In 2011, I journeyed to west Africa as one of a cohort of graduate scholars invited by the State Department and the University of Ghana. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in aerospace systems engineering from the University of Maryland, I returned to Hawaii Pacific University to study sustainable development leadership. The Master of Arts in Global Leadership and Sustainable Development is designed to prepare students to lead change initiatives in a globalizing world which is increasingly characterized by chaos, complexity, and change.
Students learn to simultaneously search for the underlying causes of global environmental, economic and social problems, and at the same time learn how to design and lead responses that produce sustainable outcomes for the current and future generations. With 42 credits to complete plus a capstone project, the program can be completed in 2-years, but only if the student earns 12-credits each of the two summers.
Deciding to finish as soon as possible, I was encouraged to apply for the summer leadership program, Emerging Leadership Environment and Extraction Program (E-LEEP), by Program Director, Dr. Art Whatley, who recognized my passion for human improvement and community accomplishments towards more sustainable world. Only leadership ready environmental graduate students were invited to apply for the program, organized by Duquesne University’s School of Leadership and Professional Advancement through an innovative partnership with the US State Department and hosted by the University of Ghana in Accra. With only 24-hour notice to make up my mind, and after months of waiting and interviews, I was selected to be a participant.
I was going to Africa to learn, travel, consult on sustainable development!
The E-LEEP program was a two-year exchange agreement between the United States and Ghana. In 2010, 20 Ghanaian scholars traveled to the U.S. to learn about mountain-top removal in West Virginia, associated with the extraction of fossil fuels. The subsequent year, 22 American graduate fellows visited Ghana to exchange best-practices, policies and perspectives from a developed industrial nation. The ELEEP program brought together Ghanaians and Americans to discover new solutions to wicked problems—the accumulation of centuries of mining industry practices.
Once in Ghana, the U.S. scholars attended more than 60 presentations at the University of Ghana. Following that orientation, we went on a round-the-country bus trip and visited Ghana’s most important mines, wells, fisheries, forests, aquaculture, hydro-power plant and other cultural sites to familiarize themselves with on the ground realities. The visits gave us an in-depth view of issues affecting the country and its sustainability. After returning to Accra, the capital city, scholars split into five groups, each focused on a different extractive industry. The five areas were: gold mining, fisheries, forests, power and fossil fuels.
The five subject matter groups were instructed to develop policy briefs, based on one of the sectors, and present their findings. We again received dozens of top-level briefings from government ministers and commissioners to build relevance and analytical depth. All of the scholars learned how Ghanaians were using socially responsible, environmentally innovative and collaborative leadership strategies, within the context of the projects. We also learned about the wicked problems and challenges policy-makers and communities were addressing. Each group researched and authored policy briefs and presented their findings and recommendations to government ministries and agencies.
I led one of the five subject matter groups. My colleagues were Nastassja Noell, Kiazi Malonga and Brian Gross. We were focused on the industrial activity of mining. These briefs included recommendations for incorporating sustainable development into the gold mining industry. At the closing briefing, ministers, commissioners, staff, media, faculty and students were present to receive our team findings and recommendations. All five teams offered innovations in policy and fresh perspectives that could benefit Ghana, should they be adopted.
The mining group, earned special recognition for proposing a sustainable development model for extraction industries. The team was recognized for coming up with the most far-reaching policy brief of E-LEEP. Our presentation was well-received because we were encouraged to speak candidly and then given the opportunity to speak directly to representatives from government, ministers, academia, industry leaders and Ghanaian media. “We can as easily be sustainable, as act irresponsibly toward future generations, we said.”
My contributions to Hawaii are laser focused on resilience and community development. I’ve facilitated change initiatives in faith networks, universities, government and businesses, in order to encourage humans to think holistically and develop stewardship behaviors in everyone’s everyday activities. I’m optimistic about the future of human development and adaptation. We, not me, could be the vision for collaborating and thriving in a world of volatility.