The Story So Far + Next Steps

Hey blogosphere!  Margaret here from UC Berkeley.  I wanted to share my perspective on the recent meeting we had at Stanford.  It was the first time all of us had gotten together, and as Sherol said, our goal was to unify our vision.  I have to admit, up until this meeting I hadn’t been quite on board with the project.  I was pretty skeptical; I thought we were too vague, our goals too broadly defined.  However, far from being vague, every person seemed to be voicing the same overall hopes and motives.  Each person expressed the same desire to break the mold and pursue meaningful action without totally abandoning our academic selves.  Some of my initial fears proved partially true: our goals are broad.  However, I’m no longer afraid of this aspect of the project.  Instead, I think that’s one of its strengths– we won’t be able to narrow our goals until we actually go to Africa and forge connections with our colleagues there.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Below you’ll find not a blow-by-blow account of our meeting, but a summary of why we are doing what we are doing– and how we’re going to get it done.

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As a graduate student, you often feel pressure to conform to the conventional academic “track”—dissertation, postdoc, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, retirement, in that order and with no diversions.  Sometimes you feel like there really aren’t any other options; in order to continue to do what you love, you need to do it the way it’s always been done.  If you don’t like it, you can quit.

But we are tired of thinking inside the box.  We are tired of waiting for success to make us too comfortable to explore other options.  We are tired of trying to change the system from within the system.

So a group of us got together to think about a third option—one that would allow us to use our talents and passions, but also to give back to a world that has given us so much. We had almost nothing in common save a few mutual friendships and chance geographic proximity.  Our ages, backgrounds, personalities, and fields of study are completely different.  However, we had all started to think about our work in the context of global scholarship: how can we bridge the gap between academia’s ivory tower and the gritty realism of the world outside it?

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Last Sunday, all of us—about a dozen doctoral students, postdocs, and recent PhDs—met in person for the first time to discuss the Academic Bridges project and clarify our vision.  Though many different ideas were shared, we came out of that meeting with a newfound unity of purpose, concrete goals, and some next steps.  We came up with two big questions:

  1. How does higher education fit into the development of Africa?
  2. How do we as academics, with our specific expertise, fit into the picture?

We don’t have answers for these questions yet, but we are committed to seeking them.  Part of that commitment means rejecting “armchair activism”—it’s beyond arrogant to assume that we can even begin to address these ideas without seeing for ourselves how these issues are affecting real people in the real world.  Instead, our goals are to make in-person connections with our colleagues abroad, and to learn about how we might make ourselves useful within a global context.

This is what the Academic Bridges project is about, at its heart: connecting people to the resources they need.  Forming networks of communication across oceans and continents.  Increasing understanding and collaboration between American and African higher education.  And, like its name, building academic bridges between vastly different cultures and systems, trying to figure out where we fit.

We still want to document our project and show it to the world, and we still hope to start a global conversation about other options for academics.  However, we’ve come to realize that this project is much, much bigger than simply making a movie.  In that light, we’ve decided to change our fundraising strategy a little bit.  Right now, we don’t know exactly what awaits us in Africa.  We don’t even know if a documentary will be the best way to tell our story.  As of tomorrow, we’re taking down our Kickstarter page; we don’t think this platform is quite appropriate for us yet, since we don’t even know what we will find as we start out on what is likely to be a very long journey.  For those who’ve already supported us: THANK YOU!  We will relaunch the Kickstarter once we have a better idea of what our finished product will look like, and we hope you remember us then.

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As a result of our new focus, we’ve decided to pursue a two-part fundraising strategy.  We are partnering with the online philanthropy aid IndieGoGo, which will allow us to raise unrestricted funds for travel to South Africa.  We will set a goal (TBA) that will allow us to send our entire team, including our videographers from MasterWerks.  If we don’t meet our goal, we’ll send whoever we can.  What’s important is that we find the story that isn’t being told: the connection between American academics and African development.  After we have a better idea of how to tell that story, we’ll relaunch our Kickstarter to cover production costs (again, TBA depending on what we find in Africa).

We hope that you’ll consider being a part of this project, either by donating through IndieGoGo or by sharing insight on how we can best focus our visit.  We’ll be blogging soon about more specific ways of how you can help us—stay tuned!

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7 responses to “The Story So Far + Next Steps

  1. Great summary, Margaret!

    Chris from UCSD and I are video chatting with a colleague of mine tomorrow morning, a professor at UCSB. He’s quite experienced with Kickstarter, so after speaking with him, we will move forward with reconstructing our approach towards crowd funding.

    Chris and Ethan, since they’ve talked about it, will spearhead the effort.

    I *do* think that we will have a documentary at the end of this trip, but it will be one of many outcomes from this adventure.

  2. Margaret, after looking back on this summary of our collective visions, I think you totally nailed it! Especially with two main questions that seem to be on the minds of all the members – what can/will higher ed change in Africa, and what can/will we do with our individual talents and passions to fit into this change, if necessary? I’m still not sure, but I’m definitely excited to find out!

  3. @bmb, I think in addition to “what can/will higher ed change in Africa?”… we’re looking at… “How is higher ed impacting Africa?”… And “how our individual talents fit into changing higher ed in America” is as primary a pursuit.

  4. My name is kevin from nairobi a student nurse and i also run a small Ngo that deals in music,arts and technology projects.
    Hey this is a nice article…plus great project on kickstarter *beam* *beam* .Moving on…
    How does higher education fit into the development of Africa?
    My take is we should just come up together and organize a group like the one you had with your colleges,emcees,photographers,p.hd students and artists to discuss these ideas,presentations and seminars that the general public can benefit from…Probably in Nairobi,Sierra leone,Mozambique and South Africa once a month is cool…
    How do we as academics, with our specific expertise, fit into the picture?
    Through these symposiums solutions to problems for the common youths can be presented so that the common people(lay youths,men and women) can learn a thing or two….
    Plus i think the indiegogo platform is more cool than kickstarter since it can be organized from Africa and the fact that you can also involve team members from Africa who don’t need to have a strong US presence…our destiny is shared.
    Many Thanks.

  5. @Kevin!… Wow, great to hear from you. Thanks for connecting with us. I’m trying to finish up school right now (so, I’m not as free as I’d like), but the group of us are willing to try new things and building lasting collaborations.

    Please stay in touch! and send us information about your NGO 🙂

  6. @Kevin , Thanks so much for connecting with us and for your thoughts and intereted in our project! Yes we are definitely interested in building lasting collaborations with folks like yourself. I would be interested in learning more about your NGO. Thanks for your suggestions about indiegogo. It is inspiring that you are doing this work while in nursing school. Please keep in touch!

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