IPG Newsletter April 2019
The weather is warming up and some people might be dreaming of summer vacations, but we are still going strong and focused on the Spring semester! In the newsletter below, you'll get a sneak peak at some of the things we've accomplished over the last few months and a few we're still working on. Thanks for reading!
Tidings: From the Director
Selling Books while Salvaging Lives: Civic and Social Entrepreneurship on the Cliff’s Edge
One of the great privileges of my role as Director of the Institute is to work with talented individuals as they pursue vital and often pathbreaking work. I was reminded of this fact recently when I visited a portion of a once vacant warehouse in which one of our research faculty has established an online bookselling business to assist individuals with various difficulties as they seek to return to the workforce. This is not a for-profit operation or a profit center for the nonprofit organization with which our colleague has partnered, as he has designed and implemented this initiative. Instead, this effort’s aspiration and key metric is to serve as a site of hope, employment and opportunity for people who have too often found themselves devoid of all of these.
Given the fact that the project is not being developed foremost to make money, but instead, ultimately for non-economic purposes, it is important to emphasize that our colleague nonetheless has had to learn the ins and outs of the used book business and knows that the operation must break even in the long run to survive. There is no magic source of funds that will sustain it as a money-losing effort, whatever its benefits to those it serves and employs. Acquiring the needed knowledge of the business has included many challenges that might be involved with any such start-up: finding affordable space for the operation; obtaining the necessary computer equipment and software and learning how to use the latter; locating a sufficient quality and quantity of shelves; designing the system by which books can be processed; signing up with, and meeting the requirements of, major vendors, including Amazon; obtaining sources of books; and, not least, doing all of this on a less than shoe-string budget. All of this would make good fodder for texts on social entrepreneurship or indeed, treatments of entrepreneurship without that qualifying modifier.
The things I observed and learned during my visit illustrate the audacity and acumen with which such initiatives must proceed as well as the moral grit and determination necessary to persist in them when success is not guaranteed. More, our colleague, and the nonprofit he works to assist, must press ahead with creativity and perseverance in the face of social and cultural assumptions that persistently question why they are bothering. Many Americans also imagine, alternatively, that such efforts could magically occur otherwise via the market place in the absence of the stubborn struggles of those involved.
On the day of my visit one employee, a young woman in perhaps her mid-20s, was sorting, cataloging and registering books in the operation’s computer system for shelving and possible sale. Another staff member, a young man and skilled woodworker, had devised an ingenious device to move books among the tall shelves for storage and was working to assemble shelves that had been acquired from a library in Alabama for a low price. To obtain those shelves, our colleague had to locate them, purchase them at auction and find a way to pick them up and transport them back to Virginia. He did so, and with a rental truck, two volunteers, including our colleague, spent more than 16 hours on a weekend driving to and from Alabama and disassembling the units and loading them into the truck to ensure that the fledgling operation had decent space for its burgeoning collection. A third employee was out on the day I stopped by, picking up a load of books from a local library. To do so he drove a much-used passenger van that our colleague had found a way to make operable. While this vehicle has so far served the effort well, its driver has learned that he can carry only so many books per trip, since it was not designed for such heavy cargo.
During my visit, my colleague and I discussed how the operation acquired a forklift that has helped employees overcome the difficulty of a relatively high loading dock and the need to move hefty materials on a regular basis. This machine had been abandoned by another nonprofit entity in a warehouse some 75 miles away and it had not run in some time, but my colleague found a way to transport it to its present location and to ensure its repair. He overcame the challenges I have outlined with ingenuity while spending few funds. The forklift now daily moves well-used boxes overflowing with donated books within the warehouse. It also carts them to the tractor-trailer trucks of a firm that accept palettes of boxed books that cannot be sold at retail, but that can be recycled for cents on the pound. Finally, the forklift moves volumes into the warehouse when they arrive from regular donation providers.
I also learned that three of the operation’s four employees (one was out ill) were fulfilling productive roles despite their inability to secure jobs in the market place. Some were fighting opioid addiction and the criminal records and individual and family chaos that narcotic abuse visits on those who fall prey to it. Some had been victims of spouse or partner abuse and returned daily to a shelter protecting them from the danger of additional violence. All of the staff members were seeking to overcome poverty, addiction or social and psychological as well as physical abuse, lack of education or job skills. Our colleague’s book operation represented a way forward for each that enabled them to work as they made their way through the harsh realities in which all found themselves. No one working with the initiative, least of all my Institute colleague, was under any illusion that all would now be smooth sailing for these four individuals. Recovering drug abusers recidivate at very high rates and individuals who have borne abuse of various sorts often have a difficult time recovering from those experiences. Nonetheless, these staff members all were working and productively engaged in a common enterprise and to a person, those I met expressed enthusiasm and pride concerning their respective roles in this project.
This entrepreneurial effort illustrates four broader points or themes that many in our society today often forget or simply denigrate, typically on ideological grounds. First, and most basically, this project is founded on the premise that the bookselling operation’s employees are not alone responsible for their circumstances or for addressing them. This initiative does not assume that society, as many who accept our nation’s now dominant imaginary do, consists of an amalgam of autonomous and autarkic actors. Rather, its organizers view those it employs as Americans and members of a common body politic. My colleague also sees each as a human being with specific capabilities and frailties. For these, if for no other reasons, this initiative assumes that these individuals deserve opportunities to address their life challenges and to move forward if they can. One may take this position without idealizing either the people involved or their chances for success. This stance in effect says, “We will do what we can and without illusions and with our hands out to assist you, if you will summon your own efforts and do all you can to push ahead as well. Together, our partnership allows you an improved opportunity to succeed and society the many benefits of that outcome. We stand ready to work with you toward that end, without knowing how all of this will end up.”
Second, this initiative, and its meagre budget, could not and would not have occurred without public support. Our colleague is providing his vision, energy and knowledge to the nonprofit that has embraced this effort as a result of a government grant. That aid, symbolically at least, affirms society’s commitment to this vulnerable population, however tentatively, during a time when its members are often ignored, or, when acknowledged, are disparaged as “not worth” assisting. Likewise, and simultaneously, this effort is occurring as many elected leaders and Americans profess to believe that no such initiatives are necessary or that they are pernicious, since they will breed “dependence” or displace market efforts to assist the population. But the market plainly does not employ these people or train them, and this and related projects do not breed dependence, so much as confidence and capacity among some share of those they serve that perhaps, just perhaps, the adversities they confront can be overcome. Absent this initiative and the limited public (government) support that has underpinned it, it is not clear that those working at the warehouse on the day of my visit would have been employed anywhere, let alone in so supportive a setting.
Third, this effort is obviously drawing on the skills and capacities of a university entity’s scholars to work to catalyze individual and social change at the micro-scale. That is, this operation would not be occurring but for the involvement of the Institute and one of its research faculty. It is also clear that those now engaged have been provided an opportunity structure by the formidable knowledge, determination and energy brought by that university partner. Nonetheless, this project also points up how complicated traversing the boundaries between town and gown can be, even as it illustrates how much can be accomplished when such occurs, with all realizing the risks and relative fragility of their shared claim. No one involved in this effort is Pollyannish or cocksure of its success, but all are doing all they can to make it work for the benefit of those whose lives it holds promise to assist. The risks are high, but so too are the potential rewards for those who can summon the determination and adaptive capacity to bear them.
Finally, whether this initiative succeeds or fails in the long pull, it already has demonstrated the complex array of capabilities that must be mobilized to address wicked social problems and to join disparate ways of knowing, even as it daily shatters myths and stereotypes about those who are poor and afflicted. The individuals leading this project must confront a welter of technical concerns every day. But successfully attending to those does not ensure their larger and principal aspiration, which is to secure opportunities for those they seek to assist to reorient their lives. This initiative makes plain that such can only occur with individual and social learning, and meaningful work can play only a part, albeit a significant part, in such change.
Those seeking to make this project successful not only must address its aims amidst all else they daily confront to provide opportunities to those involved, but also in the face of meta-and macro-scale attitudes held by too many people that can only be characterized as scornful and animated by a graceless ignorance. It is therefore all the more admirable and notable that they are pressing ahead with this special initiative. It represents a notable example of what our society and university should be doing and I am delighted that the Institute is playing a formative role in it.
Nada Berrada successfully defended her Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) PhD dissertation proposal entitled “Young People Getting By: Contextualizing Everyday Practices of Agency among Moroccan Youth” on March 20, 2019. Special thanks to her advisory committee members Professor Zhange Ni, Department of Religion and Culture, Professor Suchitra Samanta, Department of Sociology and Professor Laura Zanotti, Department of Political Science. Professor Max Stephenson, School of Public and International Affairs and the Director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance serves as chair of Nada’s advisory committee. Special congratulations to Nada!
Dayo Omosa successfully defended his dissertation on February 20th. Thanks to Associate Professor Kim Niewolny in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, Professor Max Stephenson Jr. in the School of Public and International Affairs and the Institute for Policy and Governance and Assistant Professor James Anderson in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at the University of Georgia, for serving on his advisory committee. Assistant Professor Thomas Archibald in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education served as his committee chair. The title of his dissertation was "Towards Defining and Mainstreaming - Made in Africa Evaluation.”
Total Action for Progress (TAP)
Long-time VTIPG partner, Total Action for Progress (TAP), has launched a new social enterprise collecting donations of used books to help support the financial needs of its programs, provide employment opportunities in the community and encourage reading. VTIPG faculty member David Moore, who works closely with TAP providing management and technical assistance for training, employment and child care programs says of the initiative, “It is great to see TAP spread its wings into this exciting new area. While TAP has generous grant support from many governmental and philanthropic sources, most people don’t understand how restricted those funds are. By developing its own income streams, TAP is going to be able to generate more unrestricted funds to help quickly address needs in the community as they arise and to sustain programs when grant funds dry up.”
Reusing and recirculating books isn’t only good for business, it is good for the environment. Craig Balzer of Balzer and Associates, a TAP Board member, says “Nobody wants to put a book in the trash can—and they shouldn’t, especially if they can donate it to a worthy organization like TAP. There is no reason for a book to ever end up in the landfill.”
And the program will create jobs for individuals that need a second chance says John D’Orazio, President & CEO of RGC Resources, another TAP Board member. “This new initiative is not just about earning income to support TAP’s many programs, but it will also help TAP create jobs in the community to help clients in its programs gain work experience and skills. To help make donating as easy as possible, TAP is willing to come to people’s homes to pick up larger donations. You just have to call or email to schedule a pickup.”
TAP is also setting up a space in their main office for TAP staff to bring clients to get free books for their families. Information about the TAP Books donation program, including donation drop off locations, is available on TAP’s website at https://tapintohope.org/books/.
SPIA Awards 2019
Outstanding Second-year Graduate Student in Urban and Regional Planning
Lara Nagle has excelled academically while in the MURP program, earning a perfect grade point average in her course work. She has also emerged as a leader in her assistantship work at the Institute for Policy and Governance where she has played a key role in shaping the success of the Community Change Collaborative. Lara is naturally curious, imaginative and thoughtful and these qualities, along with her intelligence, suggest she will do well in whatever roles she may undertake across her future career.
Virginia Chapter of American Planning Association Certificate Award: Graduate Students for professional promise
Beng Abella-Lipsey is something of a polymath. She came to SPIA and VTIPG as an already accomplished professional in a different field and has taken every advantage of our curriculum and the opportunities it has afforded her to reflect and to consider her future career path. In an important sense, the MURP program has been an opportunity for Beng to engage in a personal form of praxis. Her intellectual gifts, imagination and maturity suggest she will use this opportunity well and will continue to enjoy strong professional success.
Marsha Ritzdorf Award for Best Student Paper
Elizabeth “Beth” Olberding served as a Master’s International Peace Corps program volunteer in Costa Rica as an integral part of her Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree program. While on Peace Corps service, Beth developed a thesis proposal to explore that concern for the largest native group in Costa Rica, the Bribri, as well as for the Ngäbes people. She obtained committee and IRB approval for her effort and arranged the difficult travel necessary to the two homeland areas of these groups to conduct interviews with relevant stakeholders. Her resulting outstanding study provided a rich lens into the attitudes of these two indigenous peoples to the program and the reasons for them. Beth’s well-organized and argued thesis also carefully illuminated the government and World Bank assumptions and actions related to REDD + that had denied these indigenous peoples their rights under Costa Rican law and that country’s constitution throughout the 10-year history of the initiative.
Nathan Corso has been awarded the Government and International Affairs (GIA) Founding Faculty Award for Graduating Student demonstrating ideals of community engagement, public service, and social justice. Professor Max Stephenson, SPIA and VTIPG, served as Chair of Nathan's Master's Capstone paper and Advisory Committee. Nathan also completed Peace Corps service in China as a part of his MPIA curriculum in the Peace Corps’ Master’s International Program. He has accepted a position with the United States Customs and Immigration Service in San Francisco, California. Congratulations, Nathan!
The Dialogue on Race Summer Summit
Theresa Williamson, Ph.D. Executive Director of Catalytic Communities and RioOnWatch
The Community Change Collaborative (CCC) welcomed Theresa for a day of lectures, discussion, and the Trustees Without Borders podcast program on January 24, 2019. Dr. Williamson is a city planner and founder and executive director of Catalytic Communities (CatComm), an NGO working since 2000 in support of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s favelas. In addition to fostering strategic networking, training and communications support on behalf of community organizers, CatComm has become known for advocating a community-controlled asset-based development approach to informal settlements, through Favela Community Land Trusts and CatComm’s Sustainable Favela Network. Theresa is an outspoken, respected advocate for the recognition of favelas’ heritage status and their residents’ right to be fully served as equal citizens. Dr. Williamson also serves as Editor for RioOnWatch, a grassroots media and reporting network providing more comprehensive and accurate coverage about Rio’s favelas.
Vanessa Guerra and Lehi Dowell facilitated the Forum conversation.
Andy Morikawa curated audio of the event for the Trustees Without Borders podcast, available here.
A recording of Dr. Williamson’s afternoon lecture, “Realizing Favelas As a Sustainable Model via Insurgent Planning: Rethinking Our Assumptions in Sustainable Development,” is available here.
You can also access the lecture slides here: www.bit.ly/VTfavelatalk
This visit made possible by the generous support of the VT Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series and the VT Institute for Policy and Governance.
The 2019 Dialogue on Race Winter Summit
The 2019 Dialogue on Race Winter Summit was held on Saturday, January 26th with nearly 200 attendees. The day began with ‘Coffee with a Cop’ which invited community members to join local law enforcement officers for a coffee and offered the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns, and increase understanding between law enforcement and the public. Following Coffee with a Cop, the event featured a keynote conversation between Penny Franklin (the founder of the Dialogue on Race) and Dr. Menah Pratt Clark (Virginia Tech’sVice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity) as well as a panel discussion highlighting organizations that work to promote racial justice including the New Mountain Climbers and the NAACP. Audience members had the opportunity to raise questions and voice concerns during a question-and-answer session. Following the morning plenary, attendees gathered for lunch before breaking into small groups for an afternoon action planning session.
The afternoon session included facilitated small group sessions. During this session, facilitators encouraged attendees to engage in collective reflection on the morning plenary before inviting them to create a personal action plan highlighting the actions they intend to take to end racism in the community. After some time for self-reflection and action planning, attendees partnered to discuss their plans and further develop their strategies, focusing specifically on ways they might use their strengths and vulnerabilities to build relationships that challenge racism.
Several colleagues affiliated with IPG (incuding IPG Director Max Stephenson, IPG Graduate Research Assistant Lara Nagle, and Community Change Collaborative members Catherine Cotrupi, Garland Mason and Neda Moayerian) took part in the event, either by serving on the planning group, by volunteering to facilitate the small group sessions, or by engaging as a participant in the Dialogue. IPG’s Senior Fellow, Andy Morikawa, serves on the steering group for the Dialogue on Race and was instrumental in encouraging IPG colleagues’ participation.
Conference & Print Representation
In March, IPG’s Senior Research Associate David Moore visited Kunming, China as a part of a State Department Professional Fellows Program overseen by the National Committee for US-China Relations. This program allows Fellows from nonprofits in China to visit the US for a month of peer learning and cultural exchange addressing their interests in the nonprofit sector. Their US hosts then participate in a two-week return visit for continued exchange and learning. During his trip to China, Mr. Moore visited with Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, several universities and local NGOs and governmental agencies providing family services and early childhood education.
National Planning Conference
Emma Martin is a graduate student studying urban and regional planning at Virginia Tech, and is actively involved in the Community Change Collaborative (CCC). She entered a creative placemaking writing competition through the Urban Design & Preservation Division and the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking with the two pieces below. These pieces of art were originally painted by Emma in an effort to discourage the dumping of waste in the drains. Emma's submission was one of the twelve finalists. As such, her artwork will be featured on their online platforms and in a publication at the National Planning Conference.
15th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
Jake Keyel, a Doctoral Candidate in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs, has had a paper accepted for the 15th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. The conference is May 16-18 at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He will be presenting a paper titled “The Country is Completely Destroyed: Qualitative Interviewing with Displaced Persons and Secondary Traumatic Stress." It draws on his work with resettled Iraqi refugees and explores his process of navigating conducting interviews with individuals who have experienced trauma. He will also chair the session, which is titled "Countering Violence." Jake also presented an abstract at the American Association of Geographers in early April. His abstract, "Critical Qualitative Methodology: Marshalling Normative Tools to Ground Analysis and Condemnation of State Violence Causing Displacement," centers around resettled Iraqi refugees in the United States.
Re: Reflections and explorations: Essays on politics, public policy, and governance
We thought you might be interested to know how our two volumes of the Reflections and explorations essay series is going! The second volume has more than 2,000 downloads in the short time it has been available, while the original volume has more than 11,000 downloads! Congratulations to our many fine authors.
A Place to Call Home
Ramya Ramanath, a former Planning, Governance, and Globalization student who completed her Ph.D. in 2005 (Professor Max Stephenson served on her advisory committee), has published a new and very interesting book on Women as Agents of Change in Mumbai! In this ethnographic field study, Dr. Ramanath, Associate Professor at DePaul University, examines the lives of women displaced by slum clearance and relocated to the largest slum resettlement site in Asia. Check out more information on this book on the publisher's website.
Staff Spotlight: Pam Starkey
Pam Starkey recently joined the VT community as a Pre-Award Associate for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, housed at the Institute and learning the ropes of research administration with guidance and support from Mary Beth Dunkenburger, IPG’s Associate Director and Research Faculty. Pam is excited to be back in an academic environment and her hometown.
A graduate of Christopher Newport University’s Honors Program with a double major in English and Political Science, Pam is finding the research and outreach programs performed by faculty of the School of Public and International Affairs particularly interesting. CNU’s Honor Program is interdisciplinary in character, so learning more about faculty’s various interests and expertise is truly exciting while also reminiscent of her previous coursework. Pam brings with her a variety of administrative abilities gained from compliance roles in the private sector. She looks forward to using her editing and proofreading skills, as well as her knack for interpreting and applying guidelines, to help faculty secure funding to pursue their goals and exemplify their areas of expertise.
With her spouse’s recent retirement from military service, Pam is thrilled to be back in the Blue Ridge around family. Having four sisters as VT graduates, Pam now feels she is fulfilling her Hokie duties and ‘falling in-line’ with her sisterhood. She enjoys anything outdoors, especially if animals are involved. The newest member of her family is a bulldog, Sophia. At six months old, Sophia is on track to pursuing Good Canine Citizenship before embarking on further training as a therapy dog. Pam hopes they will be successful and volunteer at assisted living communities, in reading programs, and anything else where they feel a difference could be made.
A commentary series authored by VTIPG Director Max Stephenson
February 25: Of Freedom and Dark, Cruel Lies
February 11: Facets of a Diamond
January 14, 2019: “Borderline Insanity,” Modernity and Democratic Possibility
RE: REFLECTIONS & EXPLORATIONS
Online essay series hosted by VTIPG, written by graduate students across the University to reflect on their ongoing work in governance and policy related concerns.