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!

Education Shifts: Why STEAM over STEM is important

Education Shifts: Why STEAM over STEM is important
Photo by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

Education Shifts: Why STEAM over STEM is important

Is the path for long-term success in life for students to concentrate on STEM subjects?  Is a focus solely on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) what is needed for tomorrow’s world of employment and leadership? It is true that some of the highest paying jobs for recent graduates currently are in STEM.

Or, will the future favor people with a more diverse skill set—one that an additional focus on the arts (STEAM) will provide?  Colleges and universities need to adapt to the upcoming changes in educational needs for the workforce of tomorrow or their students will be ill-prepared for the world and careers that will be available.  Let’s dive deeper.

The Impact of AI on Employment

Science fiction writers love to imagine that machines will take over virtually all human endeavors. In reality, many jobs requiring minimal skills have already been replaced by computers. According to an article by MIT Digital, artificial intelligence has the potential to eliminate or dramatically change many more human jobs in the next two decades.

One central concern is that employers will find ways to replace the inefficiencies of human workers and their demands for higher pay, vacation time, training, and retirement benefits. And if that happens, what happens to the workers?

What Does the Future Hold?

As companies grow their wealth by implementing technology that eliminates jobs, how will this impact society and the world? The potential exists for the world’s job market to shrink as AI continues to eliminate more jobs. Price Waterhouse Consulting concludes that 38% of jobs will be automated in the next 10-15 years.

With the shrinking job market, what will we do with the unemployed and underemployed? Will we need to initiate basic universal pay or lower the work week from 40 hours to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to work?  How will that go over in capitalist societies?

Most important, what is the incentive for future students to go to school if high-tech occupations are hard to come by? What is the role of education in a society of machine-operated companies and services?

What is Missing?  The Arts

The arts and humanities teach us to think critically, reason, and be creative. They also teach us one of the most valuable skills going forward: empathy—the key to cultural competency in a world of globalization. Creativity, understanding, and imagination are the underpinnings for collective thinking, business and political solutions, and understanding the world and its myriad of philosophies and cultures.

It can be dangerous to only focus through the microscope of technology. The world is evolving and changing quickly because of technology, but technology may not be the final answer.

Let’s Focus on STEAM

Reintroducing the “A” for Arts into education adds a renewed opportunity for the future of humanity. The arts help us to solve challenges and create solutions by reaching outside of technology’s narrow box of thought processes.

Learning about where music comes from—the rhythm and cadence of a dance—or the discipline and cultural influences of painting can broaden horizons. Exploring cultural influences in the fine arts can improve global relations and bring humanity into a more empathetic and peaceful bearing.

And Consider STREAM?

In this case, “R” is for recess. Recess is the time we break away from the rigors of classroom activity and focused work to let off steam and play. In a world that is seemingly on the brink of continuous conflict, a significant global recess could be just what is needed.

Humans are animals with underlying destructive tendencies. We have a need for physical activity to release stresses and anxiety. It is important that we allow these tendencies to exhaust themselves in activities like recess and school sports instead of coming out in less desirable ways.  What if this were given prominence as a mandated role of education instead of subjugating it to a lesser, voluntary participation role?

The Olympic Games are an example of a global recess. They allow world citizens to take a break and see what humans can accomplish simply through personal commitment and will.  Look at the positive sentiment, global collaboration, and world cooperation that takes place through such an event.

STEM or STREAM?

As Artificial Intelligence becomes more prominent in our lives, societies must evaluate what is important. How do we wish to live our lives? What are our values as nations and how should they be reflected in everyday life? Should we continue to encourage our youth to focus only on computer science and mathematics? I don’t think so.

Will we sacrifice the fruits of man’s imagination like art, theater, and music? Will we continue to make the mistakes of the past because history’s lessons are forgotten?  Let’s hope not.

It is time to reconsider education’s priorities.

I love to go deeper into this subject, it is one of my keynote specialties.  Learn more at https://raviunites.com/keynotes.

What are the human transactions of the future?

I am really looking forward to keynoting the All Ohio Counselors Conference next week—a combined audience of career and mental health counselors, helping our youth navigate an increasingly complicated world.

The impact of Artificial Intelligence and technology on the job market is going to change the careers available to graduates and transform the way we interact. With a predicted 38% of today's jobs being automated in 10-15 years, we must consider that human exchanges revolving around goods and services may no longer be the norm.

What are the transactions of the future? I believe we will have a cultural economy—an exchange of cultural values and activities that form the basis of human interaction and the advancement of society. However, with globalization comes cultural dilution, and therein lies a conundrum that educators and counselors must address. Otherwise, we risk devolving into animal instincts and survivalist mentalities.

Combining the idealism of the Millennial generation with their size, which will be followed by the equally large and idealistic Gen Z, we now have the opportunity to naturally grow out of many of society's greatest injustices. However, that will require Baby Boomers to quietly hang onto their baggage and not unload it onto the Millennials. The generation that grew up with segregation being the norm must not inadvertently pollute the generation that grew up with Obama being the norm. If that happens, our noble efforts to extinguish implicit biases will only result in perpetuating them.

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

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

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

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.

 

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