Nomad News

Hi Friends,

So much is happening right now with many exciting opportunities, so I thought I would write. Oh my goodness, where to begin? Most of you know I am back in the land of amazing accents, green pastures, fortifying cups of tea and witty people, Kingston upon Hull in East Yorkshire.

My last five years have been a whirlwind of transitions, adventures and learning. I have now completed my PhD in Systems Sciences with Professor Gerald Midgley at the University of Hull in the UK. Upon my thesis defense, I moved to NYC to work on a UN Women publication co-written with my colleagues Anne Stephens and Shravanti Reddy: Inclusive Systemic Evaluation for Gender Equality, Environments, and voices from the Margins (ISE4GEMs): A Guide for Evaluators for the SDGs Era (in press; free link coming soon). ISE4GEMs uses an analytical framework, GEMs, to prioritize learning and inclusion of people, places and all living things, to support global efforts in creating an equitable and sustainable world. What makes the ISE4GEMs approach innovating and transformative lies within our spirited commitment to: Gender Equality, Environmental considerations and the inclusion of voices from the Margins. It is GEMs that I am using in all my current ventures. With the upcoming publication, my colleagues and I see numerous windows of opportunities to use GEMs across different sectors and learn from its use in different cultures and transdisciplinary contexts. Anne and I have formed a consulting group called Ethos of Engagement which is still in its formative stage. We are working on a book due out in 2019 on the ongoing development of Inclusive Systemic Thinking and GEMs This is where you can picture me jumping up and down for joy!

From October-December 2016 I did some consulting work in Ethiopia with a Canadian development agency which was equally exhilarating and illuminating for me. Exhilarating in that I got to explore a new culture with its symphony of foods, religions, music and history while working on a capacity development project in the agricultural sector in partnership with brilliant and funny professionals from Bulgaria, Canada and Ethiopia. From January-June 2017 I was hovering in Northern California, transitioning from being a student to being my new self – an independent global consultant with a broad range of partnerships. I don’t like working alone to be honest, I love the diversity that working with others brings. Way more fun for an extrovert anyway. A huge shout out to all my Nor Cal friends (especially Jamie and Tammy, Elizabeth and Panama) who gave me shelter, transportation and wisdom while cheering me on (physically and emotionally) during the first six months of 2017. Without you, this current path I am on would not have been possible.

So now what? I refinanced my house, payed off loads of debt, whittled my essential stuff to two suitcases (okay maybe three) and set up a slush fund for me to follow my passion of working in development contexts with people who are smart, kind and committed to making the world a better place for everyone. To do this end, I have been busy connecting new networks and opportunities, all that are entrepreneurial in nature, but designed to create a lovely income in the next year and moving forwards. My timeline and location will continue to shift as I follow leads and go to countries to explore and work on projects. Here is what the last few months have looked like and my projection for the 6-8 months are shaping up.

June 2016: My friend Anne arrived from Australia and we set out for a 7- week work trip promoting our publications and setting up opportunities to learn more about how GEMs might work in different contexts. We first met with a group of likeminded new friends in Washington DC that have a commitment and passion for the conservation of the planet. What an honour it was to hang, laugh and learn from them. This new partnership continues to grow as we actively look for projects to work on collaboratively. I personally am having to learn how to manage working collaboratively online with more finesse. Because I am working alone most of the time at this moment, I get enthused about meetings I have had, but may not have anyone to share it with right away.  Then the enthusiastic emails pour out, not always thought through all the way. Whoa horsey….

After Washington, DC, Anne, Rochelle Sherlock and we went to Guatemala to conduct an organizational assessment with a powerful organization that has spent the last 30 years supporting indigenous groups of women artisans/weavers to keep their  Maya Traditions…their scholarship program pays for the artisan’s children to complete high school and some to even attend college. If you looking a good place to contribute money that will have have an immense impact please consider donating to them. The three of us are planning a return trip in November to share the data we gathered with the women and seek their validation on what we have derive from our interviews.

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If you want to buy some of their woven goods directly from the women, let me know privately. Let’s Talk!

July took Anne and I to Vienna, Austria as opening keynote speakers for the International Society for Systems Sciences conference. Our topic was well received an we are now following up on many of our new contacts. Fingers crossed!

I was reminded of my first trip to Vienna back in 1983…one of my favorite memories being sitting in public park in our grubby backpacking clothes watching people dance the waltz and being asked to dance by an elderly gentleman. He was so kind and brave to take me on. I can’t remember now if it really happened, I just know that I hold it dear!

Later that same week we hopped back on a plane and flew to England rushing back for my graduation ceremony. Yup, it happened. I no longer can claim I am in ‘school’ again but it certainly will not stop me from being a learner.

 

So now what? To be honest I am quite busy writing proposals for future work, conducting research to support the proposals and writing journal articles from my thesis. I am equally stress free and happy. I am humbled daily about how lucky I am to be living the life I do. I have three huge projects I am working on, all with potential, but none of them a surety of future income. But I do know that it is the work I love and know it will bring gifts: friends I have yet to meet, experiences that expand my understanding about my own skills and limitations, cultures that offer culinary surprises and different ways of being, and more opportunities to work with folks to  who. In the next six months my travel plans include: Colombia to work on a research grant for a positive peace project (October), Washington, DC to attend an evaluation conference and some business meetings (November) – and hopefully Thanksgiving with my niece Courtney (awesome year-2 law student at Dickinson Law School); December (TBD) but probably in the US or Germany; back in the UK for January and then Oman for Feb-March on an entrepreneurial venture to create ethical tourism projects with two friends.

Even in my solitary moments, I still know and feel loved and held by all of you. Thank you for your encouragement and for understanding that I am not running from life, I am merely running towards it.

 

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One Month In

Addis is a city full of hope. I see it everywhere. I see it in the hundreds of buildings beinEthiopian Artist's Workg constructed, I see it in my Ethiopian and Canadian colleagues who are working diligently on this development program, and I see it the painters/artists I have met. Like any urban landscape, it never stops humming. The streets are crowded with cars that wouldn’t pass a smog test to brand new SUVs that to be honest seem out of place.

My work is one of training. The project funded by the Canadian government is one of building the capacity of agricultural government officials from the national to the regional level on how to be more effective facilitators of workshops through participatory practices, adult learning theory, and coaching on the job after attending our workshops. Essentially, we train a cadre of trainers from the region on facilitation skills, then they train  the next tier down, and so on. The goals of the project are ambitious, but that is universally recognized. I did not understand the whole concept of my position until after the first week on the ground when I attended a week-long orientation of all the staff (many new, the project started in March). Promptly after the week training, I got sick. Really sick.  Down and out for four days (totally fine now). I attribute it partly to being completely exhausted from the past year of travel and constant deadlines. The second attribution is to my realization as I laid in bed for days was that this was not a job for me.

So, I’ve resigned.

I will complete my current contracAcacia tree and hay harverstt which is until mid December and then I will go back to the cue of the unemployed. I thought long and hard about the consequences of my decision. It is creating more implementation delays for a project that could not afford any more. It has put my colleagues in an awkward position to know that I will not be returning and in some cases has added to their work load.  My finances would have been completely stabilized. My resume/CV would have been blossomed by completing a two-year assignment in a development context. I would have learned so much and seen so many new things and met new friends.  What was interesting was my clarity about my decision. I love my colleagues, all who have taken this decision very kindly. I like the idea of living in Addis for two years and seeing more of Africa.

Yet, when I sat on a couch, closed my eyes, and put the job in my hands and sat still and reflected, my blood pressure increased and I physically felt the dissonance. I can train, and I am a good trainer. But that is not where I derive my energy. I see capacity development as a process that is done with participants allowing for knowledge to emerge and being able to be flexible enough to respond to those needs. This project, and its ambitious goals, suggests to me that there is not a lot of flexibility. I don’t have any judgements about whether the capacity building approach will achieve its goals, for I really don’t know. I just know I am not the right person for this model.

After talking to a few of my lifelines in the US and UK, I took the bold step and shared it with my truly wonderful employers on the ninth day of employment. It seemed only right to tell them as soon as possible so they could start planning. They were generous enough to let me finish my contract and I am thrilled to be able to contribute to their efforts.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Anais Nin

Week #1 in NYC

I created this blog initially two years ago on my way to Nicaragua for my doctoral research. Since then I have posted once a year. Fingers crossed, I will be more faithful in 2016. So much is happening, all good. Before I share about my first week in NYC, I wanted to give a little context about the title of my blog. I borrowed the phrase from a song by Mary Gauthier that resonated with me at the time, and still provides me spiritual guidance as I move forward with my work with UN Women.

What an amazing and exciting first week in NYC. Anne Stephens (my colleague and friend from the Cairns Institute at James Cook University in North Queensland, Australia)  and I arrived on the red-eye and successfully got access to our new apartment in ‘uptown’ Manhattan (Inwood). The flat is lovely and perfect for our needs. It belongs to an academic from the Fashion Institute of Technology who has taken a consulting contract elsewhere. Its only a one bedroom on the sixth floor (thank goodness for elevators) with laundry facilities in the basement, but we have managed to set it up as a two bedroom using the large living room as a bedroom/meeting space. The weather has been perfect (although for the Australian from the tropics, it is a bit chilly).

anne unwomen march

Day one (the day we arrived) we attended a launch event No one left behind: Evaluation SDGs with an equity-focused and gender-responsive lens  of the UN Sustainable Development Goals hosted by multiple organizing agencies (i.e. UN Women, UNICEF). It wasn’t a huge group maybe 50-60 practitioners, Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs, aka non-profits/charities) staff, evaluators, academics, and parliamentarians (aka politicians).  It was a sponge afternoon, as I absorbed a whole new culture full of  acronyms, faces, accents, organizations and global realities. For me, the room represented activists who earnestly hoped to contribute to a better world that works for everyone.

UN HIgh Level Panel

Days two and three were Technical Seminars: “Towards an Equity-focused and Gender-responsive framework to evaluate the SDGs”, which included panels of experts and then break out sessions to deepen the conversations. I captured some of the comments from the panelists (apologies for typos and grammatical faux pas I was using a cell phone to post) and posted them on Twitter. What really became profoundly evident, was that Anne’s Feminist Systems Thinking theoretical framework that she had created for her PhD dissertation back in 2009, was now poised to support the SDGs ideals of leaving ‘no one left behind’. The conversations and presentations we listened to that afternoon indicated an increased focus (and hopefully action) on dealing with complexity and using a systems approach to tackle the worlds must pernicious problems. Ideals of using both quantitative and qualitative data to tell the story (select appropriate method/ologies), prioritize the inclusion of marginalized populations (voices from the margins), the obligation of every country to fight climate change (incorporate the environment within research/actions), insist on gender equality as a clear means to mitigate social and economic inequality worldwide (adopt a gender sensitive approach) to achieve the SDGs by 2030 through sustainable social change (undertake research/action that promotes plurally desirable and sustainable social change) (Stephens, 2011).

This first afternoon also reinforced for Anne and me that my dissertation research (which used Anne’s theoretical framework and operationalized it into a method/tool) had an opportunity to support the SDGs in building local capacity to significantly contribute to the evaluation process and allow for emergence of new information, indicators and data.

We were grateful for the short two-hour length of the launch event, it gave us time to catch up with the rotation of the earth as compared to the speed of our spinning minds! I was asleep before I even undressed. 

Day four, Friday, we were asked to present our project to the EvalGender+ international group to inform them of our work, request support to identify existing evaluations we could pilot our work with and receive feedback on our concept note.

Ellen UN Plaza March

The group was comprised of many of the folks we had met over the past three days, so it made me less nervous than anticipated. Our presentation was short, 1/2 hour, and seemed to be received well. Questions were asked that were helpful as we move forward with our work providing feedback about our terminology, our intended audiences (i.e. evaluation and non evaluation specialists), and time-frames.

This weekend we are catching up on sleep, exploring our local shopping options and reading, reading, reading.

Stephens, A. (2011). Feminist Systems Thinking: The effectiveness of practicing the principles. Paper presented at the 55th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, joining with KSS2011 International Symposium for Knowledge and Systems Sciences, Hull, UK.

The Universe is Confusing Me

‘It’ can’t fail me now. I’ve relied on it blindly all my life. It saved me for going into the back room with the neighbourhood boys to play ‘doctor’. It was there again as I stood over my friend’s death bed negotiating with his lover to not  place our loved one on a pointless ventilator. It helped me pack my bags when I moved to Europe the first time leaving all family and friends behind. It clearly was involved with my leap of faith to apply for a scholarship in England to begin a PhD program even though my mother who I was a caregiver for was still alive. Three years later, it again participated in my successful application to move to a dangerous Central American country to begin a five-year job full of possibilities and risk.

What is ‘it’ that is that is wobbling me to the core, questioning its track record full of success and progress? My intuition.  This life affirming tool has always helped me make the right choices at the right time, telling me that all will work out for the best which in they always have. But now, in these last six months, it has bounced in and out of my home court sometimes providing familiar clarity, but to be honest, most recently providing me with consistent doubt about decisions I am making. Has ‘it’ abandoned for someone new? Have I used up its ‘juju’ and now I am on my own?  I am not sure whether to be miffed or scared. Or both.

The ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for consciousreasoning: we shall allow our intuition to guide us.

~Oxford Dictionary2017_214129568741880_572453563_n4 Continue reading