Consuming or Creating? Why Design Matters for Global Leadership
By MARY GERSHWIN, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER
When we founded US-Brazil Connect five years ago, we aimed to address a puzzling paradox. On the one hand, thousands of college students and young professionals from across the United States want to play a positive role in supporting global social change, building understanding across boundaries, and contributing to the vitality of their local communities. They also recognize that to do so, they must stretch beyond what they know. They dream about going deep into places like China, Brazil, and India to build relationships, learn and make a meaningful contribution.
On the other hand, finding international experiences geared to meet these ambitious goals can be difficult. Packaged tours are plentiful, but they are often too shallow, providing a chance to see the world, but not to forge real connections and understanding. The tours cater to “consumers”. Today’s emerging leaders want something different: they want to be partners, friends, contributors, and creators in their adventure. They don’t just want travel: they want to build new relationships and create new possibilities. They know a tour is not the answer.
So, they keep looking and discover options that go deeper by providing some sort of “service-learning” component. For example, a program offered in Brazil may provide an opportunity to work at a school in the Amazon. But costs can be staggering. Should young people really expect to pay $15,000 for a month-long experience in Brazil? Could there be another way?
As we founded US-Brazil Connect, we looked a bit deeper and were even more disturbed by another concern: in far too many cases, volunteers actually do more harm than good. Research on “voluntourism” reveals a growing problem in programs designed with little consideration for the impact a group of outsiders can have on local communities. For example, volunteers with good intentions can end up taking scarce jobs from local people or can impose solutions that ignore local conditions and considerations.
So, global leadership gets complex quickly. What about those dreams and the young dreamers? Should they just give up and take the tour? Should they go ahead and spend the money and take their chances? Should they just save their funds and stay home?
US-Brazil Connect was founded because we love the dreamers and believe their dreams can and must come true. Based on years of experience in Brazil, we have focused in one country to find mutually-beneficial solutions that help emerging leaders from the US to go deep, give back, and return to their communities inspired to build solutions.
Our work is founded on embracing a shift toward conscious leadership and conscious commitments to change: