Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency? What do you think?

 

Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency?  What do you think?

A few months ago, I introduced two groups of eighth grade students on a Ravi Unites Schools video conference call. They waved at each other through their laptops and began to chat, and noted the obvious: they live 12 hours apart.

Like most students who participate in this new initiative, their lives take place in opposite realities.  One lives in Mumbai, India, which is home to 22 million people, while the other lives in a small town in the United States.  As one group heads into nighttime, the other begins the day.

On this call, they searched for commonalities across many miles and their different cultures. Sports? One group played cricket, while the other played American football. Favorite foods? Hamburgers and hot dogs in the U.S.; samosas and curry in Mumbai. And the weather? It was hot and humid in India, while the U.S. students in were shoveling out of a late spring snow (again!).

They did share the stress and satisfaction of doing well in school. But this wasn’t what they wanted to talk about. After only a few minutes, they made their discovery: each was mildly obsessed with the latest global teen phenomenon: multiplayer online gaming.

Before the end of this real-time audio-video interaction, the two schools agreed to find a day and time to team up and play.

What are your thoughts about the value of online gaming for teens across the world?

Click here to take my fun and quick survey: Digital Priorities and the Future of Multiplayer Online Gaming.

I will share results in a future blog post.

While some fear that too much time online can create unhealthy habits, from my view multiplayer online gaming appears to be a unique way to cultivate cultural competence. It develops a ‘macro-mindedness’ as youth connect and team up with peers they would otherwise never meet.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness the potential of this reality to see that deeper learning takes place. To live and thrive in this world, today’s children must learn the intricacies of a connected globe.

To help education leaders encourage peer-to-peer dialogue and increase cultural competency in youth, we are setting up more real-time audio-video interactions for the 2018-19 school year.  There is no cost for participation. We will gladly help you connect with a school around the globe that offers cultural diversity, and we will take the lead on organizing an interaction between your students and theirs.  Just convey your interest by contacting Ravi Unites Schools directly at Sandy@RaviUnitesSchools.com.

It happened again in Charlottesville

It happened again on Saturday night: white supremacists marched with torches in my hometown of Charlottesville VA. The rhetoric from the “terrorists” was louder, more emboldened, and with greater determination to remind the largely liberal Charlottesville community that they are not going away. This time, however, no one counter-protested so it barely made the news.

When this first happened on August 12th, I was traveling in the notoriously turbulent Middle East and that day, on the Syrian/Lebanon border in the thick of Hezbollah territory (see previous blog post). Ironically, it was very peaceful until my phone lit up with reports of “domestic terrorism” on my own doorstep.

Extremists of all types, whether motivated by race or religion, live among us 24/7. As egregious as their beliefs may be, they represent part of the human condition that exists within each of us — implicit bias. We convince ourselves that such biases must be changed, and they probably can be through appropriate education and the natural evolution of the idealistic millennials and Gen Z. However, in order to facilitate the process, we must invoke civility now.

In August, citizens of Charlottesville threw gasoline on a spark and a fire ignited. People were injured, one person killed, and the city unraveled. Now that spark has returned, begging for fuel.

Newton’s third law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, how extreme are we willing to go? Civil war? On the other hand, what if there were no reaction? Would the spark ignite or ultimately fizzle out?

In the quest for world peace, the primary requirement is for differing beliefs to not stoke the fire, but live together in harmony. As humans, and even more so as Americans, we all have more in common to build upon than we have differences to pull us apart.

Like my Lebanese driver told me, “It doesn’t matter if one is Christian, Muslim, Hezbollah, or Army. We are Lebanese first.”

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Education, an entitlement or a gift?

I had the honor of keynoting Accenture’s Scrum Gathering this month in Bangalore, India. Scrum/Agile is a project management system derived from a software framework that has evolved into a business culture. This subject fell outside of my comfort zone, which is my favorite place to be; only then do I know that I am learning and growing. Using the concept of "agility," I discussed what it means to be an agile human being and how IT experts can use their skills to solve society's greatest injustices and bring us closer to world peace. It was a risk, but one that resulted in a standing ovation.

While the response to my morning keynote was gratifying, the conference highlight was the afternoon closing session. I invited two graduates of Shanti Bhavan Children's Project—a residential school for the poorest of the poor and the subject of Netflix's new documentary “Daughters of Destiny”—to join me for an on-stage discussion about emerging from abject poverty and gaining career opportunities typically granted to the upper-class. The school's founder and my friend, Dr. Abraham George, joined us for a few closing remarks.

Any child can succeed

Their stories prove that any child can succeed if given the right opportunity, and Shanti Bhavan yields hundreds of these stories. Each year, 12 girls and 12 boys are taken out of the villages before the age four and their education is paid for until they graduate college and begin work. Then, 20-50% of their salaries go toward rebuilding homes in their villages, providing healthcare for their families, and other contributions to their communities. Since the school began in 1997, 97% have graduated from high school, 98% from college, and 97% have gained employment at multi-national companies such as American Express, Goldman Sachs, and Deloitte. Unlike most disadvantaged children, these students are not taught to survive; they are taught to thrive.

I visited the school for several days after the conference, reuniting with students and teachers after seven years when I first became a partner. The young children have grown into impressive young adults, and there were over a hundred new smiling faces eager to interact with me. With several graduating classes having gone on to college and prosperous careers, Abraham asked me if I thought that a sense of entitlement may be setting in with the older students. I felt that it might be, so each evening I gathered all the high school students for a vibrant group dialogue.

Education is bigger than the individual

My overall message to them was simple: "Shanti Bhavan is bigger than all of us. It isn't about students, teachers, or a beautiful campus, and it hasn't provided you with a free education just so you can get a great job and buy a nice car and big screen TV. This is a movement, and you have a responsibility and opportunity to further its mission of eradicating poverty and improving the world." I asked them what they would do if the school shut its doors tomorrow, and explained that if any one of them were to revert back to village life, then Shanti Bhavan will have failed them and they will have failed Shanti Bhavan. They then debated how to further the "movement" and explored implementing the model into other existing schools, fundraising to start a new Shanti Bhavan, and more.

While their lifelong commitment need not focus entirely on sustaining the school, we discussed that they must always be working toward eliminating social injustices or solving environmental issues, which could even be as simple as buying solar panels for their homes rather than fancy cars. Collectively, they felt most passionate about eradicating corruption and the caste system, so we also talked about how as individuals we must "be the change you wish to see in the world" (Gandhi). This was an exercise that they will never forget, and they were genuinely appreciative (see video).

I believe that everyone is entitled to a good education, but in reality, whether one receives it as a beneficiary of philanthropists or of taxpayers, education is a gift. Every student, regardless of country or wealth, should be taught to value it as such, and that it carries responsibilities and opportunities that are bigger than him or herself. I never had discussions like these as a student, but any school that aims to produce the leaders of tomorrow ought to be regularly asking each student, independent of grades or assignments, "How are you going to change the world?" The answer doesn't matter, but the thought process develops intellectual agility, strong character, and good values, which should be the priority of education.

Learn more about Shanti Bhavan

 

 

To book a keynote, please contact me at info@RaviUnites.com or 1-202-838-7088

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What 30 Days in the Middle East Taught Me About Charlottesville

I am now back home in the United States to give a keynote for 500 superintendents, principals, teachers, and staff of the Jericho New York school system. Their top request is for me to address the recent domestic terrorism in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA, and guide them on how to lead students through this changing landscape of American society. Having just spent the past two months giving keynotes on cultural entrepreneurship and songwriting in comparatively peaceful Iraq and Lebanon, my perspective on terrorism and religious/ideological divides has been greatly fine tuned.

The Middle East was truly life changing for me (see past two blogs here). I had Iraqi students from Mosul who had been captured and tortured by ISIS and liberated only days before I arrived, Kurds who still live in fear ever since their families had been gassed by Saddam Hussein 30 years ago, and Syrians whose homes in Aleppo have been recently bombed and turned into rubble.

A few days ago, my wife and I drove through Hezbollah Lebanese territory along the Syrian border in order to discover more of Lebanon. Baalbek is one of the most fantastic cities I have ever seen. Many advised us not to go because the two hour journey through the heart of Hezbollah is said to be dangerous, and the US Embassy even warns that it will not assist citizens if something goes wrong. However, a few locals that we grew to trust said that it would be a missed opportunity not to go. So, we hired a reputable driver that would not sell us out to terrorists (apparently this is a serious possibility) and only spoke in French to disguise my being an American. Our ten hour trip is one that we will remember for a lifetime.

About half way to Baalbek, a soldier at a checkpoint got into our car and rode with us for fifteen minutes as we crossed the "Christian/Muslim border" in the Beqaa Valley. I still don't know why he joined us, but one of the two roads to Baalbek appeared to be closed and clearly we were taking the one that was unfamiliar to our driver. After the soldier got out, our Christian driver periodically had to ask the local Hezbollah community for directions. This made me very nervous, however, he told us that this has happened to him before. In fact, he said that Hezbollah often offers him a cup of coffee or tea before sending him on his way. He explained that it doesn't matter if one is Christian, Muslim, Hezbollah, or Army. "We are all Lebanese first," he said. "And this is how Lebanese treat each other."

As much as we believe that the Middle East is filled with radical ideology, today's America seems more radical than anywhere else. How ironic it was to have been peacefully traveling throughout Iraq and Lebanon, and on the very day that I am surrounded by Hezbollah, the international "breaking news" reports domestic terrorism in Charlottesville VA.

America is rapidly moving to left and right extremes, but civility only resides in the middle. We must peacefully lure each other toward the center in order to have civil discourse, and if necessary, agree to disagree. Whether one is Christian, Muslim, socialist, alt. right, straight, or gay, we are all Americans first.

 

 

 

 

To book a keynote, please contact me at info@RaviUnites.com or 1-202-838-7088

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The American Dream in the Middle East

It was an honor to give the keynote a few days ago to the Colorado Association of School Executives. I shared stories from last week's trip to Iraq and from the experience of working with my students from Mosul who endured the worst suffering under ISIS simply because they committed the crime of playing music. Their poignant journeys provided an opening for my keynote unlike any other I have given (if you didn't see my last blog post, let me know and I'll forward it to you). I'm still moved to tears each time I talk about them, and I will be telling their stories for a long time to come as an example of bravery, determination, and creativity in defeating fundamentalist ideology with music.

Dr. Jill Biden (former United States "Second Lady"/wife of Vice President Joe Biden) was the other keynote speaker. Both of us work with children in Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East, and we both come from political families that have shaped the world's most influential democracies. So, I gave her and Joe my grandmother's biography, We Nehrus—the inside story of my own family's fight for independence and how my great uncle, aunt, and cousin created and governed the world's largest democracy for over 40 years.

I typically do not discuss my family history in my presentations and didn't in Colorado. However, it had relevance to my Cultural Entrepreneurship students in Iraq last week and I think that it may also be important to my Syrian students this week in Lebanon—some of whom live amongst the rubble of Aleppo. The freedom to pursue one's passion is a distant concept in this part of the world, and harsh realities of the Middle East make an entrepreneurial mindset seem like naive idealism.

In order to earn my students' confidence, they needed to know that my own family fought for India's independence and were assassinated for their beliefs about the future of their country. This created a bridge between the students and me. While most of them do not believe that things can change in their country, they now realize that they will lose this defeatist argument with me.

As I tell them each day at our American Voices YES Academy Lebanon, "Things won't change by themselves. Someone has to 'be the change' (Gandhi), and that 'someone' may very well be one of you.

 

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Iraq: Gaining New Perspectives on Life

When I first announced my trip to Iraq, some questioned why I would ever go to such a place. While I knew intellectually that it would be a growth opportunity personally and professionally, I greatly underestimated just how life-changing it would be. As I now sit in beautiful Breckenridge Colorado to give the keynote for the Colorado Association of School Executives, I have new stories to tell that will enhance my message of educating for peace in a globalized world.

I taught cultural entrepreneurship to 150 Iraqis and Kurds last week, however, my special project was to work with four musicians from Mosul who over the past three years had been robbed, captured, and tortured by ISIS. Their crime was playing music, and execution was the standard punishment.

The timing could not have been more poignant since Mosul was liberated only days before I arrived. After they spent nine hours in 120 degree weather trying to cross a checkpoint in order to work with me, we shared stories, wrote incredible music together, laughed and cried, and hugged each other so tightly that there is no doubt that we will be great friends for life. I may be their teacher, but they taught me more than I could have imagined about values, courage, and life.

The depth of their suffering is only superseded by their ability to rise above it. These four young men—Ameen, Hakam, Khalid, and Mouhamad—are the bravest soldiers I know. They don't fight with guns or bombs to kill terrorists (people) who will simply resurface; they fight terrorism (ideology) with musical instruments by defying ISIS and inspiring others not to surrender to fundamentalism. Their ability to escape their fate yet still fight with music is a level of courage that I cannot fathom. True heroes.

They honored me with gifts that are hard for me to process. Ameen signed and dedicated to me his shirt that he wore the first time he played his violin atop the rubble of Yunus temple destroyed by ISIS, risking his life to make a point (google it...many news stories on him). Khalid, a professional barber, cut my hair—ISIS made it illegal to shave or get a haircut so he had no business for three years, but once ISIS was defeated, people cut their hair in both celebration and defiance symbolizing their newfound freedom. Hakam gave me a guitar-shaped key chain that almost got him killed until he convinced ISIS that it was a chicken leg and not a guitar. And Mouhamad, who was tortured by ISIS in ways that we have only seen blacked-out on TV news, gave me a beautiful journal in which he wrote in Arabic that our friendship is immortal.

Not only do they smile, laugh, and express so much love toward me, but they extend their hands to their neighbors, the Kurds, with whom there has and continues to be so much conflict (chemical attacks, fight for independence, battles over oil, etc.). Their open hearts enabled my Kurdish students to collaborate with them, and together they will all rise up as millennial musicians and "be the change you wish to see in the world" (Gandhi).

Iraq is an incredibly complex country and it was profound to know each day that at any moment I could be killed by a car bomb or stray bullet (every Iraqi thinks about this constantly as it is part of life). However, in order to truly make a difference in the lives of others and gain a better understanding of the world in which we live, some risks are most definitely worth taking.


To book a keynote, please contact me at info@RaviUnites.com or 1-202-838-7088

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Independence Day Around the World

I have started a travel blog to bring you along on the cultural diplomacy journey I am taking this summer. Along with faculty from American Voices' YES Academy and US Department of State, I will be travelling to Iraq and Lebanon. My government sponsored tours promote cultural exchange and understanding through keynotes on entrepreneurship—a pillar of democracy—and music programs that bring together talented individuals from traditionally opposed cultures and religions. My goal is to create global harmony through innovation and the arts, and this blog will share the excitement, photos, reflections, and results.

Watch a clip from last year’s global music mentoring in Jakarta.

As I prepare to leave on this United States Independence Day, I cannot help but think about the ongoing fight for independence taking place at my destination. Mosul may be just days away from being free of ISIS, and the Kurdistan region will vote later this year on becoming independent of Iraq. The goal of independence is universal but also very personal to me because my great uncle, Jawaharlal Nehru, led India to independence 70 years ago this summer.

I encourage you to remember that every individual has the ability to make a difference, especially in a young person’s life. Dr. Abraham George is the founder of the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project for impoverished students in India—another education program partner of mine. He is realizing his dream of breaking the cycle of poverty for the poorest of the poor. Shanti Bhavan is the feature of a new Netflix documentary series, Daughters of Destiny which will premiere on July 28.

Please tune in and follow this blog for more information on that program, on my work with American Voices and US Department of State, and on my keynote speaking schedule which is heating up for the remainder of 2017 into 2018: I will be at the Colorado Association of School Executives on July 26th, keynoting their annual conference with none other than Dr. Jill Biden!

To book a keynote, please contact me at info@RaviUnites.com or 1-202-838-7088

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Is the Asian Dream the new American Dream?

The “Asian Dream” is the new “American Dream.” I gave lectures to young entrepreneurs in China last year and their thirst for information and motivation was obvious. I did the same a couple of years earlier in India and found the entrepreneurial spirit amongst the millennial dominant demographic inspiring. But even slow emerging markets like Russia present a curiosity about entrepreneurship that while more difficult to implement, are ripening–I spoke there twice in the last year, once before the Ruble collapsed and once after, and found the worsening economy to be more of a motivator than a detractor.

The world is becoming fertile for the millennial entrepreneur and a global perspective is the answer, especially for today’s American entrepreneur. The American Dream is alive, and the opportunity to share it around the world is better than ever.