Hey, Peace Corps! Join MOOC While You Still Can!

Tom Friedman’s column this morning in The New York Times  is entitled “Revolution Hits the Universities” and focuses on online learning but adds a new twist. He writes about MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and Coursera, which Friedman has written about before, as well as edX, the nonprofit MOOC M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building.open-online-courses1

One paragraph in particular caught my attention. Friedman writes that today only a small percentage complete all the work in an online course, and even they still tend to be from the middle and upper classes of their societies, but then he writes, “I am convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic. Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.”

Well, why doesn’t the Peace Corps do something ‘creative’ and move ahead with a partnership with edX of Harvard and M.I.T. and connect NOW the thousands of PCVs who are already teaching in the developing world? Start now to link their classrooms in villages around the world with online access to our professors back home.

For years I have written that the Peace Corps should go ‘into business’ with One Laptop per Child and give each PCV a low-cost, low-power laptop that the Volunteer would leave behind, much like our famous old booklockers, but the various leaderships (since about 1996) at the  PC/HQ wouldn’t lead or listen.

Now with this advance in technology, we have (again!) the chance to bring the finest minds in America into our Peace Corps classrooms in the developing world. I can’t believe that this wouldn’t appeal to the edX to join up with a government agency like the Peace Corps.

As Rafael Reif, the president of M.I.T., is quoted by Friedman, “There is a new world unfolding and everyone will have to adapt.”

Well, if the Peace Corps doesn’t adapt to what is happening around them, no nation in the world will want our Volunteers! They won’t need them.

You heard it here first!


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  • About saving the Peace Corps: A crash course

    Coyne wrote: “Well, if the Peace Corps doesn’t adapt to what is happening around them, no nation in the world will want our Volunteers! They won’t need them. You heard it here first!”

    Jeeze, John, sparring with you on this subject goes back what, about two generations now?

    Anyway, to some of your younger readers, they heard it here first. But John, for just one example, Tom Hebert has been writing about the lack of change within the PC and the reasons and solutions thereof, for damn decades. And as you know, I spent much wasted time working in DC on all this. And in more recent times, Rajeev Goyal has been in there working hard — and more effectively than I — for a changed Peace Corps. There are several others.

    All this because the PC simply doesn’t work! It has not been a player anywhere for decades. Now it seems to be a brew-pot for trouble.

    Yes, it’s a tragic, Kennedy-era relic, an “inconsequential jewel box” of a government agency and it probably will never again amount to anything except for those few of us who really prosper once we hit the ground, somehow. And bring it all home.

    It’s clear that if the PC can’t deal with rape, medical support, early terminations, insufficient numbers of PCVs in the field, and there’s little or no effort to establish a constituency on Capitol Hill to get a budget that will allow the PC to rise to a consequential number — like Wiggins’ original goal of 25,000 PCVs in the field — and it’s also enabled by mostly irrelevant RPCV veteran organizations which never, ever, take on the PC Establishment in a consistent and competent opposition, nothing will ever, ever change.

    And what are the mechanics of change that would help at the PC?

    Well, they have zero to do with getting an RPCV in as director, that cannot help. Or getting invited to an inaugural parade. Was that a wake-up call announcing PC’s irrelevancy or what?

    People, Peace Corps didn’t deserve to be in that parade!

    And as for a RPCV director, Peace Corps requires that the PC’s brother-in-law be its director. Or somesuch political insider. That closeness to the White House was part of the Peace Corps original conditions, the original intent, the conjunction of factors that brought it about, the first causes of the Peace Corps. Ignore those and the Peace Corps dies. Which it mostly has. Does the Peace Corps still have a pulse?

    Given that, a dreamy article by Tom Friedman with yet another opportunity for America to do something both creative and substantial out in the world cannot bring the Peace Corps into anything. And your wonderful work supporting the Third Goal of the Peace Corps can have no effect on Goals One, that is, doing overseas what it is supposed to do and mostly doesn’t. The Third Goal, brining it home, simply cannot change things over there.

    What would help?

    Well, when CRV (the Committee of Returned Volunteers) hung a Viet Cong flag out of a window on a top floor of PC Headquarters so that Richard Nixon at the White House could see it, well, hell, that’s a model, that’s the kind of Trigger Event needed to get some sort of Peace Corps change going at the White House. Because it will never come from within the Peace Corps building.

    So, what else do we know about organizational change? Well, here’s a short crash course:

    Years ago, I put together this list about the process, what works and what doesn’t. I began with the original design of the Peace Corps, which was successful because it had these four essentials for success present at its birth:

    •Organizational independence
    •Commitment to a big and bold start
    •Commitment to a fast start
    •A leader of national size, to give the program lift.

    Then comes a Cost/Benefit Analysis (source: TVA Power Systems Analyst Doug Walters):
    1. Being Transparent

    2. What Do You Do With a Dead Moose?
    (Values Clarification/Outcomes — Google the above phrase.)
    3. Where’s the hurt, exactly? Problem Identification

    4. A Spin Around the Block: the Scoping, Pilot Review

    5. What’s Wrong With This Story? Key Variables and Uncertainties

    6. Commit to Action

    7. Decision Time

    Then comes these characteristics of organizational change (Rosabeth Moss Kanter):
    1. Departure from tradition
    2. A crisis or galvanizing event
    3. Strategic decisions
    4. Individual “prime movers”
    5. Action vehicles.

    Followed by six principles of change (Selman and Dibianca):
    1. Challenge the limits
    2. Clarify the intention
    3. Create a vision
    4. Define the purpose
    5. Deal with the organizational condition
    6. Commit to expanded levels of integrity, trust and responsibility.

    Then to Eight Stages in Transformations (Noel Tichy—see more below):
    1. Trigger events
    2. Felt need for change
    3. Creating a vision
    4. Mobilizing commitment
    5. Institutionalizing change
    6. Disengaging from the past
    7. Connecting to the new
    8. New beginnings and frustrations
    Epilogue: History repeats itself.

    Then three phases of “shifting a paradigm” which change agents need to be aware of, deal with:
    1. Denial/Ignoring the need for a new concept
    2. Ridicule/negative action against the new idea
    3. Acceptance and integration of new concept as the “norm”

    Elsewhere, organizational theorist Noel Tichy has said the change process must include:

    • Creative destruction
    • Reweaving the social fabric, and
    • Motivating people.

    But there are Endings which requires us to:
    • Disengage from the past
    • Disidentify with the past
    • Deal with disenchantment
    • Create a motivating vision, and then we must
    • Mobilize commitment.

    So finally, according to Tichy, there can be New Beginnings:
    • Inner realignment
    • New scripts, and
    • New energy.

    Here are my own elements of successful change/transformation:
    (1) Simplicity
    (2) Risk-taking
    (3) Something to believe in
    (4) A leadership with real commitment to real change, and a re-birth
    (5) Speed.

    That’s what I have experienced to be true about change in an organization.

    If it happens, it will be an adventure but will require collaborative discipline. And since the early days of the Peace Corps, there has been no such discipline anywhere near the Peace Corps. Except in your Third Goal work. Which like I said, cannot bring about a rebirth of the Peace Corps.

    But it could start with some of your younger readers who give a damn, learn the game, and are willing to put in the required time.

    Tom Hebert, Nigeria 1962-64

  • I am still getting used to becoming an old man- crabby and stubborn. Sometimes though, these weaknesses become strengths. In the case of the Peace Corps, Washington D.C. is the biggest part of the problem. As noted in “Peace Corps Chronology; 1961-2010,” the D.C. staff has become a bloated lap dog. Cut its staff back to 1961 levels (based upon support vs. volunteer ratio). Forget expecting Washington to reinvent anything! Tell your senators exactly what you expect: that Washington support its volunteers who are the backbone of the organization.

    We can’t make the world safer but we can prepare unarmed volunteers to defend themselves. Expand training to 16 weeks and include self-defense. Hand out tiny canisters of peper spray to all vounteers to be worn around their necks with a tiny shrill whislte like any camper might have.

    Post all local crime rates against volunteers on the PC web site. Also include maps for regions of each nation. Volunteers should know what is happening. They are not volunteering for war. If some nations’ programs get no volunteers, that’s the way it goes. For the brave, who decide to go to a dangerous nation, they should not be obligated to accepting an assignment in a particularly dangerous region.

    Let D.C. continue to screen for criminal records and health issues but afterwards, post all applicants’ vitas on the web for the host nations. Let them hire. For instance, if a nation wants alternative energy sources (like Peru and Bolivia have been doing for decades) send them what they want- Americans who know something about windmills. The creation of an American style grid is too expensive. We no longer need all these pencil-necks in D.C. deciding much. They get in the way.

    Some nations have unbelievable ET rates because they suck! If the rate is over 60%- stop blaming the victim (the volunteer), close the program. We can’t change everything.

  • P.S. During the last 15 years, Peace Corps service has been increasingly measured by grants. Grant writing should only be part of the formula if it will fund some sort of self-sustaining effort. Teaching people to hold out their hand is not much of an education.

  • @Tom Herbert

    About your so-called “trigger event’ – what exactly did that accomplish? It became further justification for Nixon to emasculate the agency, bury it in ACTION and hope it died on the vine.

    As for the organizational gobbledegook…..You are years too late..the agency has been reformatted and Volunteers are being assigned to NGOs. i don’t like it, but I don’t amuse myself with romantic notions from more than fifty years ago.

    The problems with the agency were apparent when I served 63-65. Primarily, the problem was the failure to collect and evaluate experience from the field and to build programs based on that reality. What you are dreaming about is the early days of Peace Corps whose organization resembled an institutionalized political campaign….all the madness and romance and success. But then, you have to “govern”, and it is far more difficult and a hell of a lot less fun.

    We are both in absolute agreement that the Third Goal works and that John and Marian have been the vanguard for those efforts.

    @ John,
    What you are proposing is a public-private partnership and the big question is where does the money come from? I have requested the budget for the Peace Corps Response-Global Health Volunteer public private partnership. So far, there has been not a response. But I really don’t want Peace Corps to allow itself to become the cash cow for smaller NGOs.

    Finally, the RPCV community has no power to impact change by throwing out suggestions, however well reasoned. There have been three advocacy groups in the last few years, that have been successful: “More Peace Corps;” “First Response Action” and
    “Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers.” ( I don’t think I have the name of the last group correct..I will check.) It takes a lot of work and these RPCVs have done a fantastic job.

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