With the mission to create sustainable, grassroots development projects through student exchanges, the Global Peace Exchange has a two-fold effect: local communities would receive benefit at the grassroots level and students would also be exposed to opportunities in the humanitarian field. The hope is that students achieve a shared understanding of the common human struggle to survive, a moral and ethical education about the issues affecting a particular area or culture, and the hope to aid in the building of a new “civilization” of humanity. I was able to get some insight from the Global Peace Exchange's director Alison Giest regarding her involvement with the organization and what it means to give
What is your role in the organization and how long have you been involved? What are your responsibilities?
For this academic year August 2011 till now I have been co-Director. This is my third year with the organization. Currently, I:
oversee a 15 student-volunteer board to manage our finances and on-campus activity, coordinate with partners in developing countries (this year Uganda, Rwanda, Nepal) so that we can implement our projects, manage and train16 students in research and intern positions so they are ready for their exchange, as well as develop alumni and faculty networks.
Why did you get involved with the Global Peace Exchange? What was your inspiration?
I have always been interested in international issues, and in college, I began to become interested in 'development'. GPE providesa critical approach to understanding humanitarian issues and foreign aid in terms of their sensitivity and concern for sustainability.
How does the organization measure its impact?
This year we are initiating a monitoring and evaluation research project to qualitatively and quantitatively review our projects. This will entail talking to different community members/students and looking at improvements in test scores and or attendance.
What makes the Global Peace Exchange different from other organizations with student exchange service projects?
GPE gives students the opportunity to to engage directly with a community in project design and throughout implementation. Our exchanges are also longer than typical student service projects (2-3 months) and we attempt to return to the same locations year after year, demonstrating commitment and dedication to specific communities. We aim to provide sustainable solutions to communities that empower them to make change in their own lives after we leave.
In your experience with the Global Peace Exchange, what was the best advice that you received or lesson that you learned along the way?
I have learned to admit failure and when something is beyond our capacity. This is difficult when you are attempting to 'sell' your projects to donors, but this recognition is the only way to truly improve and grow your work.
What’s the greatest challenge that the organization faces today?
As a student organization and student continually graduating, it is difficult to ensure consistent leadership. We are working on institutionalizing the student within our university as well as developing specific guidelines for future leaders to follow in terms of position roles, contacts, timelines to follow and advice. Passing on the things we learn along the way tends to be difficult.
Five years from now, where do you envision the Global Peace Exchange? What legacy do you want to leave?
I hope that GPE will grow in scale, implementing more projects with all the contacts we have gained and providing more students the opportunity to have this experience. I believe that solidifying our large alumni network is a means to doing this and securing funds, as our alumni continue in the development field making their own contacts.
Could you share with us a memorable story or experience you've gained from your time with GPE?
Being able to give students the opportunities to have these service experience is extremely rewarding. One student particularly, we had trouble placing at first. After several months we found a perfect location fit given her interest and experience. She is ecstatic and this opportunity has driven her to integrate service into many areas her life: her blogging and artwork. Knowing that these experiences will change the way the students look at the world and interact with it, is one of the most incredible feelings.
How can one person make a difference in the world?
One person can make a difference by telling his or her story and all that he or she has learned to as many people as possible.
What advice do you give to other potential social entrepreneurs?
Learning how to communicate effectively with the people you work with, ensuring that your vision is the same is critical. This allows you to communicate a consistent message as many people as possible.
On a personal level, what does giving mean to you?
Giving means empowering. It is important to give things that make sustainable change. Thus you can give and share a skill, a story, or an experience.
Click here to donate to the Global Peace Exchange!
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