Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

The practice of sharing a meal dates back to the dawn of humanity. Today we also use this time to learn about each other and welcome others into our families and communities. In many Middle East countries, for instance, “I have had water and salt in your home” is a common way of saying that once a meal has been shared, “we are bonded to one another.”

Many agree that the bonding power of “breaking bread” is tremendously rich, enabling us to overcome great challenges, and even infusing cultural competence in younger generations. I am convinced that preparing the meal collectively deepens the bond even further.

The culinary arts is perhaps the only art that stimulates all five senses simultaneously. My theory is that this multi-sensory experience creates a uniquely strong connection. Therefore, preparing and sharing the daily family dinner is a vital opportunity to reinforce family values and counterbalance other influences that may be less desirable.

Overcoming Challenges through Sharing a Meal

I believe we should consider the possibilities of “food diplomacy” and raise awareness of its potential for positive impact. Dining together is a multi-sensory, tangible experience that can uncover commonalities where previously only differing experiences and viewpoints might have existed.  

The potential for conversation and trust building is inherent in sharing smells, tastes, colors and textures of the ingredients along with various methods of preparation. The total experience can be a catalyst for diplomacy, increasing greater understanding and the sharing of a common experience.  Furthermore, the tradition of raising a glass to a common desire (i.e. “to our health”) unites those around the table.

Teaching Cultural Competence through Food

Today’s finest French cuisine is often created using the animal parts traditionally eaten by peasants. And why is it that countries in the hottest climates such as India and China eat the spiciest foods? Do we recognize that spices are used to preserve foods in places where refrigeration was (or is) not readily available, and what else does that teach us about these places? When you eat international foods, and even more so if you cook them yourself at home, you are personally investing in different cultures.

Several organizations have initiated programs that focus on this. Cooking Matters asks participants to prepare dishes from as many cultures as possible and challenges them to draw relationships between those foods and the respective cultures.They say that foods are “the summation and expression of experiences, beliefs, and practices.” So when you cook foods from other cultures, you get a first-hand taste of the experiences, beliefs, and practices of that culture; you learn about others without assumption or judgment.

Scholastic, as another example, encourages teachers to prepare meals from different cultures as a way of getting even young children to appreciate other cultures.

What Students Can Learn

There is much to learn from cooking and eating foods from other cultures and even breaking bread together with people of these cultures. These include:

  • The people’s identity: When we eat certain foods, we identify with a very specific norm within our own community. Cooking or consuming foods of others will help us learn and appreciate their identities.

 

  • A community’s pleasures: Students learn which festivals or occasions are associated with which foods.

 

  • A community’s values: Breaking bread with other communities helps future leaders learn about the values that tie those communities together.

 

  • Heritage: Taking an interest in other communities’ foods is one of the best ways to trace their history and heritage.

 

Ravi Unites Support for Culinary Experiences

My Ravi Unites Schools program that unites students from different cultures online is directly aligned with creating community-building culinary initiatives. In fact, a discussion of food is naturally part of every interaction. I encourage educators and especially families to incorporate diverse foods and culinary exploration into regular activities. By simultaneously stimulating sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, a unique and rich experience is created that can break down walls and form lasting connections.

What are your thoughts on this? Please let me know by sending me a message.

Harnessing Your Position for Good

 

Harnessing-Your-Position-for-Good-

Harnessing Your Position for Good

Last month we looked at how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace effectiveness.  The topic of cross-cultural competence is featured in most of my keynotes, and while my primary points are consistent, I tailor my keynotes to each audience and incorporate current events.

One of these trending topics is “privilege.” Privilege has always been a delicate topic. Whenever you mention the word, it can evoke strong reactions depending upon the context. The word carries connotations of power and often is discussed from racial equity, level of education, or family dynasty perspectives.

I have first hand experience with this as I am part of a prominent Indian family dynasty; I am the first American born member of the family that created the world's largest democracy and governed it for over 40 years.  I have often reflected upon how this has impacted me and what I do with this position.

A question I am often asked is: Can privilege ever be a good thing? And a related question that I believe is important: Is it possible to harness our position for good?

I believe that, yes, those who have privilege have a golden opportunity to use that position to combat social injustices and make the world a better place.

Positioning for Good

There are four steps involved in harnessing position for the greater good:

• Understand the meaning of privilege

If you are to make good use of your privilege, you must begin by learning what privilege means.

Put simply, privilege is an unearned advantage, access, or power reserved for an individual or a group of people. The University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts defines it as a “society-granted” advantage accorded to some people and not others. It is not chosen and is independent of attitudes or belief systems.

More important, we cannot run away from privilege once we have it. The only choice we have is what to do with it.

• Own your privilege

Once you have understood what privilege means, it is time to own whatever advantages you enjoy.  Moreover, these advantages are valuable tools in your toolbox that can be used to change the world for the better.  Do not dismiss or negate your privilege. Make the choice to use it for the good of society.

There are many factors that put us in a position of privilege: sex, gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability, class, body type, level of education, and so on. What privilege(s) do you have? You need to reflect on and understand your privilege.  Accept that it gives you a unique opportunity and you must embrace it and use it for greater good.

• Open up to feedback

This simply means opening up to the opinions and experiences of those who may not possess your privilege. What do they have to say? For instance, if you are wealthy, listen to what those living in poverty have to say. Some say they possess a different kind of wealth or happiness and are not interested in material riches. What do they think about the rich and wealth in general?

Opening up to feedback is often the most difficult part of engaging with our privileges. However, it is equally important because it is what will give you the strength and motivation to get up and do something with the advantages you enjoy.

• Harness your privilege for the benefit of all

The last step is to leverage your societal advantages to positively impact yourself and those around you. Use the privilege to grow as a person and reach across the divide to offer support and opportunity to those on the other side.

• Harness Leadership through Ravi Unites Schools

As a cultural catalyst who has helped bridge hostile cultural and religious divides in India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon, I started the Ravi Unites Schools program to help future leaders harness their leadership positions for the benefit of all.

By connecting schools from different countries, cultures, and time zones, and allowing them to interact, we are able to expand their minds, open their worldview, and grow in cross-cultural competence.  These students then gain the cultural capital required to make them successful leaders of the future. However, unless we engage and help them open up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, they might never fully utilize these unique powers. At Ravi Unites, we draw from personal and professional experiences to equip young students with the tools needed to transition their cultural capital into cultural competency.

What are your thoughts on this?  

Are you interested in hearing more and having me speak to your audience on this or one of my keynote topics?  

Let’s talk!

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

 

Last month on the blog I discussed the value of failure and how, rather than trying to help young people avoid failures, we should be more intentional about teaching the ways that failure helps us learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.  This month I want to turn our attention to the workplace as well as to our school environments; specifically how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace and school culture and effectiveness, and why this topic is more important than ever at this time in our nation.

The U.S. is currently in the middle of a significant demographic shift. Groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050, with the population of Hispanics likely to more than double and the black American and Asian populations also expected to grow by a significant margin.

In the workplace, due in part to globalization, customers and employees will represent an even more diverse mix. Most organizations are already experiencing this as they hire employees and serve customers from multiple cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It partly explains why many large corporations now have multilingual human resource personnel and customer support staff, and are looking to diversify their boards of directors and executive management teams.  This diversity presents workplace opportunities for high-quality professional development to avoid team conflict, bias, and communication breakdowns. Without engaging in appropriate, compassionate training for staff and management, businesses could experience higher turnover, lower morale, and losses in profitability.

To overcome the challenges posed by this shift, schools and businesses need to invest in intentional cross-cultural competence equipping as part of their overall talent management practices. This is one reason why my songwriting programs were presented in Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon by the U.S. Department of State with the focus of bridging across cultures and defeating some long-standing religious, social, racial, and cultural biases. The same principles apply in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.

What is Cross-Cultural Competence?

Culture refers to the shared traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, folklore, and history of a particular group of people. A culture is shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, customs or religion. Competence, meanwhile, means to have sufficient knowledge and skills to enable someone to work in a wide variety of situations.

Cross-cultural competence, therefore, refers to possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to work with people of different nationalities, ethnic communities, languages, and religions. If a person, school  or organization is culturally competent, it means that they understand, appreciate, and can effectively work with people with different traditions, beliefs, and customs.

Millennial idealism offers a great opportunity to overcome many social injustices, including racism.  This generation is “color blind” and multicultural, so by embracing this aspect of millennial mindset, we can organically grow out of some implicit biases that currently hinder cultural competence in the workplace.

The good news is that you can now arrange for cross-cultural competence training for your school or organization where every generation of employee, from top to bottom, is taught skills to help them interact with people from cultures other than their own more effectively. These skills often include

  • Active listening capabilities
  • People interaction skills
  • Flexibility, and
  • Emotional intelligence


Benefits of Cross-Cultural Competence in the Workplace

There are several reasons organizations and individuals need to invest in cross-cultural competence training:

  • It helps us appreciate the perspectives and views of others

Culturally competent employees are open to the views and perspectives of employees from other cultures. This can be vital in achieving unity within the organization.

  • Multiple viewpoints can help us find lasting solutions

When people from different cultures work together, varied perspectives come to the table. With more ideas to consider, it becomes easier to find lasting solutions to existing challenges.

  • Looking out for each other

A culturally competent workforce also looks out for each other. Individuals are always willing to take action for the collective good. This, too, can be instrumental in achieving organizational togetherness.

  • Helps us develop listening skills

One of the fundamental requirements of cross-cultural competence is to possess excellent listening skills. Everyone at the organization will be willing to hear what others have to say and understand them in the ways that they uniquely express their views. More important, workers will know how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework.

  • Instills empathy, flexibility, and adaptability

The benefits of these skills are obvious. An empathetic, flexible, and adaptable workforce is productive even in the most demanding situations. When routines, management or the direction of the organization change, individuals will more readily  adapt accordingly.

  • Helps employees resist unproductive stereotyping

Stereotyping is one of the primary impediments to workplace harmony. Cross-cultural competence helps employees recognize and deal with implicit bias and similar vices, thus boosting individual confidence and guaranteeing team morale.

  • Decreases and overcomes institutional racism

Finally, and perhaps most important, instilling cross-cultural competence in the workplace can be instrumental in rooting out racism. At the very least, the workforce will learn to appreciate each other, significantly reducing incidences of racial discrimination and abuse. This was a theme in my keynote two years ago at the National Education Association, where I talked about institutional racism in higher education. This is a pervasive challenge that must be eradicated from our multicultural society, and the benefits of unity in diversity revealed.

With the significant demographic shifts within our nation and the increased globalization of our work experiences, cross-cultural competence has become a critical issue for businesses.  It impacts not only productivity but ultimately organizational profitability.

Let’s Discuss

How will your organization address the challenges impacting workplace culture and effectiveness?  I would be glad to discuss. Please contact me to talk further.

You Can Help!

You can also help me out by providing your input on a related topic.  Please take my flash survey: Can playing online games with others around the world increase students' cultural competencies? https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9R3RRH7

Educators: Join Ravi Unites Schools

We are signing up schools and districts to participate in the Ravi Unites Schools initiative, which provides real-time audio-video interactions between groups of students who live on opposite sides of the world.  Learn more and sign up here: https://raviunites.com/schools/

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.

Teaching the Value of Failure Today

 

Teaching-the-Value-of-Failure-Today

Teaching the Value of Failure Today

No one starts out wanting to fail. In fact, owing to the achievement-oriented nature of our society, the prospect of failure is one most people cannot stand and definitely try to avoid at nearly all costs. Many will even trade potential big long-term successes for immediate gains just to evade short-term failures.

I would like to challenge this notion and pose the questions:

Is this the right approach? Is failure bad? Should we be putting forth every conceivable effort to avoid failure?

I firmly believe the answer is no. Having an “always learning, entrepreneurial mindset,” which includes appreciating and teaching the value of failure, are central elements of my work as a cultural catalyst and global keynote speaker for educators and young leaders. I have reinvented myself and my profession at least three times. When failures present themselves as they inevitably do, I play it SAFE: State the problem, Assess the options, Fix the problem, and Evaluate the result (part of my flight training, and from my most popular breakout topic, The Pilot Mindset). Treating failure as an option can be beneficial in many ways, as you’ll see below.

While failing can be painful, it turns out that failure is actually good for the mind and our overall well-being. Whether for an entrepreneur striving to grow a business, an athlete aiming to win an upcoming tournament, or a student trying out a new extracurricular, failing can not only strengthen your character but is, in most cases, a tremendously valuable way to learn what it takes to be successful.

Thomas Edison is one of the most celebrated innovators of the 18th century. Edison had to try over 1,000 times before finally coming up with a working prototype of the light bulb. But, according to Edison himself, he would not have been successful without the 1,000 failures, which were really just steps along the way to success. He noted that every failure opened his eyes to something new; something he didn’t know initially, and thus was valuable for the learnings it offered. This way, when he finally succeeded, the light bulb was far superior to the ones he had been trying to make early on.

In the educational environment, the importance of teaching the positives of failure can be very important in the overall development of students so that they can best interact and impact our world in a positive way tomorrow. Treating failure as an option can also be beneficial in these additional ways:

Students learn not to quit or settle when a failure occurs

After a few failures, and the realization that the world didn’t end, there is just no giving up going forward. Students will learn to push on, adapt, and move forward no matter what. By teaching students to learn from setbacks, we give them life skills that will serve them well.

Students refine character traits

A major failure can help refine the ego. And, once egos are more properly balanced with strength and also sensitivity, students have a greater potential for future successes and for positive contributions to society.  The young person who is shielded from failure is unprepared for a world of change, upheaval, and significant competition.

Students begin to appreciate a sense of community

It’s easy to get lost in success. As well, surviving failures on your own, again and again, is nearly impossible. It is often in failure where we learn a sense of community as others reach out to us and support us. It is in failing that we receiving support and open ourselves to a community, enabling us to then offer support and community to others in their moments of failure.

Failure forces students to plan and improve

Very often, students give little thought or planning to their journeys.  For those who do give some thought to their goals, the majority of those tend to do it casually. Failures take us back to the starting line, forcing us to have moments where there can be self-reflection, evaluation, and the opportunity to look ahead with a plan that improves upon and is impacted by the lessons learned in the failure. Getting a trophy for showing up--as the millennials did--needs to be rebalanced by instituting an acceptance and appetite for failure.

Failure helps students appreciate time

The most successful people on earth are those who understand the value of time and invest their time wisely. Failing is one of the experiences that force persons to re-evaluate their use of time. As well, how it relates to how it contributed to a failure.  Students can learn the value of working ahead, preparing for exams, and putting in the needed effort ahead to ensure they are prepared at the time needed.

Failure helps students redefine their priorities

When a student fails, something unique happens. Students begin to redefine what matters most. There is a deeper reflection that can occur.  They have an opportunity to pause and think about areas of importance such as family, studying, education, and teamwork. Failure helps them discover these values and priorities. Unsurprisingly, once priorities are redefined, the path to future successes becomes more much clear.

Final Thoughts

As educators, instead of sheltering our students from failures, we have to expose them to failures. As a result, help them to learn to focus on how these experiences can benefit their future. Whenever someone stumbles, rather than letting their spirits be crushed by the occasion, let us help them understand how energies can be channeled through disappointments. If we can begin to see failure as a valuable and necessary learning tool, we will empower a new generation to rise to the highest heights of their potential.

Learn more about my keynotes and topics here.

The Future Requires an Entrepreneurial Mindset

 

The-Future-Requires-an-Entrepreneurial-Mindset

The Future Requires an Entrepreneurial Mindset

People with an entrepreneurial mindset are driven to innovate and create new opportunities regardless of whether or not they are entrepreneurs or employees. With this mindset, one can also make a positive impact in the world at the same time. The focus on innovation and the possibilities of “what could be” drives entrepreneurs in business and life.

Many lack the entrepreneurial mindset, which at the core requires a growth mindset, the acceptance of failure as a learning process, and the intrinsic value of helping others.  It is my belief that an entrepreneurial mindset is the hope for our future and will create a better world, and today’s education system needs to be infused with these collective ideas.

A Focus On Innovation And Building A Better Future

A simple definition of innovation is that it is a new method, idea, or product. Innovation is the driving force through much of humankind’s accomplishments. This includes every area of knowledge including the sciences, mathematics, healthcare, technology, arts, and more.

Fear of failure prevents many innovations, both large and small, from occurring. No great innovator in human history did so without a few missteps, do-overs, and outright failures. If great innovators gave up after their first failure, they would not have changed the world. The ability to see failure as a chance to learn and do better drives further accomplishments which lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow.  So, how do we help students grasp this in the classrooms of today?

This mindset needs to be taught in our education systems. Millennial leaders will inspire the goal of helping the world become a better place through innovation and entrepreneurship, but education must support this by focusing not just on achievement, but also encouraging and embracing failure (i.e. taking calculated risks). I believe that with adjustments in our educational philosophy to encourage this mindset, a new generation can be unleashed to lead with a goal of creating new businesses, organizations, and systems that help the world.

The Consideration Of Possibilities

The entrepreneurial mindset focuses on possibilities. It considers “what could be.” The current notion of "this is how education is" does not foster a better future; it perpetuates stagnation.

A society that never considers how it can change is one that never does. By considering the possibilities and striving to create positive change, we take the first step toward making change possible.   

Inclusiveness

Recognizing the unique talents and insights of each student is an essential part of building a better future.

Paying it forward and sharing your own good fortune drives further innovation. The entrepreneurial mindset not only fosters the ideas of inclusiveness, it also helps build a future where such ideas are further implemented.

It is this kind of thinking that I seek to help educators discover through my keynotes on the subject.  We need to disrupt education significantly, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss my ideas more with you with the hope to add value to your next conference or event.

Learn more about my keynote speeches. Contact me to set up a first step phone call today!

Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?

 

Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?

Gaming companies and learning experts often disagree on the effects of online gaming among teens.

Despite the fact that we have watched our children play online games for decades, and that a whole generation of gamers has grown up without civilization collapsing, there is still an intense fear among many that online gaming is "dangerous" and has no positive long-term value.

Every few weeks we come across stories from psychologists and others detailing how battling opponents in games like “World of WarCraft” can make children have violent tendencies. We have also heard stories about online video games making kids hyper and anti-social.

Within this backdrop, it is fairly safe to conclude that the fact that researchers today have begun looking into ways to introduce video games to accelerate classroom learning might be unnerving to many. And yet still others are able to extoll gaming’s virtues, including the authors of a 2014 American Psychological Association article, “The Benefits of Playing Video Games” which surveyed the landscape of video games. In it they identify four types of positive impact that video games have on the kids who play them: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social.

Why would gaming be approved in schools in the first place, and can online gaming really help teens develop cultural competency?  I will dive into this a bit deeper below.

One Path to Cultural Competence

The reason is simple – video gaming online appears to be one of the unique ways to cultivate cultural competence.

Our world is a connected world.  Through television, travel, and the Internet we have opportunity to intersect with others around the globe in various capacities. Gaming online is another means of opportunity for youth to connect and team with people all over the world.  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. Anthony Johnson, Director of the Center for Global Education at the Asia Society, calls this “global competence.”

Anthony makes it clear that if the current generation is serious about bringing the world together, which I also advocate for strongly, then they must arm the current youth with knowledge and skills in global competence.

But, What Exactly is Global Competence?

I was reminded of the Asia Society’s excellent framework in a recent related session I attended while keynoting at the ASCD conference last month. Their recent report titled “Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World" defines global competence as a combination of four domains, which are the ability to:

1. Explore local, intercultural, and global issues

A globally competent individual combines knowledge about the world with critical reasoning whenever they form opinions about a global problem.

2. Understand and appreciate the perspectives and worldviews of others

Being globally competent brings with it a willingness to look at global problems from different perspectives.

3. Engage in appropriate, open, and effective interactions across cultures

When you are globally competent, you can engage in respectful dialogue without undermining marginalized groups.

4. Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development

Globally competent individuals are ready and willing to respond to local, global, or intercultural issues for the common good.

Conclusion: Online Games Can Teach Many of These Skills

Games can help kids appreciate cultural diversity and become global thinkers. Game play online often requires teaming and that can be with anyone, anywhere around the world.  Unique partnerships can develop, which while simple and focused on game play, actually do lay a foundation for global cooperation. Online gaming can be one method, among many, that can assist and provide young people with simple skills in cultural competence.  When reflected on and combined with other methods, such as my Ravi Unites Schools initiative, the overall effect and impact can be significant.

What is needed is the intention to provide stakeholders with the necessary insight to make video gaming a tool that we can confidently use to teach cultural competence as we seek to prepare the future generation for a peaceful and economically productive coexistence.  I aim to provide some of that intentional insight into how to utilize what currently engages youth via my keynotes and to help educators turn experiences like these into deeper learnings about cultural competence.

Does this topic pique your interest? Consider booking Ravi for a keynote at your next education leadership meeting or conference. Get the conversation started by reaching out to Ravi at raviunites.com/contact.

 

Ravi Unites Schools Cross-cultural Interaction Between Students in Ohio and India

Ravi Unites Schools Cross-cultural Interaction between Students in Ohio and India

IMAGE CREDIT: ROBERT K.YOSAY | THE VINDICATOR
Poland Middle School students Skype with students in India as part of their "Capture Kindness" month programs Lauren Barrett - asks a question... of her Indian counterparts.

Ravi Unites Schools Cross-cultural Interaction between Students in Ohio and India

The Ravi Unites Schools initiative kicked off with a spirited real-time audio-video interaction last week. I am so proud to have facilitated another cross-cultural experience for a new group of students. Nearly 50 eighth and ninth graders from two schools—Poland Middle School in Poland, Ohio USA, and Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in Tamil Nadu, India—discussed what matters to them. For this group, this included their favorite foods and music, to the issues caused by the class and caste systems, to combatting world hunger. I greatly appreciate the enthusiasm and preparation of the students and teachers at each school—they are what makes Ravi Unites Schools a success!

One educator expressed this to me after the event:

“As a school counselor, I am always looking for inspiring lessons and resources to teach character development. Our live video-audio session covered more lessons in 45 minutes than I could cover in months and the students loved it! I highly recommend any classroom or school system to partake in one, it is truly a unique, engaging, inspiring experience for kids and adults. Thank you, Ravi!”

Exchanges like these enable kids to bond naturally, even across miles and time zones. They truly benefit from this cross-cultural peer-to-peer discovery. As we head further into a future that includes globalization, cultural competency is rapidly becoming a required skill. And as access to technology increases in schools, there is no reason why interactions like this cannot happen regularly in classrooms all around the world.

The online meeting began with a short introduction by me. Followed by the first peer-to-peer question, which was posed by a US student: “What is your weather like?” Such a seemingly benign topic quickly revealed several things: degrees in Fahrenheit were converted to Celsius to establish an understanding. Next, it was discovered that what might feel like a warm day in Poland, Ohio could feel frigid in Tamil Nadu, because in general, it is so much warmer there. And while the students in Ohio expressed that they were sick and tired of snow, their peers in Tamil Nadu expressed that they had never seen it in person.

Food-related questions were also revealing. Students shared that, in India, eating beef is against their religion, while many Americans eat it several times per week. On the popular subject of sports, students bonded over basketball and volleyball and explained American-style football and Indian-style cricket to each other.

Then came a big question from the US students: “What one thing would you change in the world?” This sparked discussion about social injustices, including the issues that arise from classism and from India’s caste system. The relatively elite students in Ohio were stunned to learn that they were engaging with peers who are from some of the poorest families in the world. Enough commonalities had already been established between these students for them to recognize that classism has no place in the modern world. This discussion also explored ways that we can combat world hunger by addressing it in our own communities.

The conversation then lightly gravitated back to musical tastes: both groups shared similar preferences for Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and others.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. It was obvious that minds had been opened and bonds formed. As for me, I could not be happier with the outcome, which brought me back to the very first online interaction for students I created nearly 8 years ago. Then as now, in less than one hour, students felt a greater affinity with their peers of other cultures and faiths. People are still people, wherever they live; we simply want to get along and learn from each other. There is nothing stopping us from carrying the ball closer to world peace.

If you are a school seeking to participate in a similar interaction between your students and those of another area, please reach out by joining the Ravi Unites Schools Facebook group and posting your interest there. I am committed to helping you facilitate this experience for your students.

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