come in. If you go back to 2013, 2014 when Ebola was kicking off in west Africa, it was the Cuban doctors who were already there on the ground, and then another 600 showed up to go into the red zone to be the only medical work force to provide that number of physicians on the ground.

Sam: You’re talking next week about researching a place you can’t go to.

Bob: That’s right.

Sam: What gave you that idea?

Bob: Here’s the connection between health and what we’ll talk about in a minute about North Korea, is that on one sense, on doing work on Cuba, people would colloquially just compare Cuba to North Korea, and then I would grumble and get frustrated. That was always on my back radar. When you look at how these advances in health promotion or anything, really, foreign, it’s usually by people demanding it. Well organized, committed individuals who make these demands for program design and for such developments.

I wanted to offer a class on social movements, activism and social justice, and I did. It’s one where we have students actually going out, hitting the streets, and protesting for concerns that they have. The university in Canada, they were a little concerned about what topics would be fitting. I was trying to guide people on topics where there would be no moral opposition. I read a book about the story of a defector from North Korea. His story, I devoured it and I thought, students are going to love it. We turn it over to them, they did love it, and they wanted to start protesting about human rights in North Korea, figuring who in the world would object to that.

Once you start seeing how grim that reality is, away we go. We were out protesting, aiming at world leaders who were coming to our city of Halifax for a security meeting, and we just said, “By all means, have your meeting, but if you’re going to talk about security, don’t forget human security. Let’s talk about people who are in need now.” We’ve done that for four years, and in that time, North Korean defectors have reached out to us for support, for opportunities to tell their stories, to do research projects together, and it’s carried on since then.

That switch over to this world of social justice brings me to working with North Korean defectors. The very difficult part about that is that North Korea is a no go zone for research, as I’ll be talking about next Tuesday. The amount of published articles on North Korea are shockingly few. There’s no topic that is this understudied. It’s a topic where it’s just shrouded in mist and rumors and deceit and intentional mistakes, where defector testimony that comes out from North Korea is usually incorrect. The satellite imagery is not as accurate as we would like it to be. The politics of this place, we don’t fully understand. Everything is a black box.

For myself, someone who’s publicly helped and supported North Korean defectors and spoken out against the regime, if I was to go there, that would be the end of me. It’s a place where you cannot go, but you know there’s something important to be studied and explored there. The question is, how do you do it?

Shane: that’s really interesting. You talked about how health is normally … Better health outcomes is demanded by the people, and North Korea is a communist country, and so is Cuba. You’ve already said … communist countries. First part of the question, did Cuba, was that focus on developing healthcare, was that done by the leadership or by the people, and the second question is, what is the primary difference between Cuba, which has done this amazing thing with its people, and North Korea, which seems to be doing terrible things to its people.

Bob: Absolutely. The first question is about where did Cuba’s medical system come up. The real foundations to it were in 1962 when they passed a bill to say that physicians could no longer bill patients directly for medical services. Mirroring exactly what happens in the UK and Canada and elsewhere, and even proposed by the Kennedy administration at the time in the states. It wasn’t too radical by any means. The physicians in Cuba took off. Of a workforce of 6000, they were suddenly down to just under 3000. You had 256 teaching faculty at the University of Havana in 1962, by 1965 you had 14.

That exodus of that medical expertise, because Havana was well known for medical expertise in the ’50s and ’40s, left this void, this vacuum, of a new generation of doctors and medical students that built the system up based on the values that you have today. It wasn’t ever put in the hands of the top leadership to say we have this miracle vision that we’re going to drive it. It was always about impact and feedback from both physicians and patients in communities to meet their needs. It’s been a very elaborate process.

This is where you see that to label something as just communist, may be accurate in terms of how their government’s organized, but there’s a lot of flavors of communism, from the mild version to the absolute toxic. With Cuba, you see that they’ve always had this ability to have feedback from communities to the representatives in government. Sometimes it’s slow, there’s a lot of inefficiencies within there, but there is that value of human security that comes out.

When you look at North Korea, a country that leadership in Cuba did not visit until 1995, “We don’t want anything to do with these guys, this is a different flavor.” It came up almost by accident, where you had a leader rise to power, Kim Il Sung, who read the Stalin Playbook, same thing that happened in the eastern states in Europe, where that form of governance was about trying to create a cult of personality, kill your enemies, kill your political opponents, and get orders top down.

You see it almost operate more as a feudal system, where you have this elite in Pyongyang that want for not. Below them, the loyal class who are pretty well taken care of. Then, they have a wavering class and a hostile class. That’s literally what it’s called. It’s called the Songbun system, it’s a feudal form of control where you have those three major classes derived in about 50 or so subgroups. The government there realizes that most of the people that are under its control resent it terribly, and there are these systems of control in place wherein if you speak out against the leader, it’d be considered a political crime, you will be going to a political prison camp. Your family will be going to a political prison camp. Any children you have will be going and any children they have will be going as well. Three generations of punishment.

Nothing that nuts has ever existed in Cuba, even in what they call the four gray years, the 1970s, where if you spoke out against communism, you maybe had long hair and listened to rock and roll, you’d have the moral authority police come over and give you a stern talking to. There is some determinant that also took place in Cuba in the ’60s and ’70s for people who deviated. Now, no. That’s about as far away as it can get. A lot of scholars in cube recognize how twisted the North Korea system is.

It’s a different world.

Sam: I’m going to change topics slightly. You talk about deviation. You teach a course, which is called Development and Audacity.

Bob: Yeah. Audacity development, development activism, yes.

Sam: How did you manage to convince the university to let you teach something with that title?

Bob: Yes. Just to be clear, we’re talking about my university back in Canada, Dalhousie. When you offer a course as a one off, nobody really pays attention to you. Special topics. Then if it gets popular, as this one did, and we took it not just from a one off topic, but to a calendar course and then a degree requirement. Then that sat before a committee called the Academic Development Committee where they had visions of students running riot in the streets and just losing it.

I got called in and the dean is there, and other members of this committee are they. They start asking questions about, “What happens if there’s a radical takeover of your class by a fundamentalist student?” I said, “I guess we call the police.” “What happens if a student wants to burn a police car?” I said, “Look, I don’t know how to do that, contact the chemistry department. They’re the experts.”

This banter went on back and forth and I said, “Look, you guys are missing the point. If you look at history and you look at the history of social movements, universities have always had a fundamental role in that.” When you had students in Tennessee and Mississippi taking over lunch counters, they were organized, they were taking seminars on nonviolent resistance. It was faculty who were leading that. You see this from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements. The women’s suffragettes in the US in the early 1900s, all university students. The guys who kicked off Tahrir Square in Egypt, university students. The guys who overthrew Milosevic, university students.

Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience? Again, people dithered on it and they weren’t too sure, but ultimately, when you have a class of 35, then you have to expand the enrolment to 60, and then 75, and then 80, it becomes very financially attractive for the university to make sure that course stays on the books.

Shane: Did it end up being a degree requirement?

Bob: Yes, it is.

Shane: Can you require all students to be an activist?

Bob: Absolutely not. By no means is that course the minting process to be an activist. What it is is it gives students the opportunity to engage with it in real time, to look at what goes into the organization of a social movement, to create a scenario that we’re going to go out and make our demands known to people in government and try to get the attention of others in society. That doesn’t just happen by swinging a picket sign around on a crowded street. We have to plan about this, we have to think about it, then we have to reflect on how this is impacting our politics today.

Why are some social movements so quick to be recognized and embraced and others quickly dismissed? It gives students what we call experiential learning. The ability to witness, experience and engage in this process, and then form their own structured thoughts that connect the literature to that experience. That’s really it.

There’s been cases where we’ve had students from the military who are under Canadian military code cannot protest. They can’t do it. How do they get through? We set up roles for them as researchers if they want. Others who have objected to it. Students who come from South Korea who are on a working Visa and they say, “I don’t want anything to do with messing around with North Korea, man. This is too hard.”

There’s always accommodating at every turn. That myth that activism and social movements are somehow naturally organic, that they don’t require leadership, that they don’t require dealing with interpersonal skills at a community level, that’s a dangerous knowledge. If we realize, we really realize that if you have a small group of well organized people put together, and be they’re committed to it, you can intimidate a regime like North Korea, in places where other governments have failed. You can demand things like better equity, better social justice, better healthcare.

It’s a very, very powerful force, and most world leaders, governments, businesses, are quite intimidated by activism. In one sense, it can be a very powerful tool for change, it can also be something that can go right off the rails and lead to far worse consequences.

Sam: If you could have a whole degree in it, would you do it?

Bob: I think that idea would be fantastic, but we would need a big team of teachers and experts to get through that. We would need philosophers, ethicists, city planners, historians, the geographers would be in there somewhere, of course, to really understand how this process impacts our world.

The other thing that’s really challenging about activism is that in that moment, when something is conflicted, there’s a tendency to label activists as being the outlaws, the troublemakers. Then you look back at history, the heroes of the day now were the outlaws of the time then. That’s a very difficult thing for society to accept.

Sam: Given that most of the students I would suggest aren’t going into societal roles where they are carrying on being placard waving activists, and lots of them are going into various businesses or government. Do you talk to them about how they can carry on that role?

Bob: Absolutely. We’ve had students come out of that class and have run as members of parliament, they didn’t win but they did it. That was good. The practical skills that come from this course are quite strong. They get into issues of advertising, marketing, campaigning, all of that. There’s a lot nongovernmental organizations and political parties who find value in that practical skillset. We all know that university education is beyond just practical skills, it’s about opening your mind to alternative ideas.

The feedback I receive from students down the road, who graduated the course, maybe they’ve gone onto a higher education degree, maybe they’ve gone into corporate sectors, some people work for law firms. They’ll write me little anecdotes to say that there are moments in their professional careers where they disagree with something, they disagree with authority, they disagree with how something’s being run. Instead of just ranting or grumbling by the water cooler or voting with your feet and leaving, they’ve actually been able to strategize, to create small change, even within their own workplace.

Others have, I hope, learned some of the value in organizing at a community level with issues that might be impacting their world.

Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

Bob: Sustainability, a go-to definition? I think in terms of social justice and activism, something that endures. In many ways, social justice movements can fall victim to having a lack of sustainability. At the same time, they can be very important in creating that sustainability. Endurance is really important. It’s often an uphill battle.

Sam: We are writing a book of these conversations, which we’re calling Tomorrows Heroes. We’re actually writing it, we’re not just talking about that, it’s actually happening.

Bob: Well done.

Sam What we’re trying to do is to look at the people’s superpowers and describing what is it that they’re doing, what are they bringing to this good fight. How would you describe your superpower? What is it you’re bringing to the team?

Bob: Oh my God. I don’t know if it’s a superpower, hope it’s not because it should be a contagious thing. I think that approaching these areas of study, what’s really important is to try to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. For example, next Tuesday we’re talking about creating change in North Korea, a place that you can’t even get to. That’s impossible, so let’s hold that thought of impossibility in the mind, and at the same time, be determined to make it otherwise.

That’s a big personal conflict, to see that things can be absolutely hopeless and yet still be determined to make change. It’s tough, you’ll lose sleep, but you’ll also have fun.

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

Bob: The biggest success. I think that making personal connections with the defectors in North Korea when they’ve needed help and helping them along in their way has been personally really, really important goal. There’s a lot of controversy that can shroud North Korean defectors if their testimony doesn’t match up or there’s errors in their details. There are still people fighting and have gone through a lot. To make that connection and form real friendships, I think has been one of the most rewarding factors that I’ve had.

Shane: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Bob: There’s just so much to do. The thing is that I love my job. I realize how precious of a statement that is. I’ll grumble over things like that committee that took me in that meeting, but at the end of the day, having the capability to get interested in a topic and pursue it and have fun doing it, is the most rewarding thing. I wouldn’t trade that in at all. You get paid along the way, fantastic, but if you love what you do, you’ve got it.

Sam: There’s so much to do. What’s next?

Bob: The next thing to do is to give those lectures next week. That’ll be great. After that, my plan is to turn to writing a couple books about the geopolitics in North Korea, and also about testimonies that have come from North Korean defectors. They’re fascinating testimonies and what I’m finding very fascinating is how sometimes if there’s a … Which ones are accepted by society and which ones are not. There’s a bigger political reflection in there.

What comes next is continuing to offer students the opportunity for education in social movements and activism. I also run a course in Cuba for two weeks a year that the students have the ability to come down, see the Cuban development model firsthand. We have a fantastic administrator back in Canada who puts it together, I’m just merely the academic component. We turn it over to Cuban faculty to do the rest of the teaching. It’s a grand experience.

Sam: What are you doing in New Zealand?

Bob: The Ron Lister Fellow in the  Department of Geography, I’m having the time of my life. It’s been great. It’s been fantastic to have the space to work on some of these issues. I’ve been focusing a lot on the North Korea research, looking at an expiration of the literature on North Korea, tracking the movements of marine traffic coming in and out of the regime and identifying shady suspects, to spend time connecting with defectors. All from the comfort of Dunedin, which has been fabulous. It’s been a great space to get some research done but also just to connect with such a great group of people in the department at the university more broadly.

I also have become quite a fan of the curling club down at the ice stadium. If anyone’s looking to go for a curling game, it’ll be next Monday at 7:00, happy to teach you the ropes.

Sam: How are you finding the students that you are having contact with? are they similar to the Canadian ones?

Bob: There’s fewer of them. I tend to teach very big classes back in Canada. Sometimes, 200+. The ability to be in a class of 12, eight people is fabulous, because you get to know them. You get to know their interests and you can help feed them along, what their pursuits are about. It’s great, yeah. International, globally minded students that you get to know on a one on one basis. Love it.

Shane: Are they activists?

Bob: They’ll have to decide. Maybe not yet, maybe they don’t think they are, maybe they will be, but we’ll see.

Sam: We ask this question of everybody, and I suspect we can predict your answer. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Bob: I do. I certainly didn’t grow up in Wasaga Beach thinking that. That was pretty far flung. I don’t remember anything political in Wasaga Beach. It was a pretty calm place. Then moving into the university world, undergraduate mentorship with some good professors, students and friends along the way, yes, then it certainly grew. I think that’s an important aspect to identify, to carry those messages both into research and into teaching.

Sam: There’s lots of arguments for not being an activist.

Bob: But is it possible to not be an activist, is another way. By not having an opinion of something, doesn’t necessarily mean neutrality. It could mean actually supporting injustices in a quiet way, as an advocate.

Sam: Do you not lose objectivity?

Bob: In which way?

Sam: By being an activist.

Bob: That’s a tricky game. Activism involves emotion. Objectivity is supposed to be free of emotion. Again, to balance perspective with what you feel is your own personal conviction is a skill building exercise. That’s what I mean, that we should take time to reflect on what goes into it. If you’re going to engage in politics of the street, you can acknowledge that they’re incredibly powerful, but at the same time, there are rules to that game. There are certain things that work, others that don’t, and how you create that engagement matters a lot on how you balance your own personal conviction to objectivity of the subject.

Sam:  Is it perhaps easier being an activist about North Korea, because it is a place you can’t go to, there’s this thing over here and you’re objecting to it, but then you can go back to your normal work. Would it be harder to be activist against, I don’t know whatever your local major industry is, you have to deal with those people in the supermarket, it’s close to home?

Bob: Yeah, that really is. That’s the case. When you’re dealing with something that’s far away, even though you make real connections to those places, there’s that certain amount of anonymity that go to it. When you are dealing with something not in my backyard or you’re engaging something in real time, be it a labour dispute, be it a pollution issue, whatever it is, there will be people who are in your face a lot more that’ll try to wear you down.

It comes back to that issue of endurance. When you want to engage with North Korea as a researcher here in Otago, I can do that according to my schedule. If you’re an activist here in Otago and you’re taking on issues in Otago, you may not have that luxury. That’s absolutely a part of it.

Sam: Although if you’re doing something locally, you have the opportunity to bump into those people at the sports field and various other places, you can actually talk to them.

Bob: Very much.

Sam: Do you think that the university should be activist?

Bob: There’s always going to be activism on university campuses. That’s always going to be the case. In quiet ways and in loud ways. The real question is, how does the university deal with it? It is something that happens on the fringe? Is it something that can be brought into the classroom? Is it something that can be studied and analyzed? Is it something that even administrations can support and market?

It really depends about what that institution wants to do with that phenomena, because it does exist.

Sam: Should a university have a statement on North Korea, climate change?

Bob: It wouldn’t hurt. It really wouldn’t hurt because the pressure’s there. With climate change, there’s a lot of campaigns in Canada right now for universities to divest, get out of fossil fuels all together. That’s being pressed upon a lot of university administrations. There are universities around the world that do have memorandums of understanding with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a place that’s been famous for producing internet hackers.

There are these academic exchanges and there needs to be some questions asked about how ethical those are. My university in Canada, two years after running the course, we actually put a proposal in to nominate Shin Dong Hyuk, who is the only person we know of who was born into a labor camp to have escaped for an honorary degree. To our knowledge, he’s the only North Korean defector who has an honorary doctorate from the university, which is a big political statement, considering that other institutions actually have cooperation agreements with the regime.

Sam: Shane’s about to close us down. Very quickly, two last questions.

Bob: Sure.

Sam: If you could have a miracle occur, what would it be?

Bob: One miracle? Health equity for all.

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

Bob: Whatever it is that you are charged up about, politically ticked off about, you’ve got the ability to engage it and to organize to make that change. Activism doesn’t come by accident.

Shane: Brilliant. Fantastic. You are listening to Sustainable Lens on Otaga Access Radio, 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 8th of September, 2016. Our guest was professor Bob Huish. Your hosts were professor Samuel Mann and me, Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on sustainablelens.org, or you can subscribe on iTunes.

We hope you enjoyed the show.

Categories
computing education

Making a difference through work

Lisa Kaczmarczyk

 Don’t let your personal and your professional life be separate on things that you feel passionate about. If you really feel something is important, work out how to bring it in.

Dr Lisa Kaczmarczyk has an adjunct position at Harvey Mudd and runs a business specializing in the evaluation of computer science and engineering education programmes.    Her book from a couple of years ago is Computing and Society: Computing for Good.

Sam:  Welcome to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Shane is not here tonight because I’m in San Diego. Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference and we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through what we’re calling the sustainable prospective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s Sustainable Lens is that of Dr Lisa Kaczmarczyk.

Lisa: Well done.

Sam: It doesn’t look like that when it’s written down.

Lisa: That’s true, but if you’re Polish, it looks exactly like that.

Sam: I’ll just go for Lisa. Lisa has an adjunct position at Harvey Mudd and runs a business specializing in the evaluation of computer science and engineering, research, particularly that with a social good type of aspect. She can say that better than I can. Her book from a couple of years ago is Computing and Society: Computing for Good. Thank you for joining me.

Lisa: It’s very nice to be here.

Sam: It’s your house.

Lisa: It’s true. Nice of you to come.

Sam: Let’s start with some big picture things, where did you grow up?

Lisa: Mostly in Massachusetts. I moved around a lot. I was born in Boston, I was there for a while, moved to New Hampshire for a few years, moved back to Massachusetts, spent a year of living in England, and back to Massachusetts and then left in my 20s.

Sam: Did you get settled in places enough to be attached to the place?

Lisa: Yes, but every time you move, you have to get unattached and uprooted, but I try really hard to get grounded everywhere I go.

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lisa: I wanted to be a spy and a world traveller. A spy, a world traveller, and a writer, all three of those things. Actually, I tend to think that I’ve accomplished it, so I’m very happy about that.

Sam: Hang on, I can get the world traveller a bit because you do travel, and you’ve written a book, so that’s a … What about the spying business?

Lisa: My favourite book when I was growing up was called Harriet the Spy and it was this book about this little girl who ran around with her spy notebook and she spied on all of her neighbours and her teachers and she wrote down everything that she observed, and so I imitated her. I had a spy notebook and I ran around and peered in the windows of my neighbours, wrote down everything about what my classmates were doing, made commentary on everything that I saw. It turns out, many years later, that becoming a researcher, and especially a qualitative researcher, is very much about the same sort of thing. Although, people know that you’re doing it as opposed to it being sneaky. You end up actually watching people, listening to them very carefully.

Sam: And not getting arrested.

Lisa: Not getting arrested, yeah, I think about it sometimes, what would have happened if I’d gotten caught. It would not have been a good scene. My parents would have been extremely unhappy, I think.

Sam: When you realized that you could be a world traveller and a writer, and perhaps a spy, what did you actually get off to do? You didn’t go to spy school?

Lisa: No, I got distracted somewhere along the way. I decided, first, that I wanted to be in theatre, and so I went off and I got a degree in drama and Spanish, dual degree. Then, I decided that the computer industry was really interesting, so I went into the computer industry. I went off in a lot of different directions but eventually, it all started pulling together as I realized it, the social aspects of all of these things were really important. Yeah, it was not a direct path.

Sam: What did you take away from your degree in drama?

Lisa: Gosh, Well, I ended up mostly working behind the scenes. My idea of being on stage didn’t work out. It turned out I just didn’t have the right something, I don’t know what it was. I ended up working in lighting, primarily, which was very technical, which is where I met a lot of engineers, which was the beginning of my move into, eventually, into the computer field. I’m not sure if that means that I actually took that away from theatre, but theatre certainly gives you a lot of opportunity to learn about how to be in front of other people and talk to other people.

Sam: And tell stories.

Lisa: And tell stories, exactly.

Sam: You found yourself being seduced by the lights, not being in front of them, but being behind them, eventually.

Lisa: Yeah, I think there was an appeal to that because I was introverted. Most of my friends would not believe that because I’ve always been very actively present, but in my head I was very introverted. It was actually easier to get very nerdy about the lights, and study them, and buy all the lighting technical manuals and start reading them, and starting figuring out, “Okay, how does this actually work?”

Sam: Did you then go off to get a Computer Science degree?

Lisa: Not immediately. I graduated from college with my drama and Spanish degree, but had decided by that point that I wanted to go and work in the new computer industry. This was the early 80s, in which everything was a Wild West still. I talked my way into my first computer science job, at a little start-up. That went out of business almost immediately, which was traumatic. I got another job. I just kept talking my way into computer science jobs because at that time, if you were good at talking your way into things, which I was, it was easier because you didn’t have to have a Computer Science degree at that time. I think it would be harder now. I spent about eight years moving from one job to another. The 80s was a time of a lot of turmoil. I got laid off several times as companies folded, evaporated, or were bought out by someone else.

Then, eventually, I started going back to school at night. Did that for a couple of years, then, went back full time. Finished a Master’s in Information System, decided that it was so cool going to school, that I had to do more of it. Went into a Master’s in Computer Science after that. Then, went back to work again, and many years later, went back and got a PhD. It was work, school, work, school, work, school.

Sam: A Master’s in Information Systems and in Computer Science?

Lisa: Yes, one after the other.

Sam: What brought that on?

Lisa: Well, the original Information Systems degree started because I had a boss who didn’t like the work that I was doing. I was a programmer, and he thought I wasn’t doing a very good job as a programmer. With hindsight, he may have had a point, so he said, “I think you should go take some classes in order to get better at this.” I thought, “Okay.” I started taking classes at night school thinking that that would make everything work out. Well, that particular job didn’t work out, and so I just said, “Fine, I’m going to finish this up full time.”

Sam: PhD?

Lisa: Later.

Sam: Yeah.

Lisa: Yes. After I finished the second Master’s it was another one of these … I think traumatic experiences have formed several of my important changes in my career because when I was in my second Masters, the Master of Computer Science, I had a faculty member who didn’t have a good attitude towards women students, I think that’s a polite way of putting it. I worked really hard in his class. I went into his office one time to ask how I was doing. I had gotten a B on the midterm. I want to talk about how I can do better. His response to my coming to ask questions was, “The fact that you’re here in my office asking questions means you clearly don’t know anything about the material. I’m going to have to reassess how you’re doing.” I burst into tears in his office, it was terribly humiliating. He then went back and failed me in the class and wrote a letter telling the other faculty how what he had done was justified.

It was a horrible experience, and I was so angry that it changed my career path, because my initial plan had been, finish the Master’s degree, go back in the industry and keep going up that corporate ladder, but I decided I can do a better job teaching than this guy. I can also make sure this thing doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Sam: That wouldn’t be hard by the sound of it.

Lisa: Yeah.

Sam: The response to somebody asking questions is that they’re somehow being threatening or something.

Lisa: Yeah, I have never forgotten that. I was offered two jobs. One was in Silicon Valley and it was obviously, it was a tech job, and at the same time, I was offered a job teaching at a community college. The salary disparity was amazing. The community college job paid almost nothing, but I took it, because my gut was telling me, “Follow that. Set aside the money, the ego, the prestige.” It was a hard decision, but it was the best decision, because I went to the community college and they were very student-oriented, and it was all about teaching and how do you teach well, and how do you understand what the students’ needs are and help them to succeed. They hired me to develop their Computer Science transfer programme. Not only did I get to develop a whole new program from scratch with a lot of support for being student-oriented, but I got to run around the entire state, I was living in Oregon by this time, and talk to all the universities and develop articulation agreements.

That was just exciting and thrilling. I was on a roll at that point with having an academic career and never really looked back.

Sam: From there to a PhD?

Lisa: After about eight years. I spent about eight years at the community college, I started getting a little bit restless. I started doing research on the side. I had no clue about how formally you were supposed to do research officially. I just started doing it and of course, got rejected. I submitted things to journals. I didn’t know anything about how you’re supposed to do this, which is good because I just did it without anybody telling me you can’t or you shouldn’t or that’s not appropriate, or, you don’t have whatever degree you need. I just started doing that, and I was the only one in the community college with any kind of computer science background at all. It forced me to have to reach out to find community, and I, again, ended up with a boss who didn’t particularly appreciate me. That’s another kind way of putting it. A combination of trying to do research on top of teaching, which there really wasn’t time for in a community college setting, and a boss who I didn’t get along with so well.

Then, somebody reached out to me and said, “Have you thought about coming to University of Texas, Austin to do a graduate degree, a PhD?” I was like, “Great idea.” Again, I didn’t know you how you were supposed to do things or the right way to do it, but I applied, got in and off I went.

Sam: Awesome, so what did you do your PhD on?

Lisa: I went in through the Science Education programme, because that was the way to do computer science education research at that time, but the first thing I did was boogie on over to the Computer Science department and got them to give me a teaching, an instructor teaching position. I was able to do that because I had prior teaching experience. That started about six months after I got there. At the same time, because I had essentially no money, I got a job working part-time in a start-up in Austin. The first two years that I was in Austin I was … what’s the word I want, split personality life. I would go downtown, I would work in this fancy start-up on the 14th floor of a building with shiny windows, and it was the first dot com boom. They’re throwing money around, left, right and sideways. Everybody thought they were going to be rich.

I would do that for a while, and then I will take the bus back to campus and I would go into my dark, dirty office, way off in the side building somewhere and work on developing course materials and on my PhD. It was actually very formative because I got to see two worlds at the same time, which was neat, but it also helped to pay for me to go to school.

Sam: What was your thesis on?

Lisa: I developed neural net … I developed a neural network in order to investigate human learning of some calculus concepts. This is long enough ago now that I’m trying to pull it all back together in my mind, but there were two parts to it. The first part was very traditional computer science with artificial neural networks and the second part was very much a science education human studies, I think. The first part, I modelled human learning. I took the Math education literature and modelled, got the neural network to model human learning of some mathematical concepts. Don’t ask me what they are because I can’t remember right now. It’s been too long. After I got the neural network accurately modelling human learning of these particular concepts, then I asked it to make some predictions. Then, I went and did a human subject study to see if people actually did learn the way the neural network said that they would learn this next piece of the Math concepts.

Then, I wrote the dissertation around those two, and so it was very much … this was another one of those career forming things, because half my committee was in computer science, and half my committee was in either science … Well, Science education and Math education, which shared a department or psychology, and they couldn’t have seen the worlds more differently. The one group really valued quantitative methods and statistics and the other valued qualitative methods. Their whole view of how you do research and what’s considered rigorous and robust were totally different. A significant portion of my PhD experience, and this is the part that really lasted long beyond the topic, was learning how to get these two groups to be in the same room, work together, respect each other’s approach to research, see the validity of it, make them come together.

That was very hard, but that is something that I continue to do and still do. Another trial by fire type of thing.

Sam: More recently, your work has had a sort of an underlying thread, at least more recently, at least for the ten years or so that I’ve known you. Your work has had an underlying thread of social good or sustainability. You haven’t mentioned that all the way through this process to date. Was it there?

Lisa: Yeah, I think there was a period of time where I was suppressing the interest that I had always had in these things and segmenting it from my professional life, because I bought into this idea that science is logic and science is the hard, not meaning difficult, but hard science. Then, this personal human stuff didn’t really fit. It was part of my personal life, and the things I did in my personal life are very much about that, in terms of volunteering at personal activities and stuff. I kept them separate but this was causing, I think a lot of conflict on some level somewhere. The way it all changed was my first semester at UT Austin, in graduate school, there were two courses that I was required to take because I was in Science Education.

One of them was qualitative research methods and the other was educational, an educational psychology class. I thought these were both going to be the most horrible classes and so I would take them first semester to get them out of the way so I never had to deal with them again.

They totally rocked my world. They changed everything. They blew my mind, those two classes. It changed my approach to my dissertation, it made me realize that I actually could, should and wanted to make this human social issues, global issues central to the work that I do.

From there, I was then able to start actually talking about it, work with it, try to figure out how you actually incorporate this, no longer say, I have to separate these two. The more further I went along, the more confident I got, the more it started coming out into the open and not be the secret thing off to the side, that only my friends knew about.

Sam: When you then had to get a job, did you look for something that explicitly allowed you to do that or was that a matter of putting that back in the box?

Lisa: Oh gosh, that’s hard. I wanted very much to stay teaching-centric. I really wanted an academic position where I could be focused on teaching. I was very interested in their disciplinary things but I didn’t yet see at that point how I would incorporate that into being a Computer Science educator. I ended up taking a teaching-oriented position at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology where it turns out they’re very open to experimentation and they’re very student-centred. That’s where I started experimenting a little bit. In addition to the core classes, I started experimenting with what other kinds of course could I teach. Sustainability continued to be tricky because, again, there wasn’t any precedence, it’s like, “How do you do this?” At that point, people still weren’t even talking about, very much about energy, saving energy, which is now the thing you’d probably hear about the most in computing. Is, “How do we save energy and if it’s tied to hardware and resource usage related to electricity?”

Even then, that wasn’t really talked about, so the more I was focused on more explicitly human as opposed to environmental aspects, because I was still trying to figure this out. It was several years later that I started to figure it out, even though I’m still questing on that, in that direction. It’s a hard thing.

Sam: I wonder why there weren’t any precedents. It’s not as if sustainability hadn’t been around for 20, 30, 40 years by then. It was a long time after the first Earth Day in 1970.

Lisa: Yeah, in fact, that’s from the original Earth Day in San Diego, something like 30 years ago. That’s the original poster. Sustainability has come to be much more accepted in engineering and especially in Civil Engineering because the connections have been, up until now, more explicitly obvious for people. If you are building things, if you are working on infrastructures, all these things you think of with engineering, it’s more obvious to people how you deal with research usage, how you deal with waste, how you deal with life cycle issues of things. Physical things that you think more about in engineering as opposed to software things which we think about more in computer science. I forget exactly how you posed your question.

Sam: Why wasn’t it there?

Lisa: Partially because people haven’t seen how to do it. They haven’t seen that it’s central to computer science, they haven’t seen that it’s relevant, centrally relevant, as opposed to an extra or, it would be nice if … it’s really someone else’s issue, have the engineers do it, or have the ecologists do it, or have the natural scientists do it. They haven’t seen how this relates to something that seems more abstract. You’re writing software. You don’t put your hand on it. The machines are built by somebody else. I would say it’s the thinking. The machines are not built by the computer scientist, they’re built by some hardware people somewhere over there but not in our department. The focus, and Computer Science very heavily draws out of Math, and so there’s been a very strong historical lifetime focus on mathematics and algorithms and abstractions and things that don’t readily, immediately lead people to think about sustainability in the natural world environment, eco-systems, all of these.

Sam: That’s the reason why it’s not there? What would be your argument for being there?

Lisa: Our entire planet at this point, the global infrastructure is supported by computers, it’s run by computers, it’s run by software. It’s hard to even imagine what it would be like if all of the software and all the computer systems disappeared. All of these means that all of our world, all of our lives, everything that we do, everything that we make, everything that we use, everything that we interact with is probably somehow tied to software. When we design software, we design programs, when we think about how we’re going to solve systemic problems, decisions that we make along the way have a ripple effect outwards. If you start looking at something like programming, just where most computer science undergraduate curriculum starts, they start with programming concepts, if you start thinking beyond just syntactical issues of, how to write code and get it to compile and run and do some mathematical algorithms, you start looking at what are the possible effects of what you’re writing, what applications.

You’re going to be writing it for the people that are going to use this. You start thinking about these things and you start realizing that every time you make a decision, when you’re developing a program and then coding it, it is going to have effects on people and the environment. You need to start thinking about that. What are they? That’s what we’re not doing very much right now. Looking for those connections, figuring out what they are, figuring out what they mean and then figuring out, “Oh, okay, how does that affect the choices that I’m going to make?” If you’re the educator, how does that affect the choices that I’m going to make and how I introduce material and get students to think about their options.

Sam: One of the things I didn’t say in the introduction is that you’re on the ACM Education Council. What does that do?

Lisa: The Education Council provides feedback and suggestions to the ACM Education Board, which provides education, and it sounds all kind of more complicated, I think, than it is but they provide advice on education matters and policy to ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery.

Sam: That’s the big computing society?

Lisa: Yes.

Sam: In that role you have a pretty good overview of what’s going on, supposedly international, but particularly American education.

Lisa: Right, we’re really stretching the end of the international domain now. ACM is very consciously trying to be much conscious and aware of global computing issues.

Sam: Well, I’ve been at several ACM conferences. Well, they’ve stood up and said that and put up a map of the world and said, “ACM is global,” and it doesn’t have new Zealand on it.

Lisa: Yeah, it’s really unfortunate that New Zealand tends to fall off of maps somewhere. I think it’s over there, yeah. I’m glad to say it’s on that map because the map I have on my wall is Pacific-centric as opposed to Atlantic-centric, which I did on purpose because it’s reminding you, you got to look at the world differently than what you’re used to, but yeah.

Sam: That’s the one we’re used to.

Lisa: That’s the one you’re used to. Yes, yes. New Zealand doesn’t fall off that one, but it sometimes falls off the Atlantic one, which is…

Sam: … as the ACM did, put a legend there over the top of it.

Lisa: No.

Sam: Anyway.

Lisa: Yes.

Sam: The overview of education.

Lisa: Yes.

Sam: Are there any places getting it right in terms of the incorporation of sustainability, social good and so on?

Lisa: If I separate those two, then it’s easier to say we’re making good progress, because there are a lot of schools that are working really hard and I would actually take Harvey Mudd, where I’m currently an adjunct, is an example of school who’s actually working really hard and walking the talk about trying to infuse social good and social issues into the development of well-educated engineers and computer scientists. Sustainability is trickier and I don’t honestly know of any place that is really doing it. It doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I’m not aware of them, and I often have my ear to the ground on this stuff.

Sam: Exactly. If it’s not jumping out at you, it’s probably not there.

Lisa: No, and we still get into the same issues that you and I were talking earlier about the trajectory forward about how it has now become very difficult just by, I think you said something like this, it would be hard to justify teaching courses that had sexism and racism built into them or just ignored. We’re not at that point with sustainability where it’s considered a problem. They were not directly addressing this as part of our development of good computer scientists and engineers. There are schools that from a social justice issue are doing … I think they’re doing well, they’re doing really well. I’m actually really proud of what Harvey Mudd does. Sustainability, yeah, I don’t know.

Sam: One of the things that the ACM does, it puts out curriculum documents and sustainability is there.

Lisa: Yes.

Sam: It’s there as a couple of optional courses, but at least it’s there.

Lisa: Well, one thing they did was CS 2013, which is the most recent curricular recommendations. I do agree that it’s not a huge section and what they’ve done is they’ve divided them into what they call tiered hours and it’s how many hours that they’re recommending that you should require in a curriculum, and you can incorporate it anyway you want. You can integrate it in, you can make it a course, you can … Whatever way you want. The sustainability has one recommended tier one hour and one recommended hour for tier two and what that means is that they’re saying that Computer Science departments should require all of their programmes to have at least one hour addressing two topics that they list here. They provide some extensive learning.

Sam: Is that one hour, or is that one hour multiplied by a few?

Lisa: Oh, gosh, good question. I’m going to guess, I would have to go back and read, I think. They just talked about it as hours. I think it’s, I’m going to guess, it’s literally an hour, which is not, no, not much at all. The tier two is another hour that they’re saying you should require your departments to try to cover. An interesting observation about this relates back to what we’re talking about is, in the curricular guidelines, where they describe why is something in Core Tier 1, why is it in Core Tier 2, is that through this very broad process that they went through to come to agreement, and this is happening nationally, the core Tier 1 are the things that they had wide spread consensus on. Core Tier 2, not so high a consensus, and this shows you how hard it is, because what it says in Core Tier 1 is that being a sustainable practitioner, by taking into consideration cultural and environmental impacts of implementation decisions.

When they talk about that means in the learning outcomes, it’s familiarity as opposed … identify ways to be a sustainable practitioner, be familiar with this. Then, the second piece is illustrate global, social and environmental impacts of computer use in disposal as in e-waste. These are very much still, essentially, awareness-building, as opposed to action oriented. You get into Tier 2 and it’s a little more closely tied to how do you actually implement this. It talks about thinking about design decisions, but again, we’re still at the level of, it’s like consciousness raising. It makes me think of the 1960s, when they were all in the consciousness raising about racial and gender issues. That’s still where I feel we are with sustainability and computer science.

It is fantastic that this is even in here, in these guidelines and that we have some recommended requirements. This is actually huge.

Sam: It took some fighting to get that there.

Lisa: It did. It’s big progress, but still we’re not at that point where we’re saying, as I was referring to earlier, where it would be really wonderful if every single course in the undergraduate CS curriculum said, “Okay, these are designed decisions we’re making, whatever course it is, how does sustainability play into that and the choices that we’re going to make, as theoreticians and practitioners.

Sam: We were working on that together about eight years ago, at ITiCSE, one of the big computing education research conferences and a working group on …

Lisa: Sustainability.

Sam: Sustainability and Computer Science Education. One of the things we did was survey the …

Lisa: The faculty that were there at the conference. Yeah.

Sam: Yeah, and we got a range of responses.

Lisa: Right, we went to great lengths to develop a survey that we wanted to find out what the faculty attitudes were, if I recall and just how they do feel about this and get input so that we can make recommendations for sustainability in the curriculum. We worked really hard on the survey, and then we ran around the conference asking people to fill it out. There were three things that I really remember about it, it totally blew my mind. There were some people who flat out refused to even take it and they were not nice about it, and they just wouldn’t take it. They heard what the topic was and it’s like, “Get this out of here.” Then, there were people who filled it out and there were two polarized sets of responses. One set of responses was, “Thank God somebody is finally addressing this issue. I am so glad that somebody is thinking about sustainability in computing. We need this.”

They gushed about how happy they were and how much we needed this. Then, there was an equally passionate set of negative responses that gushed about, and there was one, and this is almost a direct quote, “Don’t you dare stuff this crap down my throat. I can’t stand it.” Then, this person went off on this, and several people did this. It wasn’t one. Went off on this rant about people stuffing their politically correct ideology into their curriculum and none of this stuff belonged there, and angry, nasty. It was just like the paper was burning in my hand when I would read those responses. What this really told me was this is still a hot button issue for people. People have really strong opinion, so weren’t … We’re no way near this ground of, “Can we have a reasonable conversation about this?” They were either really for it, or they were really against it, and it was not rational.

What’s behind all of that? I’m not sure, that’s the interesting question that the survey couldn’t get at. Is, what’s behind this incredibly powerful, emotional reactions to this topic? What do you remember?

Sam: It leads me a to a question of why would you not want to include being good?

Lisa: My cynical response, it makes me think back to where I was probably in my 20s, when I was in that place, where I was separating my professional world from my personal passions. I felt that anything that was tied to … I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but things that were tied to people and so called soft issues didn’t belong in science. Well, I know. I got that from certain aspects of my childhood and my upbringing, but this idea that science, and in this case computer science, is not about that soft stuff. Therefore, you try to stick that into the curriculum and you are diluting it, destroying it, ruining it, getting political. We have to try and keep everything objective in computer science, and therefore nothing related to politics or opinion. It ties this whole idea that you can be objective in the first place, and that you can be neutral, science for science’s sake.

Don’t worry about what’s going to be done with it, that’s someone else’s problem. It’s something that I still hear people say occasionally, so I would guess that that’s where that’s coming from for some people, and for other people who just have very strong political stances about anything in politics is, you push their button about a topic and it’s like their rationality leaves their brain entirely and they just go off on it.

Sam: Why did you write a book?  D

Lisa: Because there was this huge need, I didn’t see anything out there that showed that you could actually get a job and have a career in computer science and do social good. That’s something that I have believed for so long, but there was no way to essentially show it to people. I would talk to people about, “You can get a job and you can do something really cool and change the world.” They’d say, “Yeah, but I don’t want to join the Peace Corps. I don’t want to go off and not get paid and slave and volunteer.” There’s this belief that that was the only way that you could use technology to do good. I wanted to show concretely, “Here are case studies of people who are making a living, a good living working in the technology world as computer scientist.” Almost every case study in there is not a non-profit. They’re not exclusively that way, but almost all of them are people working for profit entities, working as computer scientist and doing things that are good for the world.

Whether it’s explicitly for a social cause or an environmental cause, or something that contributes positively to some intersection of those two. Now, I wanted to be able to hold up to students in the classroom and say, “Here, see? These are real people doing real things. These are not academic case examples. You can do this, too.” I wanted to provide a way for people to actually be able to teach a class around this, if they wanted because having a text book helps a lot. The idea being that, “Okay, you want to teach a computers in society course that is a little different.” Because traditional computers and society courses were, and in fact, often still are, purely about ethics. There’s an ethical component to this, but it’s not an ethics book. Sometimes, the ethics courses get very much into the abstract in which they are … They’re talking about, let’s read about the legal principles of ethics and how is ethics developed, and the philosophy of ethics and all of these things and then, ethical decision-makings to avoid problems.

That was the other thing, is I wanted computers and society to be not just about addressing problems after they have occurred, or avoiding problems, which is where the dominant conversation tended to go, if you had a computers and society conversation, which is a very negative way to approach computers in society. I want to be able to approach it from a positive perspective. That’s the other thing. These are not about, “Here’s the disaster, here’s how we fix it, or how we address it.” It’s about directly doing good.

Sam: Because you said that your criteria for including them were people who are making a living doing such good in computer science. Do you think that is actually making a difference, a positive difference?

Lisa: The things that they’re doing?

Sam: Yeah, so I’m thinking about Kentaro Toyama’s book, The Geek Heresy, basically saying, “We’re deluded if we think this is making a difference”.  He was particularly focused on the ICT for Development… go in and equip a school in rural India with computers and get out, and it doesn’t tend to work.

Lisa: Well, I think it’s very easy for people to get burned out, if they are very passionate about making a difference, and you encounter realities on the ground. You can get burned out, and I know working in development is particularly hard. It’s something in the last few years I’ve started learning more and more about, because I’m interested in it. These are really complicated problems, so I don’t have simple answers. You’re not going to write an algorithm to fix them. I don’t think that means you can’t make a difference. I think all of these things do make a difference. They absolutely do. You can go and look. There are millions of, I don’t want to say millions, there are lots and lots of well-documented examples where a difference is being made. There are ripple effects of these things. You can hear some approaches, especially with development and global development problems, where it’s top down, some of them bottom up.

There’s a big discussion in the development community about which one works best and where and how, but I would certainly argue against anyone who said, “You can’t make a difference, why bother trying?”

Sam: Maybe that’s the catch. The catch is as you said, you can’t write an algorithm to fix these things, but you can make a difference. The problem is, is that they’re messy, they’re wicked problems, which computing is not very good at doing.

Lisa: I think we can become better at it. I think we can become a lot better at it, and this is part of where the education question is directly relevant, because if we educate people to think that computers science is only about coming up with algorithms to fix problems, and we can only directly address problems, where we know it’s computable, or theoretically computable, then we are missing the nuances of the real world. If we start educating students from the very beginning to integrate ideas of flexibility and complexity and systems thinking, from the very beginning, systems thinking is key, then everything changes. Because then, you’re not going to have people totally ingrained with this idea that it can’t be done, or it’s not my domain. Someone else has to do all of that stuff.

Sam: There’s a big move to push computing thinking, if not coding, down through the grade levels.

Lisa: Right.

Sam: That’s a good point. If we are teaching them to identify computable problem, are we making that problem worse by pushing that further down?

Lisa: How would it be making it worse? What’s the argument?

Sam: If we’re pushing down our way of thinking that is limited to efficiency type, how can we make this program work faster, or how can we make this system work faster?

Lisa: Oh, I see what you’re saying. No, in fact, I can give you an example, because a couple of the projects that I’m working on as an evaluator are now in the K-12 arena. I’m working on a project in Broward County, Florida in which they are introducing computing into Grades 3 through 5. The way that they’re doing it is they’re integrating it into the literacy curriculum. Literacy is required and so they have, what they call literacy blocks, I guess everything in the elementary schools, they talk about it in blocks. They are working on how do you integrate … It becomes interdisciplinary, which is I think a key thing at whatever level you’re talking about. How do you integrate into the literacy curriculum issues of computability and computational thinking at an age developmentally appropriate level?

What you’re doing is you’re starting … They’re developing units, and this is still in progress right now, the development part. How do you get kids to start just integrating computability and computational thinking into other areas, in this case, literacy? I think that’s how you approach it. That also helps keep it from being isolated, something we’re going to be just be lopped off or removed, or seen as separate.

Sam: Your book is titled “Computing and Society: Computing for Good”, would you write it differently if it was “computational thinking for society”?

Lisa: Probably, because one of the things that I wanted to do was really focus on computer scientists. Computer science, I know that’s the United States’ term, in other parts of the world, in other countries, they use different terms, like informatics or computing, depending on where you are. Within the terminology of the United States, I wanted this slightly narrower term computer science as oppose to computing or IT, or information systems, because I was really focused on our computer science classes, our computer science departments, which at least within the United States are fairly well-defined and separate from some of those other areas. If you’re going to get faculty administrators, students, to take seriously what I’m talking about, you have to use the language that they are using.

Computational thinking is somewhat different, and there are different definitions depending on who you talk to, but it’s not an equivalent for computer science.

Sam: You mentioned your evaluation work, what is it that you’re doing for that?

Lisa: The majority of my projects, I’m working with faculty who have grants from the National Science Foundation to do computer science or engineering research, some of them are also in K-12. They are typically looking at ways to improve the teaching of computer science, so whatever level we’re talking about. Part of what’s really important is for people to be able to, people who were conducting these projects, to be able to see if the impact that they’re having is what they would desire. You don’t want to wait till the end and then see, “Oh, it worked.” Or, “It didn’t work,” and nothing at that point can be changed. We put together an evaluation plan, which means we talked at the very beginning of the project, what are the goals you want to achieve. Then, based upon those goals, what are the outcomes or objectives that you would like to see so that you know that you’re having the impact that you would like to have with this project.

Our kids are learning computational thinking in Grade 3 at the level that you would hope and expect a third grader to be able to do it, or at the undergraduate level, wherever it is. Once we get that all laid out, then we talk about how do you actually go in and assess it? What do you do? We don’t want to leap right to, “Okay, we’ll do a survey.” We develop this whole plan and then over the course of the project, whether it’s two years, three years, four years, five years, I go in and I gather the data, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, in order to see how they’re doing at various touch points. Give them informative feedback about, “This is what I’m seeing, this is what I’m hearing.” I’m somewhat removed from them, so I don’t have the same kind of … agenda is not the word I want. I can look at it with a little more distance in perspective than they can, as the researchers. I can give them this information.

We can talk about what I’m seeing. I can make some observations and suggestions and then they decide what to do with it. They may decide, “Okay, this is great. We’ll keep doing it this way, or this other thing here, were a little off track, all right, we can adjust.” Then, you go through the whole period of time doing that, hopefully keeping on track of something, some aspect of your project doesn’t get way off before you realize what’s going on. That’s the idea.

Sam: How would you measure the impact?  Say people started talking about some of the bigger issues, they wanted to have impact on social change, or on sustainability issues, or going big picture, inter-generational equity.

Lisa: Well, most of the projects I work on do want to have impact in social change, because we’re dealing with people, we’re dealing with learning. We’re dealing with learning computer science, which hopefully they will then apply, whether they are in the field directly or not. It’s the same process no matter what, whether it would be sustainability related or not. We start with that goal conversation, what are the goals of this project? You have to get very explicit about it. Can you say that in a sentence? Can you give me a one, this is something I often say, “Can you give a one sentence grammatically correct statement of your goal? If you have multiple goals, let’s do that for each one of them.” It’s a hard conversation to have, but you get it pinned down. Then, you then move from there, it’s a one to many relationship between each of those goals and outcomes and objectives. Same thing, “Can you give me a one sentence – a grammatically correct statement – of an outcome that will show me that you are on track for accomplishing that goal.”

In other words, “What will would see?” It wouldn’t matter if it was sustainability. If their project was related to an undergraduate algorithms class, and they want to do a corporate sustainability into the algorithms class, it will be the exact same conversation. Okay. What’s your understanding as the practitioner, teacher, educator, researcher, whichever hat they had on at the moment, what’s your understanding of what sustainability means for algorithms? If this is an introductory class, what would that mean? Okay, can you give me a statement of what that means? Then, we just roll from there. I think that’s something that even if you’re not conducting research, that a practitioner could do, if they want to incorporate sustainability into any of their classes in the curriculum. They can step back and they can say, because we’re already expert at developing learning outcomes and syllabi, “Why are we doing what we’re doing and how are we going to … What are our pedagogical approaches?”

Take a look at whatever it is that we’re teaching and say, “Okay, how does sustainability fit in here? What does it mean? Okay, can I make a goal statement about that? What learning outcomes would I like to see?” Some of that is listed in the CS 2013. They do give some suggestions for what some learning outcomes could be, which if you’re totally stumped, could be a jumping off point. Take a look at those, read those. Oh, okay, I can see the tie-in, and work from there and you just would incorporate that along with everything else.

Sam: At the largest level… I’m just running a sentence, I don’t think it’s grammatically correct yet…

Lisa: Okay.

Sam: Is computing overall having a positive effect on restorative socio-ecological transformation?

Lisa: Wow, computing overall, is it having a positive effect on social … ?

Sam: Restorative socio-ecological transformation.

Lisa: Oh, the jury’s out. The jury’s out. I think this can go whichever way we want to take it. If we want it to have a positive effect and make a difference and enough of us want that, it will. If we don’t, if we get cynical and throw off our hands and say, “Impossible.” Then, it won’t.

Sam: How many do we need? Can the one person who’s passionate about this in every department, can they do it?

Lisa: It’s always got to be more than one person. This is something I learned early on. Is that, a single passionate person who doesn’t work in some way to get other people involved, when they go, the project goes. Depending on who you are and what your strengths are, you can do different things. If you are somebody with a lot of charisma, you might bring a lot of people on because they love your idea and they implement it in their own place, because they want to do what you’re doing. If you’re a real team person, you might actually bring on physical collaborators, whether they’re at your school, or they’re not available at other schools. If you’re a text book writer, you’d write a text book. Somehow, you have to get a growing number of people to think of this as normal. Normal, expected and important. As long as it’s on the fringe, as long as it’s in extra, as long as it’s on elective, as long as it say, “If we have time,” then, it’s not going to make a big difference.

Sam: Do you know of any studies, perhaps just informal ones, where the students are coming in, knowing this stuff, expecting it, where they think it’s normal, expected, and important, so they’re ahead of the district … ?

Lisa: Are we doing specifically about sustainability or social issues?

Sam: Well, my Venn Diagram is a very fuzzy one, so I would …

Lisa: Yeah, I am continually, happily impressed with a lot of the students that I meet. I sound old when I say that, oh my God, but it’s true, not the old part. A lot of students that I meet, whether it’s … These days, it’s students at Harvey Mudd, but other places, too, they’ve got a strong social conscience. These things are important to them. What they then get in college, I think, is going to influence whether they continue to see that or whether they learn to see that as integral to what they do professionally or whether they get forced to bifurcate. It would be really nice if students didn’t go down the road that I went down where for many years I didn’t see these things as compatible. If they come in with this idea, which I think a lot of them are, that social and environmental issues are important. Regardless of whether they might be on the political spectrum, if they see these things as important and we just reinforces normal that, “Yes, these are things that you think about when you make your decisions.”

Then, I think, yeah, it will have that large ripple effect without our having to do extraordinary things that might not work anyway because we burn out and get cynical.

Sam: Some questions to end with.

Lisa: Yes.

Sam: We’re writing a book of these talks, we’re calling it Tomorrows Heroes, how would you like your sustainable super power to be described? You can’t have laser eyes. You can’t fly.

Lisa: This is something that I could do? What is a sustainable superpower?

Sam: I don’t know, we’ve made it up.

Lisa: Oh, this is what I wish I could have?

Sam: It could be what you wish you could have or what you do have.

Lisa: I would like to eliminate the need for plastic, you want to talk about a wild and crazy dream. I think plastic had some of the nastiest environmental side effects on the planet. It’s come with an incredible amount of good, but boy, some plastic is really awful. I would love us to be able to get rid of the majority of plastic.

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

Lisa: Having the confidence to start and run and become successful with my own business that enables me to follow things that I’m passionate about.

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Lisa: An activist who’s not particularly loud and noisy, but yes.

Sam: In what way?

Lisa: Oh, my gosh, in what way? It’s through life decisions that I make that I’m not afraid to tell people that I’m making. Several years ago, I said I’m not going to … it sounds small, but I don’t think it is, really. I said I’m not going to buy plastic baggies anymore, period. I’m not going to buy saran wrap or plastic wrap anymore, period. In other words, I started focusing really hard specifically on things in the kitchen sink, plastic, gone. I tell people about this, and people say “It’s impossible. You can’t do that. How do you live without plastic baggies? How do you live without saran wrap? Tupperware, my God, I can’t get rid of my Tupperware.” Then, I tell them and I showed them, and well, I don’t know if they listen, but I’m always on lookout for things like that. It seems small. Waste is my huge thing. I really, really hate waste. I’m always looking at ways to … It’s like the old thing from the 60s, reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s like my world functions on how to not waste.

Sam: People seemed to have forgotten that recycle is the worst one of those.

Lisa: Uh-hmm. (affirmative) Right.

Sam: The reduced one, it’s just like it doesn’t exist.

Lisa: Yeah.

Sam:  As a matter of fact, it’s the first one. We’ve obsessed by the recycle because we get to use it anyway and throw it in the bin and hope that somebody is going to dig it out and probably downcycle it.

Lisa: Right, which is, yeah, which is why I tried it when possible just not to get them in the first place.

Sam: There’s a whole lot of stuff about reduce, that would be of interest to computer science people, what would it take for us not to be buying computers every year? What would it do, well, every two or three years, what would it do to the computing industry if we move to our model?

Lisa: I don’t know how feasible, if this is scalable, but I saw not long ago online a computer that was built without plastic. It was mostly made of wood and it functioned. It was a laptop. I was like, “This is really cool.” I don’t know. I would love to see that sort of thing explored to see how scalable is that, because it could be possible. I have a USB flash drive that I got from a conference in Europe that, again, is made almost entirely out of wood. It’s got some electronics in the middle, but it’s wood. You might think this is crazy, but if you don’t push these things, how are you going to change the world? If you just think all these things are impractical or they’re crazy, or it’s also totally embedded that we couldn’t possibly change it, then, sure, nothing is going to change. We absolutely can make change.

Maybe the wooden computer doesn’t turn out to be the thing that works, but maybe in exploring the wooden computer we discover something else that does work. We wouldn’t have known about it if we didn’t explore the wooden computer.

Sam: What motivates you?

Lisa: I always wanted to figure out why do I feel so strongly about these things, but I just … I want a healthy planet, and I want us not to destroy it. I think of the earth as alive, not in a sentient way, but I think of the earth as very much a living thing. When I think about the earth as a living thing and then everything becomes interconnected, then I care very deeply about it. I hate the idea that it’s getting destroyed, because that also affects people’s lives. People suffer horribly as the earth gets destroyed. Sometimes, in a developed country, we don’t really see it.

Sam: We were at the Hoover Dam two or three days ago, and the water level in Lake Mead is pretty low. We went on a tour for an hour or something, wandering around inside the dam. I think in response to one question, they mentioned the fact that the water level is ridiculously low. Other than perhaps 10 seconds in that whole time, there was no mention of the fact that each year there was more water being taken out of that dam than that’s coming into it, yet, it’s still being celebrated as this enormous achievement of American know-how, American engineering, how American systems run, and totally and utterly … It’s right in front of you, there’s no water in the dam. It couldn’t be more obvious, if you tried.

Lisa: Well, the whole history of water usage in politics, in the American West, is absolutely fascinating. Not too long ago I read a book about the politics of the building of the dams in the West. For the most part they weren’t built because of an environmental need, they’re built because of politics and heralded its great feats of engineering, which they are. It hasn’t been often about ecology and the environment, it’s been about politics and as warped sense of economics. No, it’s not going to be something they’re going to emphasize until it’s so in their face, they have no choice. We’re in a huge drought right here, you may have noticed in Southern California. Some people are really on top of it and recognizing we have a really serious long term problem and other people are kicking, screaming, and yelling. It’s only because of an incredible political pressure that we finally had instituted mandatory restrictions which the governor just lifted about two days ago.

This seems to be insane. We got a little bit more rain, a little bit more snow packs. We lift our restrictions, it’s like, “This is nuts,” but it’s not about the environment always, unfortunately.

Sam: It’s not just about the environment, it’s about what’s going to happen when Lake Mead runs out of water.

Lisa: Right.

Sam: I don’t know where the water goes, presumably lots of it must go to Las Vegas, and it’s still growing at 6000 people a month or something.

Lisa: Right. I think there’s this general problem that people have a hard time, and this maybe something having to do with the evolutionary wiring. We have a hard time grappling with huge problems that are in the future. We just can’t wrap our head around it, we can’t deal with it, so we don’t. We focus on what’s right in front of us, and if something is too big and overwhelming, we just shovel it over to the side. There’s this view of perhaps, “We’ll deal with that problem when we get there. Lake Mead runs out of water, we’ll deal with. We’ll come up with a technological solution. We’ll figure something out.”

Sam: That’s it. The “solution” is to move the intake lower, to take even more of the water out.

Lisa: Yes, or at one point, there was actually, a couple of decades ago, I could see this coming up again, it was floated that we should start siphoning the water down from Oregon, because Oregon has a lot more water. It rains in the Pacific Northwest and they have some big rivers. The idea was, we could build an aqueduct and pull it all down. I’m not sure Oregon wants their water stolen, but there’s been precedent, California has done this sort of thing before.

Sam: Like to Mexico.

Lisa: Well, there was this whole thing that happened, I forget which decade it was, maybe it’s the ’30s, the Owens River Valley. There used to be this whole lush area in Central California, I think it was called the Owens River. Anyway, they built an aqueduct and they sucked the entire river and it was gone, to take it to L.A. This is famous in the water wars and results political intrigue and stuff that happened. Yeah, everything became a desert. They literally piped the entire river to L.A.

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

Lisa: I’m trying to do a couple of things. I want to expand much more into the international arena. I want to expand much more into working on issues of equity and social justice within computing and see how I can really focus more and more on projects where I can see a difference being made. Because what I’m doing now, I see a difference, I just want to keep driving that direction.

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would that be? All right, in terms of this social justice and so on within computing education, what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact?

Lisa: We as an educator community or something larger?

Sam: We as an education community, within that community, what’s the thing that would make the biggest change?

Lisa: I think if we took the time to actually look at how sustainability can be incorporated into the learning goals and outcomes of each one of our courses, integrate it in so that it becomes essentially intertwined and inseparable, I think we can do it. It just takes people saying, “We’re going to do it.” Because we do it with other things all the time. Every time we revise a curriculum, we revise a course, we go back to basics and we think about what’s important about this course, what’s central? We’ve started to do it with other issues, like we referred to earlier, things related to social … other social issues, we could do it. Maybe somebody needs to get a really big grant to do it, or they need a sabbatical to do it, because this is going to take some time. It’s not something you’re going to pull off in a weekend, or even a series of weekends. I think that would be a totally awesome idea, if we just went through the curriculum and you brought in people who … These were their areas.

You’re an algorithm…you guys or women are algorithms people, all right, let’s talk about it. You guys are the operating systems people, let’s talk about it. Where does it go? You’re the content area and pedagogical experts in this. Let’s figure out how sustainability can be interwoven in. That would be just awesome. Okay, that’s my magic wand thing, for tomorrow, it would be that if we suddenly had a curriculum where all of this was interwoven in and inseparable.

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

Lisa: On anything at all?

Sam: Anything at all.

Lisa: Well, yeah, walk the talk. Don’t let your personal and your professional life be separate on things that you feel passionate about. If you really feel something is important, work how to bring it in. Make it part of what you do.

Sam: It sounds good to me. Thank you very much for joining me.

Lisa: Thank you very much for asking.

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainable topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz and podcast on sustainablelens.org, on sustainablelens.org. We are building up a search archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills through a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Dr Lisa Kaczmarczyk. You can follow the link on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes for free, and all the other sorts of party places. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Sam. I hope you enjoyed the show.

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Categories
education

High expectations

Chris Sarra

This is social justice, it’s clearly a human rights issue, our students have a right to a quality education that is not going to alienate their sense of cultural identity.

Professor Chris Sarra is the founder of the Stronger Smarter Institute. He is Professor of Education at University of Canberra.

Chris became the first Aboriginal principal of Cherbourg State School where he made significant changes to the way that Indigenous students experienced education. Chris challenged the whole school community to have high expectations of Indigenous students and fostered the ‘strong and smart’ approach which embraced a strong and positive sense of what it means to be Aboriginal in contemporary Australian society. This success led to the formation of the Stronger Smarter Institute which was established in 2005 as an innovative partnership between Education Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology.

We begin this conversation by talking about his own school experiences.

Talking points

The teacher that said to the class “Sarra got 75%, it must have been an easy test”…How do you value something that would treat you in that kind of way?

He was sending a message he didn’t know he was sending. As a consequence I never expected more than 75%

The revelation in my heart and mind…the toxic stench of low expectations of aboriginal kids.

I want to finish this course in the same time as everyone else.

I was pretty good at teaching and I really loved it.

I was really angry…Aborigine kids were sold short because teachers didn’t believe in them. I wanted my career to be about changing that.

Challenge my colleagues and change expectations of aborigine kids right across Australia.

We wanted them to succeed, but not at the expense of their cultural identity. A strong sense of… strong and smart

The community) has come through this toxic history…but the expectations, and the resistence behaviour “uncontrollable”, were reinforcing the negative sterotype

I had a different upbringing…for me being aboriginal meant something special

It meant setting about getting them to purge that negative stereotype..I said to the teachers…what I believe is that…I know from personal experience, that if I expect something different and I work hard then we can get something different.

It was baby sitting – limited intellectual integrity

I’m a bit more forgiving now…I look back and they had no reason to believe what I believed – they probably thought I was mad. They were doing their best, but I had a different sense of what being aboriginal meant.

I spoke to the community first and foremost…changing that school…was never going to be changed by me alone. Strong and smart, but I can’t do this alone.

That gesture….remarkable results…outcomes surged….unheard of results…so it made sense that if we had unlocked some of the keys to success, then we should share that wit other schools around the country.

This fitted in with my interests of changing expectations of aborigine kids across Australia. Most aborigine kids are peppered across schools across Australia…less than 20% of the school population.

I wanted people to understand that this was not about (me) being an Aboriginal man, this was not about being aborigine, this was not about being a man, this was about understanding…authority and philosophical approach.

This is social justice, it’s clearly a human rights issue, our students have a right to a quality education that is not going to alienate their sense of cultural identity.

Not alienate their sense of being Aboriginal, schools should be able to nurture in a positive way their sense of being Aboriginal – as it should be for kids of all ethnicities.

It’s also an issue of integrity in out profession.

Part of me says “why the hell do we think we deserve respect when we can let a group of kids slide by the wayside and nobody ever gets angry or outraged about that.

We somehow we conveniently blame the community or the family.

We never seems to put the mirror up and look at ourselves and say what it that we’ve got to change?

A lot of educators, when they saw what (we were doing) said, yeah, this is more honourable, we don’t want to be the profession that lets kids fall by the wayside. We want to shift from a time where people say “well that’s just what happens with Aborigine kids” to a time where people feel like we’re truly making a difference.

If you decide to come here there’s some things you ought to know about – we talk to our kids all day about being strong, about being smart, and we talk to them about the importance of being Aboriginal and feeling good about that.

We’re young and black and deadly…
You can’t sing to me that you’re young and black and deadly and then act like you’re someting else- it was a powerful way of hooking them into the strong and smart vision.

The whole stong and smart thing caused us to go home and have a conversation about where we come from, and the importance of converations.

It is worth wondering about the culture, the artefacts, the rituals that exist in a school…and the extent to which they reach out and embrace kids…or are they designed to keep kids at the margins, keep them excluded.

In leadership it is our job to wonder about those things. There’s no hard and fast answers, the only clear thing is that it is worth thinking about those things – and I’m not convinced that we actually do.

In what sense is the (professional/organisational) culture designed to nurture something positive? And to what extent is it focused on the pursuit of something good? as opposed to a culture that is designed to entrench something less than desirable?

Have we got a culture that is designed to nurture a positive sense of identity, or have we got one that is going to entrench a sense of that negative stereotype, or entrenching victim status,

Are we thinking we’re being good-hearted, but casting kids as victims, thinking we’re being culturally sensitive but instead all we’redoing is nurturing a victim status?

Is the culture designed to bring people in from the margins, or is it designed to push them out?

The stronger smarter approach, the high expectations relations approach has been sustained through changing policy and uptake across the country, that is important to me.

Today there is no place to hide for any teacher or principal in any classroom in Australia who has got low expectations of Aborigine kids.

Those teachers will still be out there, but it’s only a matter of time.

I’m very confident in saying that we’ll never go back to the way we were.

(Super power) A sense of unrelenting belief – a faith in belief of things being able to be different.

Success:
My greatest success, and I’m really proud of this is that I’ve been able to step away from the Stronger Smarter Institute – not have to work full time there – and it hasn’t fallen over.
I always wanted to test the leadership credentials of the Stronger Smarter Institute by stepping away from it.
It’s gone to greater heights, and I’m able to but my ego in the box and say, that’s a good thing. That’s the ultimate test of leadership – that it can be sustained without any particular individual.

Activist: I’m pretty comfortable with that term. I know that it’s loaded with a sense pejorative, but yeah I suppose you would have to consider me an activist.

Motivation: A sense of what’s right

Challenges: As an educator had lofty ideas about changing expectations, it was a pretty out there ambition, I’m 49 this year and feeling content that I’ve achieved that ambition. I’m content with going with the breeze at the moment – I’m happy to see what the universe brings.

Miracle: That every Australian teacher believed in Aboriginal children as much as I did. Then right across the world, if every teacher in every classroom believed in children as much as I did, what a world we could have.
advice: That;’s a big question, I’m not one for giving other people advice, but if you believe in someone positive, then stay faithful to that belief.

Dr Sarra was in Dunedin for the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society conference: Leading for social justice in education (20-22 April 2016). We thank NZEALS for their assistance.

Categories
computing education

Searching for Sustainability

danRussell-01

Searching per se doesn’t have ethical force, however, it can help you to make a better choice, as a consumer, acting, behaving and voting.

Dr Daniel Russell is a research scientist at Google where has been working in the area of search quality, with a focus on understanding what makes Google users happy, skilled and competent in their use of web search. As a “search anthropologist” he works to understand how people use the tools of technology to amplify their intelligence. So, the big question for the expert in search, how can we better search for a sustainable future?

In searching for this positive future we first consider the role of questions in operational aspects (eg how we can better find information on positioning solar panels), and behaviour change (should I take the bike to work today?), then moving onto the harder questions of sustainability, values, wicked problems, contested concepts, answering ethical dilemmas expanded in space and time and so on.

This conversation was recorded at CHI2016, where Dan was co-chair the CHI4Good programme.

Talking points

Possibility in computing to build your own universe

The beautiful AI systems I was building didn’t work for people…I need to sort this out…so I switched to human computer interaction, the art and science of making things simple to use, so people understand them,

The paradox is that the simplest things are the hardest to design – the things that seem straight-forward and obvious are often not.

What is expert now? Looking up is not the same as knowing

Helping to teach the world to become better searchers.

Searching when it the question gets complicated…that’s the million dollar question

Should is always “with respect to…”. The big shift, as we get better at machine learning, we’ll get better at interpreting questions. But “should”, that’s a tough one.

(Google is us, changing our identity as it changes our relationship to knowledge) yes, but this has been going on forever, when we invented writing we changed our relationship with knowledge, an externalised relationship with information

(Contested concepts – will we see answers to climate change in the same way we currently see movie listings?) Even things like stream flow rates can suddenly become contested. The choice to put it on the homepage is only for pretty clear topics.

(Who is deciding that clarity? Machine or people?) Great question…machine.

(Does Google have expectations of journalistic integrity?) We do our best to have an objective ranking function…we do not consider political intent or perspective.

Searching per se doesn’t have ethical force, however, it can help you to make a better choice, as a consumer, acting, behaving and voting.

Rise of availability of information combined with ability to find it. You now have a chance of finding out.

(Restorative socio-ecological transformation, what will be search’s contribution?) Helping people find out what is going on, discovering underlying causes.

To discover that the aquifers are well managed is a straightforward search. To discover that they are not is a more complex search – not for the least because there are people that don’t want you to know that. But at least now you have half a chance. You can, through Google, access many more information sources than you possibly could before. This is transforming. For sustainability, for making responsible ecologically valid choices. Now you can find out.

Is the truth drowning in the swamp of information? It is incumbent on you as the information consumer to be able to distinguish between publishers.
That’s why I teach people how to search.

One of the fundamental skills is how to discriminate information.

Searching for a positive future. There’s nothing intuitive about this. My big message is it’s easy to search, but it’s easy to get it wrong as well. Let me show you some skills that will make you a better, more accurate, more powerful searcher.

(Superpower:) The ability to teach. What I mean is teaching – a grand a glorious profession, but as a superhero powerful teacher would be someone that can communicate complex ideas easily and efficiently and help you understand what that has to do with your life.

Its relatively straightforward to teach someone how to do, say, calculus. But how do you teach judgement, how do you teach that skill of assessment?

A hero teacher would be someone who could come in and say ‘the world is big and complicated, there’s all sorts of trade offs, there’s stuff going on…let me show you, let me work with you to help you understand how to be a reasonable interpreter of what you see going on in the world so that you can get at the bottom of it.

Judgement requires that you have a bit of self knowledge. You have to understand why am I making this choice in this particular way.

(Success) Mooc. I’ve had 2.8 million students taking my class – teaching people how to do this kind of search.

(Activist) I am active in local things – local politics, local sustainability, local Sierra Club. I’m not a trans-national activist. I think as I get older I might become that.

Multiple political perspectives are respected at work, and there are a lot of politically active people there – so it’s not a barrier. So yes you can, but there are also well understood boundaries around political speech, and activist speech and activist action,

There’s also an interesting distinction between what the corporation does and what individuals do. Google as an organisation is very environmentally conscious.

(Motivation) It sounds trite, but teaching people to do this stuff really does. Communicate ideas…what we’ve been talking about, this is my passion, this is what motivates me. And music, and running, and being out in the world, diving. If I was to be a transnational activist, it would be about coral reefs, ocean acidification and so on. That motivates me in a negative way – it makes me sad and I want to fix it.

(Challenges) Packaging up a lot of these experiences and skills…a book.

(Miracle) Fix the oceans.

(Advice) be a discriminating consumer of knowledge that you find.

Categories
education local government

Lively communities taking sustainability seriously

Alexa Forbes

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

Alexa Forbes is a researcher and development and sustainability advisor for Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice. She is a District Councillor for the Queenstown Lakes District Council. She is a musician, a journalist and founder of a successful communications business.

We open the conversation with her context – where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you grew up? It turns out that Alexa has a colourful background with a lot of stories so it takes longer than usual to get to what she is doing now.

Talking points

Going to Vermont as an AFS student – shaped a lot of my future thinking

I’ve never really been on much of a mission – things just happen.

Where did sustainable practice come from? I’ve explored that recently – I’m studying for a Master in Professional Practice – it comes from my childhood. An interesting childhood, I come from a doctor and an activist, artist musician mother. A lot of environmental concerns built in really early in my life. We were always in the bush, camping, tramping, learning to fish, to hunt – learning to be careful of the environment, to respect it, and to try not to damage it and to be part of it – that was always important.

Sustainability was a spearhead for me – I was working as a journalist, and watching tourism grow…exponential growth…impact on the Queenstown environment

I thought I would love Queenstown to start thinking about the impact of tourism

There were campaigns – take only photos, leave only footprints – and I thought these were feel good, but a lot was being left, damage to our ecosystems that was not being acknowledged, not being addressed.

There’s something in this…

Tourism and the environment is a major tension in Queenstown – most of my job is drawing attention to the tension

I’ve sat in rooms with tourism leaders when I’ve challenged them on environmental impact, and they’ve looked at me like I’m mad and said “we love this environment, we make a living from this environment, we would never hurt it”, which tells me something about the massive amount of ignorance. But I wouldn’t get very far by telling them that, clearly, so I have to be quite careful and unpick some of the knots in people’s thinking.

I’ve never considered myself a greenie – I just think I’m sensible, and a good mother.

Do I need them to vote for me? We if I don’t, I don’t get in and I can’t continue my work, but that doesn’t really concern me either, because if I don’t have their buy in then I can’t continue my work anyway.

I feel that I’m better off on inside than outside.

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

(Compromise?) I operate from a set of values.

I don’t know – none of us know – whether we’ve gone past the ability to retrieve or regenerate ecosystems to a level that they are still friendly to humans, we don’t know if we can managed that or not. But concentrating on recycling schemes and changing lightbulbs is pretty much just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I’m operating within a value system, I would get nowhere by holding a firm activist position, I do view myself as a bit of an activist, certainly an environmentalist,

I’m an activist in that I try to get people to recognise and to question what they are doing.

I don’t expect the helicopters to close down, but I do expect them to accept that they are externalising costs onto a future community

That’s what I want people really understand – when you are doing what you are doing, how are you thinking about mitigating the costs that you are putting onto your grandchildren? That’s a line in the sand, people should know that I won’t move from that.

I follow the Natural Step System Conditions. (see previous SustainableLens conversations)

We’re still very head-in-the-sand in New Zealand, we still believe the 100% Pure. We can still pull that wool over our own eyes.

None of us has come up with how we can do this quickly enough to make a difference.

I have to operate from my values in the most pure way that I can.

It disappoints me that our government refuses to take responsibility – I don’t know what they are thinking. Making it worse in so many ways. Allowing the dairy industry to externalise its costs. All over the country ratepayers are paying to clean up after the dairy industry – it’s not good enough.

It appals me, I can get really angry, or I can go back to my own values, and say I’m not going to allow traffic to increase in Queenstown under my watch.

(Can Councils deliver intergenerational equity?) It’s the only vehicle we’ve got.

You have to take that into account when you are voting, what are you voting for? Are you voting for peoples’ values? We have to get away from a from popularity contests

We (with Ella Lawton) stood for Council because we thought it was a place we could make some change. I think we’re making headway – enough for me not to have thrown up my hands in horror.

I don’t concern myself with whether I’ve got a job tomorrow – I’m quite capable of going back to my old job – and frankly, Council pays a lot less – so it’s not about that.

Here we are, sitting in this amazing nexus of change – exponential change in technology and exponential change in our environment, and in that nexus we face exponential social change. Every thing is changing so fast technologically, everything is changing environmentally much faster than we expected, much faster than we ever thought it would, so it is making us socially incredibly uncomfortable.

I’m one of those people that think that technology will save us if we let it, but we have to change – we have to understand our true natures.

Part of that for me was understanding our waste.

(Success?) I just got a distinguished alumni award from Otago Polytechnic. Selling my business and being willing to embark on a new Masters and a a new career.

(Motivation?) I love life. I really do love life. I love my work with Otago Polytechnic, and I love my work with the Council.

(Activist?) I’m starting to be. I didn’t think I was, but I am starting to think that I am now. I try to keep it low key. I’ve only just realised that my opinions are a bit more radical than most people. I though that most people thought like me until quite recently, so now I’ve become a bit more outspoken – I didn’t realise that it was unusual. So I’m comfortable with that box – I’m an activist on the inside really. I like to stir people up and challenge their thinking. I don’t want to hurt them, and I don’t believe that I’m always right. My own thinking needs challenging, and I don’t want to take hard and fast positions that force people into corners because it’s not helpful and I might not be right.

I go for a consensus model, but I’m not sure that’s right. Looking back on the last three years we’ve always gone for consensus…but I think it has watered some things down too much. That’s a hard one. When you vote against something, personally you’re counted as voting against that and that may have some personal benefit, but – and this is why I’ve gone for consensus, are you better to just go a little way along the way, to put the shot across the bow, planted the seed, let’s move on. So in the past…once it is lost…let’s make this the best it can be, but I’m not sure that it is always right.

(Challenges?) Moving my projects on further. Transport Strategy…would positively affect so many people’s lives. And in education, the programme we offer really on the edge we need to mainstream sustainability – or the education for it

(Miracle?) People will have woken up to the environmental challenges and to their externalisation of costs to the next generation, and that the y want to educate themselves to stop doing that.

(Advice?) Please wake up, look at what you do and ask “am I putting costs onto my children and grandchildren by doing this? How could I do thins properly? And it’s not just about recycling. Look at yourself, look at the way you live, look at why you are, how you are – that’s a most enjoyable thing to do. Give yourself time to reflect properly on where you’ve come from, why you’re here, and what you want to leave behind.

Categories
ecology education restoration ecology

Planting plants, growing understanding, nurturing passion.

Peter Bowler

Most of these students have never been to a wetland, never been to a river..it’s exciting to awaken these feelings.

Dr Peter Bowler is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University Calfornia Irvine. His is Director of the UCI Arboretum and Herbarium, is Faculty Manager of the Natural Reserve System’s San Joaquin Marsh and Burns Pinyon Ridge Reserves, and Director of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability.

Extra: Field-trip to the San Joaquin Marsh.

Talking points

I grew up by in Idaho by the Snake River, and I worshipped nature, botany, I loved freshwater biology, It stimulated me. I became very interested in snails.

I managed to get four snail species listed as endangered, I was involved in a lot of dam controversies, even described a new new genus and species in one of them.

When I was a child, it was so remote, my parents were educated luminary people in the area, so every geologist and palaeontologist passing through would stay at our house.

My role has been primarily teaching, I ran an environmental education programme here at UCI

I teach a lot, a lot more than I’m required to teach, but I enjoy teaching.

(Developed a sustainability minor in 1994 only a couple of years after Rio) Before that I was involved in global peace and conflict studies – they’re very similar. One of the things I really about both programmes is the interdisciplinarity that is emphasised – the fact that cooperation, complementarity and hearing what other people have to say…learning about other fields is very important.

One of the most exciting things is the establishment of a formal initiative in sustainability.

Ecological restoration…a massive expansion locally…I was involved in a lot of controversy.

America was a leader in environmental ethics – we need to return to that.

The original idea was conquering the west, trying to be master of nature, fighting nature, trying to control it, bringing it into utilitarian causes. And then there came a time when the American consciousness changed, people thought maybe we’ve gone too far, we need to start setting land aside, we need to start going the other way – preserving things. Modern attitudes about desert are very different from what they used to be – it used to be they were viewed as wastelands, today people treasure them.

There’s a need for cities not to be ecological deserts.

People are realising that deserts have an intrinsic value unrelated to people, and that’s a very different kind of epiphany.

Most of these students have never been to a wetland, never been to a river..it’s exciting to awaken these feelings.

You want to teach the intrinsic value of these sites – my this an area that has 273 bird species, I never knew that. Here is an area of 55 hectares of wetland that Dr Bowler and his colleagues got funding for, designed and constructed – for us and for wildlife..and if he can make a difference, I can too.

Ethical structures…land ethic.

Understanding expressions of culture has adopted. Compare the intrinsic values expressed in the Wildlife Act to a time of shooting buffalo from the train.

One of the wonderful things about sustainability at this point in time is that we can look back – we never should have built all those dams…

Sustainability: we share the planet with other organisms, and as the human population expands, and so do its needs and requirements, we have to do that in a way that does not further degrade – to the extent possible – the natural environment in which we live.

We are cohabiters with nature and life.

In my classes…(even the theory ones)…students go and plant plants.

Our urban landscapes are not restoration sites, but they can play a large role, particularly in softening the impact along the urban/wildland interface… and in providing corridors.

Restoration can’t be pure restoration everywhere, most places have been so severely damaged that you’ll never get the full complement of species, and the true goal of restoration is to do that – to bring back all of the biodiversity that existed at site using a natural model. Then ameliorating the impact of humans along the line. Expanding and connecting natural areas.

There are efforts to scale things up. While I was talking before about pure restoration maybe not being possible, it’s all worth trying. It may not be like it was when native Americans were here, but it can definitely be wild.

To me, to really be meaningful we should focus on expanding our natural areas and connect them…then native plants in urban areas to connect

It’s just about planting plants, it takes landscapes too. Today we’re going back…putting bends in the river…developing ways to hold water on the site rather than getting rid of it.

(Are roof gardens, community gardens, small scale restorations worth the effort?) Absolutely. Placement is important, but they are extremely valuable in educating students, they’re integral in having places for both resident and migratory wildlife, critical for linking habitats.

(Success) Area has had a history of grazing…the cattle had really bashed it…working with agencies I was able to get 12.5 acres preserved. We transplanted…native species…to remove non-natives, replace it with native known genetic stock, now besides the California gnatcatcher which is abundant there, there is the California coastal cactus wren which is almost extinct – and we have several pairs nesting in the cacti we have moved.

(Activist) Yes. I certainly have been in the past. Not so much marching and carrying billboards, as trying to provide sound scientific comment on management approaches, publishing, training. I consider teaching activism. Training students to be able to understand and think critically on their own.

(Motivation) I have a ridiculous number of everything to do. 748 students this past quarter. Every day I go to the marsh, and all the coyotes – we all know each other, they see me coming, we sort of salute each other, I howl at them a little bit – for me personally this has been beautifully fulfilling in my lifetime. I can show you picture of areas that had not a plant on them, and now is healthy coastal sage scrub with gnatcatchers living underneath it – I can’t tell you how rewarding that is.

(Challenges) Follow-up restoration…we have just completed removing 3,100 lineal feet of road,…my ultimate plan is to make the lower part of the marsh an area that salt marsh can migrate into, before flood control channelisation in 1968 you could row from Newport Back Bay and all the way up into the marsh…so I would to open it, so when sea level rises and we lose that 900 acres of salt marsh, we’ll be able to at least have 50, maybe 100 acres for the salt marsh for the highly endangered Ridgway’s rail. Its a salt marsh obligate, unless we do this it will go extinct. It’s very important, I’m going to get that done.

(Miracle) In the marsh it would definitely be developing the whole lower marsh as a salt marsh. I’d like to do a study of the succession that will occur as the relationship shifts between the landscape and the Pacific Ocean. In education it would lower class sizes, more interactive hands-on learning approaches will be more meaningful.

(Advice) We need to be more cautious and think really about our personal…karmas…behaviours. When I came to California in the 1970s there was so much smog, your couldn’t even see across the campus. And thanks to catalytic converters and other improvements, that’s gone. We can be little catalytic converters as well. We can make huge contributions as an individual among a larger group. I think that’s something people forget – they think “gosh, it’s too much, there’s no impact I can have”, but you can have. And it’s not just an impact for the environment, or society, it’s an impact for you. You can be personally empowered. You can be fulfilled. You can have huge reward as you work with others, share with your family – this is probably the most meaningful thing of all – is your own inner light.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
education geography

Educating global citizens

Ellen Schlosser

Giving students a holistic view – how we’re both interdependent and integrated is essential both for their futures and their ability to positively impact the world.

Ellen Schlosser is the Foundation Director of Global Connect and the Curriculum Development Advisor of the GlobalScope Curriculum Guides at University California Irvine.

Talking points

Working on something with meaning beyond the campus

Learning from experience fundamental to developing leaders and developing activism

Bringing social sciences to high school…information about the 21 Century world.

Telling stories that students could both academically and personally invest in.

Giving students a holistic view – how we’re both interdependent and integrated is essential both for their futures and their ability to positively impact the world.

You are not only a member of your local community, you are one of the seven billion people who inherit and are charged with caring for the earth.

We do need to challenge the American Dream. We can show inequality in America.

When things come close to home, they are much more easily understood.

The Project of Change is our call to action book…we help them to set up their own NGOs to address the Millennium Development Goals…it is really a recipe for action.

Agent of Change is one of our lessons.

Science is being shared as a global commodity

We have to change thought in order to change practice, to improve the environment

We’ve done such a good job of marketing science and social science separately, we’ve forgotten how to integrate the disciplines

We need the science…but to activate – to help a country in need, you need the humanities, you need the social sciences to help develop the narrative, to have a real impact, to really change the way we look at the world. It needs to be both.

(Success?) Being recognised as a viable course, acceptable, and building the bridge can open it the pathway for other projects

I would like to write a biographical sketch of what the students involved in this project have gone on to achieve…it’s amazing what they have done.

This programme honours serious students, but with communication skills to bring it to the high school classroom.

(Activist?) A late blooming activist? We have to start early on. Being of service to others should be taught in the home and carried through in the schools.

(Motivation?) Education – how your life can be transformed through school. When you write something that makes sense to someone else, enlightens someone, this is a great gift that I had no idea I would be academic. So I want to hold the light out for everyone.

(Challenges?) I would like to use my energies to help share this material

(Miracle?) I would love schools across the world to tell their students that they live beyond their immediate surroundings. And to enlighten them about others. You can’t keep your children hidden from the realities of the world, they’ll never function if you do. Enlighten the kids through global studies, and 21st Century – let’s not teach what was taught in 1955 – it’s not going to work.

(Advice?) having a formal education is vital to opening so many doors in life, but it is the curiosity and creativity that we each possess that can lead all us to new solutions. Remember to put yourself in the centre of what you are learning.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine in June 2015. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
education geography urban

Technology as a tempting narrative

Josefin Wangel

There’s a strong technical solution bias – ICT is the new technical fix that will allow us to not change our lifestyles in order to achieve sustainability – and of course that’s hard to say no to, it’s very tempting to believe in such a narrative.

Dr Josefin Wangel is Associate Professor in sustainable urban development at the Division of Environmental Strategies Research at KTH in Sweden. Her focus is on how sustainability is understood and put to practice in urban planning and policy making. She uses futures studies (mainly backcasting and design fictions), systems analysis (including target formulation and sustainability assessments), stakeholder analysis and discourse analysis.

Talking points

I knew wanted to try to save the world through environmental engagement of some sort.

I studied sciences because I thought that if I knew the sciences then people would listen to me – today I can see that that was a naïve understanding of the workings of society.

As an 18 year old, my understanding of a lack sustainability was that it was a lack of knowledge that makes society unsustainable.

I quickly realised that people knew, that it was bad for the environment to drive a car, for example, but still they drove a car -and that is when I realised that my natural science based education wasn’t really apt for answering the questions that I had.

Today if I had to choose, I would place myself more in the social sciences than the natural sciences.

Why aren’t we behaving in the way we should be behaving in order to save the planet?

The discrepancy between our stated intention and what we actually do can be found at all layers of society from the individual, through the community to the planners and politicians. I think this is where we can find leverage points to actually start doing sustainability.

Environmental effects are disconnected in time and space. If I eat chocolate I know the effects on me, but if I drive the car everyday then the effects are somewhere else, ten years from now – these effects are harder to grasp.

Sustainability issues are the result of collective action, or collective inaction. I don’t gain weight when my partner eats chocolate.

Sustainability is more than the functioning of ecosystems, the other dimension is social issues. However, I don’t think sustainability is the right word for social issues, it should be social justice or social desirabilities – for me sustainability – the ability to sustain is very much connected to the ecosystems.

Three step model: Brundtland…pillars interact. Then de-construct…a discursive perspective, talking of multiple sustainabilities, that our understanding of the world is always socially constructed…then students have to make up their own construction…that links to their own discipline.

It is important to dare to be very serious about the threats implied by surpassing the planetary boundaries.

The trick is to get them to realise at the bottom of their hearts what sustainability is about, and how deeply unsustainable and unfair the world is today. And then provide them with the tools for doing something about that.

If want sustainability to last…then people have to care at a personal level,

“Sustainable” urban development areas in Stockholm…show window for Swedish sustainability and ecotechnologies…however none of these areas are actually sustainable if by sustainable you have an understanding of absolute levels of pressure that the ecosystem – if you look at resource use, these areas aren’t sustainable, and if you look at resource use in terms of the global population it becomes obvious these areas aren’t socially just either.

This does come very close to greenwash.

There’s a strong technical solution bias – ICT is the new technical fix that will allow us to not change our lifestyles in order to achieve sustainability – and of course that’s hard to say no to, it’s very tempting to believe in such a narrative.

We in Sweden have wonderful life, but that is only possible because people in other parts of the world have lousy working conditions and suffer environmental degradation that the production of consumption good sold in Sweden results in.

For us, the status quo looks like the best option, but at the global scale, and taking social justice into consideration, then it isn’t sustainable.

As an individual it is hard, sometimes impossible, to see the consequences of collective actions and take responsibility for it.

(is sustainability a luxury?) You choose what to invest funds in, you can choose to invest in highways, or you can choose to invest in railways.

Do it yourself urbanism: people having opportunity to influence built environments themselves.

(Success) Interview in a big daily newspaper, I was able to start a national discussion about alternative discourses of sustainability.

(Activist) I used to be.

(Your teaching and research is normative) if you have a title with the word sustainability in it, then you are, at least if you are doing what your title says you are.

(Motivatation) I really love my work. I get to work on something I find super interesting and important.

(Challenges) Getting married. I was just appointed of director of collaboration and impact.

(Miracle) That everyone would realise the two dimensions ecological sustainability and social justice – and that economy is just a part of the social. The wedding cake, but with only two layers.