YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

Dear CCPA Friends:

Earlier this year, I shared my reflections about teaching philanthropy. Earlier this month, the students in my course Philanthropy and Civil Society completed their grantmaking. I wanted to share with you the blog post below, written by Brittany Berke, a student in the class, who reflected on what she learned over the course of the semester. The post is a wonderful example of the power of philanthropy and the promise of engaged teaching in preparing students for lives of active citizenship. After all, that’s what teaching at CCPA is all about, right? Happy reading!

David Campbell

YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

“I am a philanthropist”. The first line of the first video we were assigned to watch for this class.  Remember this: four months ago, we entered Room 260 as a group of strangers. We introduced ourselves by name and year and explained why we were taking the class. For some it was a Scholars requirement, for others a PPL course, for others just a way to fill a gen ed. I would like to use this blog post to recognize how far we’ve come and what we’ve truly achieved.

On the first day of class, I explained that I was involved in theatre and hoped to approach philanthropy through that lens. I then proceeded to not do that at all this semester. Instead, I opened my mind to a whole new realm of possibilities. I soaked in everything that every one of you said and know that I’ve become a more informed and fulfilled person for it. I hope that you can all say the same.  We are philanthropists through our growth, improvement, and open-mindedness.

During our class today, as we deliberated how to finally divide our $10,000, I was struck by the power and integrity in the room. Some of the thoughts shared include: “Expansion is critical”, “Can our money have a better direct impact on other organizations?”, “This request has a sense of urgency to it” and “They gave us numbers for a reason”. These are questions and ideas we would not and could not have articulated back in January. This class has provided us with a new set of vocabulary and skills that most people our age don’t have, and that many people probably never will have. We are philanthropists through our understanding.

Some of us have expressed disappointment with our finalists; others have argued that we couldn’t have gone wrong in our decision-making. Many highly impressive and very deserving nonprofits applied for our grant, so did picking the “right” three really matter? I wholeheartedly answer yes to this question. Picking mattered, less because of our outcome, and more because of the remarkable process we struggled through together. We are philanthropists through our experience.

Once our decision was made, one class member mused “Maybe the heart won over the head for me a little bit” and many of us nodded in agreement. Will the heart always overpower the head, and if so did we waste our time debating between emotion and reason for so many weeks? I don’t think so. Heart alone would not have supported our process. Our hearts gave us passion. Our heads gave us values, criteria, and insight into the difference we could make with $10,000. Our reoccurring debate of Heart vs. Head perfectly sums up this class experience: we all came in with a lot of heart, but the heads we cultivated this semester led us to our final outcome. We are philanthropists through our hearts, heads, and the balance found between them.

Whether we gave money to your favorite organization or not, we should all be proud of what we have accomplished this semester. We have transformed from 25 strangers to 25 collaborative, understanding, and enlightened students. Please take a moment to consider how much you have changed personally and academically since our first day together in January. I would love to hear if any of you have specific memories from class that have defined this process for you, or rather that have helped this process to define you. Congratulations to everyone and thank you for this experience! We can now each say with pride and honesty “I am a philanthropist”.

Brittany Berke

Collaborating with MPA Alum Arsen Stepanyan in Armenia

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with MPA alum, Arsen Stepanyan (MPA 2014) in Yerevan, Armenia. The trip was made possible through the support of Muskie Mentor/Advisor Exchange (MAX) Program, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and implemented by IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board), Save the Children International’s Armenia Country Office and the Department of Public Administration at Yerevan State University. While Arsen was a student in the MPA program, we immediately hit it off and saw common interests. Arsen came into the program with many years of working in international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). During his time at CCPA, we spent afternoons in my office talking about topics from civil society legislation to NGO advocacy. Since he has graduated, we have keep up the communication and always intended to find ways to continue to work together.

armenia-local

Arsen is the Country Director for Save the Children. Save the Children has been working in Armenia for 20 years, delivering more than $50 million in relief and development programs to the most vulnerable children and their families. Save the Children focuses on health, education and social initiatives to improve basic conditions of the poorest populations in Armenia. It seeks to engage in community-based projects and capacity building of local partners and institutions.

Arsen being interviewed by Radio Liberty about NGO legislation in Armenia at the  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), March 25, 2015
Arsen being interviewed by Radio Liberty about NGO legislation in Armenia at the The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), March 25, 2015

My trip to Armenia was my first time in the country; and it was busy! Arsen planned talks, workshops, meetings, and cultural events in the capital city of Yerevan, where he is based. I visited two universities. At each university I gave a short talk titled “Issues of government and civil society interaction: Role of nonprofit managers.” The first was a Slavonic University. When I walked into the university building, it was during a 20 minute break in between classes and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville was blasting; this definitely made me smile. I spoke to a group of about 35 students packed into a small, but functional room. I liked Arsen’s strategy to this talk—these are language majors with seriously strong English skills and they were considering diplomacy work as careers in Armenia. He wants to snag them into the nonprofit sector. Prior to visiting Slavonic University, Arsen had described to me that he wanted more well-trained, and yes idealistic, nonprofit leaders who could rise up to be strong middle management in an organization like Save the Children. Students had great questions and might even had been convinced that public service in NGOs is a good option—and perhaps even consider coming to Binghamton’s MPA program.

At the second university, Yerevan State University, I met with the Director of its International Office and faculty from its MPA program. There, I gave the talk to about 40 students—both undergraduate and MPA students. Again, I was able to share information about Binghamton’s MPA program. Like Binghamton, Yerevan State University is also internationalizing. I spoke with faculty and students information about CCPA’s international research, highlighting our in-house international programs which include service learning and language immersion in Cusco, Peru; the study of contemporary China in Shenzhen, China and as well as developing programs for faculty and student exchanges in Colombia and Turkey.

Arsen and I also conducted two workshops. At The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we gave a workshop titled: “CSO legislation reform: Implications for international, humanitarian and social service organizations.” This was a great conversation among Armenian and international NGOs as well as UN agencies. In addition, we convened a group of Armenia NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation for a workshop titled “Developing CSO coalitions and networks (federations) for NGO legislation reform.” The workshop spurred a meaningful discussion among colleagues working in the NGO sector in Armenia. At the end of the workshop, a plan for a next meeting was set up to continue the conversation.

Arsen speaking to his fellow NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation March 25, 2015
Arsen speaking to his fellow NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation March 25, 2015

In addition to these events, I had the opportunity to meet many new colleagues. I met the Peace Corps Armenia Country Director and the Community and Youth Development Program Officer for coffee with Arsen. At the meeting, Arsen proposed many ideas to promote nonprofit leadership and a culture of volunteerism in Armenia. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer myself (Macadonia 2001; Bolivia 2002-2004), it was great to hear about what Peace Corps Armenia is doing with its Armenian counterparts—developing a culture of volunteerism was included and this was especially of interest to Arsen. In addition, I met Zhanna Harutyunyan (MPA graduate 2012). I had never met Zhanna but my colleagues here at CCPA have often spoken about her and her energy. Now I know why! She is doing amazing work at the United Nations Development Program as a Project Expert. Traveling often to the rural areas of Armenia, she is building capacity in women community leadership and encouraging women to run for local government office. She reminisced about her time at Binghamton, smiling about her fellow MPA students there and reflected on her fond memories of the coursework in the MPA program. This was really nice to hear. Arsen also, in many of our public speaking events, noted how enriched his career is as a result of the the Binghamton MPA program. He highlighted the program’s ability to take theory into practice in almost all of his classes—from the decision making associated with the Philanthropy Incubator classes to analyzing local government budgets in our Budgeting and Financial Management course. He highlighted that Binghamton MPA students are constantly in the field gaining skills and competencies to complement what is done the classroom.

In addition to these wonderful professional exchanges, I of course was exposed to Armenia. When Arsen was off being a nonprofit leader, he paired me up with a smart, helpful undergraduate volunteer for Save the Children. Mane Hovhannisyan, a linguistic major, accompanied me to almost all events, took pictures, translated for me when needed (often!), and even helped me pick out a gift for my sister and a rug for a friend!! She was a wonderful addition to my week. One of the cultural highlights was when I went to see with Mane the Armenian opera, Anoush, at the Armenian National Opera Theater.

I can report that my trip to Armenia was both professionally and personally rewarding. First, I saw our alum, Arsen Stepanyan, in his element. He has become a true nonprofit sector leader in Armenia, engaging his colleagues in sector reflection and pushing the sector to advocate for itself and the people it serves. Seeing our alum so closely ‘in the field’ makes me want to visit all of our alum! From down the street in Binghamton to Colombia and Armenia, I have been able to see what great work they are doing and hope to have the opportunity to visit many more. In addition, as a researcher who often focuses on Latin America;  going to Armenia indeed broadened my perspective on issues facing NGOs. NGO leaders in all contexts are working hard to better explain their role in social development. Not only was I able to share experiences from Latin America; but I too was able to learn from the experiences of Arsen and his colleagues. Just like when I return from Latin America after working with NGOs there, having returned Armenia, I am inspired by the work, commitment, and leadership of NGO leaders like Arsen and his colleagues.

Many thanks to Arsen for a wonderful week of collaboration! I look forward to working more with Arsen, with NGOs leaders from Armenia and beyond, and with further MPA alum!

In solidarity, Susan Appe

Assistant Professor
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs