Friday, March 6, 2015

How to Create Impact on Society: A Case Study of Experiential Learning Intervention in a Course on Social Advocacy

It was around 2007-08, I was chatting with some top decision making executives of five private universities/institutes in Pakistan. As is customary in Pakistan, the discussion invariably turned towards lamenting the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan, how Pakistan is going down the drain and how its situation is increasingly becoming deplorable. After a while, I could take it no longer and was forced to make an outburst that went something like the following:
Of all the people in Pakistan, we who are sitting around this table have no right to blame others for the sorry and dismal state that we find ourselves in! We, gentlemen, are in command of at least 20,000 students in the three major cities of Pakistan and these students often remain with us for at least two to four years. The students of our institutions hail from resourceful families. Our universities have enough resources. We can influence the type of courses that we offer, the content of these course and even the teachers who are conducting these courses. We can even fire or change the teachers. Collectively we are churning out over 4,000 graduates every year who have gone through the process designed and approved by us. Why can't we produce even 400 change agents who can transform the business and societal environment of Pakistan and who can turn the tide of our social deterioration?  


Our brochures boast about courses in leadership but the only thing on the mind of the graduates that we produce is to escape from our problems to the attractive environments abroad. Why? As detailed in my post  "Curriculum's Relevance to Social Impact: Why do our graduates want to leave the country", the graduates want to escape from Pakistan because our curriculum and the way it is taught has not equipped them to be the change agents for resolving our societal and economic issues.  I delivered a more concrete version of what needs to be done in my talk on 11th of February at the Deans and Directors Conference of the business schools in Pakistan at Karachi Marriott which was organized by HEC and NBEAC, the regulatory body for business education. Realization of this responsibility is important for universities because they are currently churning out about half a million graduates every year in Pakistan as mentioned by the HEC Website. I would be surprised to see even a tiny fraction of these graduates to have done a depth course on how to solve a major problem of Pakistan, let alone going through a "Learning by Doing" experience (often called experiential learning) in a course for a problem that would give them the confidence to take on the real life issues of Pakistan and not think of escaping from them! 

The personal challenge that confronted me in 2007-08 was to design a course-based intervention that can be doable within a semester duration and for which credit could be allocated in a formal curriculum. I had attended a workshop on Strategic Visions that provided me with a framework to make concrete some of the ideas of how to create impact on society in the long term. I was then able to see that as dean of a private chartered institute, I can go beyond the empty rhetoric of a typical vision and mission statement which often vacuously claims to contribute to the development of society. The framework provided a sense of purpose to my responsibility. It enabled me to translate the vision and mission of the institute into concrete goals that can be achieved through a careful design of curricula and outcomes of courses. It got me thinking out-of-the-box and urged me to go beyond the usual class room teaching of imported texts and to evolve an intervention that can lead to the creation of social impact using students of a class. In this quest, I was goaded into action by the inspiring examples of some excellent interventions made by John Hunter with grade-4 school students for resolving scores of interlocking problems confronted by nations in the World Peace Game [1], and Kiran Sethi with her school children mobilizing city-wide and nation-wide campaigns to bring real change on roads and marketplaces [2]. I felt humbled by these interventions done at the school level students, and compared them with what universities are doing with more mature and accomplished youth is to numb their minds by restricting them to a few imported books, and not exposing them to the real life problems and real life issues afflicting our nation and our country. This was humiliating and challenging especially given the greatly motivating example of Randy Pausch's intervention at CMU as explained in his "Last Lecture" [3]

I went to several leaders involved in creating impact in education and health sector through NGOs and offered them the services of my students enrolled in a course for a semester along with the teacher as a supervisor for creating an intervention that can provide their NGOs with university students support free of cost, and in return students could earn credits for some carefully designed experiential learning projects. I went to TCF, AKU and Indus Hospital, but found that they had their hands full and probably my offer was not concrete enough to make sense until they had seen the specifics of the interventions I was proposing. After a few years of trial and error with various alternative interventions, different teachers, and different course formats, I was fortunate enough to find a committed faculty member, and a suitable experiential learning project that was doable within a semester duration by a group 3-5 students in a carefully designed course with measurable rubrics. The innovative intervention was the Experiential Learning Social Advocacy Projects [4] that emerged from the mandate given to course owner, Mr Omar Javaid, to impact the heart and minds of the students through a carefully designed social intervention [5]. 
Project by Muteeullah-Anas-
Faryal-Fariha  in Spring 2011

The intervention was linked to the development of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship. The course was named Social Advocacy, as per the advice of Professor Dr Mohammad Wasay of AKU who told me that the type of thing I am trying to do in the course is typically called Social Advocacy. Students enrolled in a section of about 40 students were divided into groups of 4-5 students. Each group was assigned a deserving family in one of the poor localities of Karachi. The objective was to study the family environment and source of livelihood and come up with a suitable micro-business for the bread-earner of the family. Student groups collected funds ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 40,000 from the relatives of group members or from other donors. From 2010 to 2014, students of social advocacy class sections identified and funded the start of 430 micro businesses for supporting poor families under the supervision of Mr Omar Javaid. Micro businesses established ranged from funding a street vending cart, small shop, sewing machine, pop-corn cart, french-fries cart, rickshaw/taxi repair, etc. Total funds collected and disbursed were over five million rupees. There were on average 8-10 groups per class section. 


TERM
FAMILIES HELPED
FUNDS DISPERSED
SPRING 2014
59
541,800
FALL 2013
42
486,473
SUMMER 2013
36
475,530
SPRING 2013
89
928,417
FALL 2012
12
100,700
SUMMER 2012
63
572,400
SPRING 2012
21
259,500
FALL 2011
12
559,385
SUMMER 2011
43
559,385
SPRING 2011
30
325,829
FALL 2010
7
116,000
SUMMER 2010
10
126,000
SPRING 2010
6
71,000
TOTAL
430
Rs. 5,122,419

The results were immediately visible. The body language of the students changed as they became confident about handling unknown situations and people belonging to the lowest demographic level. A major change was observed in the attitudes of students who had never left the confines of their previliged housing societies. Several students became committed to social entrpreneurship. Their confidence in taking on their own personal businesses increased. 
Project by Sajid-Imran-
Waqas-Ammar in Fall 2010


These interventions were successful in providing a start for the families to be on their own feet. However, there were several improvements that were needed to refine the model by developing an infrastructure that can help the families in sustaining the business after the start-up, but which the institutional limitations did not allow for lack of commitment to the stated vision. The required infrastructure included database, office support, trainers and counselors who can provide followup visits and mentorship to the families after the students who originally funded the business had moved on after completing the course. The pool of money can be replenished by the return of the principal in small installments, collection of donations from other sources, support for families in their financial and health emergencies, and losses due to breakdown of machinery, inadequacy in managing the finances and management issues etc. Although much still needs to be done in improving the infrastructure and for overcoming the challenges and transforming this course based intervention into a sustainable institution, but it is a good prototype; a proof of concept of the type of things university students are capable of achieving and much much more.
Project by Nida-Samana-
Erum-Ramsha in Spring 2011


See Also:
  1. 55 interlocking problems: How John Hunter enables the 4th graders to understand and design solutions in this excellent Ted talk on the World Peace Game. 
  2. Kiran Sethi and her students take charge: Ted Talk.
  3. Randy Pausch: Last Lecture
  4. Social Advocacy Projects at CED
  5. Javaid, Omar, Using Constructionist Philosophy to Inculcate Optimism and Philanthropic Spirit Among Students (October 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1812442 orhttp://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1812442
  6. Curriculum's Relevance to Social Impact: Why do our graduates want to leave the country?]
  7. Myth: We are backward because we lag in science & technology
  8. Myth: Impact Factor Measures Impact
  9. Why Project Based Learning? An Experiential Learning Case Study of Language Teaching
  10. Why Education and Why Higher Education: Leadership in Life and Society
  11. Of Hanafi School of Marketing, Orientation of New Students and Dr Matin A Khan of IBA
  12. Myths of Schooling and Education: Resources

14 comments:

  1. Great Dr. Sahab!

    Yes, at times Omar used to discuss this brilliant initiative that was taken to transform the lives of needy as well as let the students smell the fragrance of entrepreneurship and I truly appreciated this "learning by doing" effort. Social advocacy at its height; students came up with some great results too and the learning was extraordinary.

    However, the course became 'Social Advocacy' eventually while I am thinking the same for Industrial Engineering and Management, Manufacturing Engineering related topics. What learning-by-doing methods/projects I can initiate to let the students feel the same as you, along with Omar, did?

    My goal of assigning final year projects is to have something tangible in the hands of students; a hardcore achievement; something very visible and physical, coupled with the increased sense of responsibility and happiness.

    I was 100% against the approach that was widely practiced/followed in most of the universities by assigning the "fake" final year projects, titles of which were written in faculty rooms, which was equivalent to ruining every type of human skills when I joined the university in 2006 (even today, the situation is somewhat same). I opposed all those projects that were just written on the piece of paper, with vague and insensible titles by inexperienced, vision-less teachers inside their rooms.Though not mature enough, I was even that sensible that I raised my voice against this practice. I contacted all my references in the industry to take little interest in BE projects, write down the core problem of the factory on a piece of paper and send that to me that I would assign as a final year project. I talked about the incentive and made promises that if they would keep on cooperating with me, they will get "free solution" to their problems. Even if they would not get the issue fully resolved, they would at least see some progress anyhow. And...it worked! Nevertheless, outcomes were not much significant.

    As for now, I see that my department in particular, and my university in general have fallen into a hell of problems. I have come up with an idea to go for resolving 'engineering-related' issues of my own university, starting with my department's building. And believe me, there are so many things to do. Instead of coming up with 'ppts' of final year project in December, I need to see something done physically by the students. I am looking forward to the resolution of issues like installation of solar geyser, energy-saving at Chairman's office (which is the busiest room in the department), paper recycling mechanism, waste management of department extending to the entire university (conversion of waste into useful products, separation of waste after categorisation), renovation of building (generating numerous ideas first), design of departmental quality control, etc. All employing rigorous project management methodology.

    Well, it may sound silly to you, I know the various constraints I am living with. Even though it is quite a small initiative, I am directed towards inculcating "problem-solving/trouble-shooting" skills, with hard work and devotion, in students. Lets see what happens next!

    Presently, this practice will be limited to my department, later on I wish to extend this idea to other departments and develop an association to start "collaborative projects" and let all taste the fruit of mutual cooperation, support, guidance and supervision.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. For the final year project, you can do this very simply. Identify an NGO and then make your computer science department students fulfill its requirement. I can discuss more ideas in this stream. I have several project ideas that you can get your students working on.

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    2. This is something I would be looking forward to Dr Sahab. By the way, I belong to the Dept. of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

      Any such ideas that would assist in achieving my objective or align my goals shall be of immense help. What I really want students to do and learn is problem solving along with the sense of achievement and get them attached with some real hands-on problem.

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    3. I think we need to meet and discuss this in detail. I have several ideas that we can brainstorm.

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    4. That would be an honour for me. I will catch you as soon as I return!

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  2. The problem of follow up can be managed to an extent - we can introduce a Hand-Off mechanism, if any project is not well managed due to any circumstances, and the student are leaving - they must hand it off to the new student -

    Yes, to manage the system we do need a proper operational setup.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right. This is what I meant when I said that we needed an infrastructure for managing the transition from one group to another and also for the return of the grant which should be in the form of an interest free loan, and also for managing the continuity of the startup business after the initial intervention.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What did you think about the post? I did get your comment via email before you deleted it.

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  4. Experiencing about those of the social problems and then to solving out and making an effective way to impact on society's needs and the changes that you do need to brought about would become more easy after reading out those of the deep learning.

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