Sustainability (and such)

Launch of our new nonprofit: GLOBAL SPARK!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on August 6, 2012

New Nonprofit to Aid in Issues of Equity, Education, and Environment

(August 6, 2012)   Global Spark, a new nonprofit organization with three founders in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, is now working with higher education and other charitable groups.  And, as the first step of its soft launch, the organization’s website is now live:

“After teaching and researching together as academics, we’ve formed Global Spark to help other groups that need hard and soft skills,” said Deniz Zeynep Leuenberger, Ph.D. and public administration faculty member at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. “And, with this launch, we’re also looking for other practitioners, scholars, and community members to help us offer a strong menu of services.”

Leuenberger is joined by Danielle Newton, M.F.A. and English faculty at Bellevue College, and Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. and Communication Studies faculty at Bridgewater State College.  Coming from three diverse fields, the three leaders have decades of successful non-profit, educational, and corporate experience in:

  • Strategic planning and capacity building
  • Marketing and communications
  • Grantwriting and fundraising
  • Program evaluation, data collection and analysis
  • Community development, outreach, and mentorship

“One of our first goals is to start sharing information, so we’re sending out a call to students and others who might like to be published on our blog,” says Newton.  “Our website offers many ‘spaces’ for people to discuss issues and for plans to move forward.”

Awaiting formal designation of its 501C3 status in early fall 2012, the organization is already working with American Indian tribal colleges as well as educational and charitable organizations in China, the United Arab Emirates, and across the United States of America.  For instance, the group is aiding with food security initiatives in tribal colleges such as the Oneida Nation’s exemplary program.

“We are also a landing space for resources such as fact sheets and links for others,” Van Leuven noted.  “Right now, groups can find how-to tools for grants development, marketing, and organizational planning.”

For more information, contact Global Spark at, via Twitter  (@Global_Spark), and Facebook.

Posted in Corporate Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Development, Marketing, Public Administration, Social media, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Food and independence at the tribal level

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 15, 2012

(Part of the continuing Food 2.0 series)

One of the brightest success stories about American food security comes from the Sovereign Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and I’m honored to be part of that tribe’s upcoming Food Sovereignty Workshop.  I already love how this program combines the best of so many public campaigns, such as buying locally, supporting small businesses, and increasing sustainability efforts while connecting with the land.

Simply, the Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems works to integrate “local food and resources, improve the community’s quality of food, educate the people of diet-related health risks, increase employment and youth opportunities, and assist in bringing all people closer together”.  This replicable model centers on recovering food systems that don’t destroy social and natural communities with specifics such as:  visioning and planning programs; importance of cultural considerations; “how-to” operate canneries and raise poultry and (Black Angus) cattle; plus garden and greenhouse production.  In addition to this nuts-and-bolts approach, the Oneida tribe considers food an important part of a community that regularly celebrates, harvests, and gives thanks.

Want second helpings?  You can find more info via social media that dovetails with your personal interests.  For instance, the #SahelCrisis Twitter group spotlights an ongoing African drought and famine for millions who live on what they can grow.  Within the gender lens, there are increasing links between women’s economic opportunity and access to safe, affordable food. And technology is an important tool to assess a situation before interceding:  at a global level, food security is often analyzed using VAM (Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping) methods that include GIS, satellite imagery, and Personal Digital Assistants. And, of course, you can always tie sustainability and food security to other social justice issues of poverty, economics, trade, inequality, public policy, and immigration.

While my research has focused on food security within American Indian tribal colleges, such actions are part of the larger findings about culture and sustainability.  The 2008 economic and financial crisis caused an eruption of hunger within this country that continues to escalate for nearly 49 million people, which is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population and more than 1 in five children. It’s a part of our community that needs more research, corporate involvement, and volunteers.  To that end, I’ll post more in early August after the workshop and please let me know if you’d like to join!

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Talking about my generation…Let’s be Thunder Buddies!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 6, 2012

Over the last week I’ve seen/read two surprisingly optimistic explorations of generational values and ethics. One,Ted, is the raunchy box-office champ about a generation that can’t give up its childhood security; the other, When We Argued All Night, is a sweeping new novel by Alice Mattison that also deals with human strengths and limitations. I recommend them both because they remind us about the messiness of loving each other.

I think we’re all identified by our birth dates, many times by hardships. My parents were part of the Veterans – born between 1922 and 1943 – who survived the Great Depression and World War II. If you’re a Boomer like me (born between 1943-1960), you’re shaped by social causes and politics such as Watergate and the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  After that, there’s a huge shift in lifestyles and values, mainly because Gen X-ers  (1960-1980) and those in Gen Y (1980-2000) are defined by media and doting parents. As “Ted” points out, it’s easier to wax nostalgically about nachos and video games than ancient events. And then there’s Generation Z, aka the Net/Virtual  Generation of those born since 2001, who will be online curators with no memories of life before globalization and technology. These are tricky times, when we all sit next to each other at the workplace as well as the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Which makes the value of “Ted”  much more than just the newer version of “Beavis and Butthead”.  It’s a quick yet piercing look at culture-cling that allows us to root for characters despite frat boy stereotypes. Even though we already know how the film will end, Seth MacFarlane surprises us with his razor-sharp lens that maturity is meant to be delayed, at least by the alphabet generations. We don’t actually meet the snowplow parents who enabled a child-centered culture with talking teddy bears, but we do sense that hard work and discipline are fluid goals that are up for grabs.

And When We Argued All Night looks even closer at our personal development and social structures.  In focusing on a 65-year friendship of two men, Mattison helps readers mediate issues of aging as well as coming of age. Her words soar beyond Joan Didion’s finality of loneliness or Marilynne Robinson’s tales of survival amidst transience; instead, we are enmeshed in watching how, despite everything, we share common paths amidst lifelong struggles of heredity and happenstance.

P.S.  From a marketing standpoint, Generations X, Y, and Z have little brand loyalty and a hands-on presence that ignores broadcast spin.  It’s breathtaking to watch them identify as cynical, independent, and entitled entrepreneurs within today’s climate of global warming and economic chaos. And it’s a popular theme:  The New Yorker just ran a column by Elizabeth Kolbert about how spoiled rotten kids are turning into “adultesence” who expect elders to take our their garbage and tie their shoes.  While I don’t agree with all generalities, I do think it’s important we acknowledge our differences:  Here’s a chart that sets out the influencers, core values, and attributes of each group – and after you see “Ted” and read When We Argued All Night – let’s talk about how both work as social commentaries that condemn and celebrate demographics.  Oh, and let’s sing the Thunder Buddy song…together.

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GOTTA HAVE FAITH: and other review sites

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 20, 2012

A colleague recently asked if I’d ever posted anything to, one of those consumer review sites that’s a Word of Mouth force for potential employees.  It was new to me…check out the description:

“Glassdoor is your free inside look at jobs and companies.  Salary details, company reviews, and interview questions – all posted anonymously by employees and job seekers.”

Wow, who wouldn’t want to check out an insider’s view of how things REALLY are?   What great potential, this powerful, transparent tool! A quick spin through reviews about this particular employer turned up strong themes BUT such sites can, unfortunately, feature more fake reviews than genuine.  What, you say?  You mean every word you say? 

So who to believe? Over the last year, some firms have artificially boosted their scores by using bots or reputation management groups to post fake-positive reviews.  Some employers are literally demanding that workers write glowing posts to negate the biased, negative ones.  How genuine, indeed. (And doesn’t management have bigger things to worry about than what’s posted online?)

In the past, I’ve been mostly amused by such sites, mainly because I’ve seen how academics and students brush off – or buy into – weirdly stilted posts in  Especially horrific reviews are dated just before final exams, a prime time for students to insult everything from the physical appearance to the teaching styles of their instructors.  Nope, I wasn’t immune—One student who visited me after graduating confessed to writing a mediocre review of my class just before a final paper was due that he hadn’t started.  “It was just easier to vent on Ratemyprofessor than start my project,” he said, while also asking me to write a recommendation.  And I know all the games they play, because I play them, too.

“When did students start thinking it’s okay to always hide behind snarky reviews, especially when there are lots of opportunities for anonymous feedback during a semester?” one friend pondered.  And maybe that’s the point. Why hide online? After all, can’t people see through the artificially gleaming reviews as well as the beyond-belief horrible ones? This falls under a fact of credibility and appropriate response: if the content isn’t trustworthy, consumers will turn elsewhere. And how did this online trend pick up so much steam, to now slowly face deflation?  Side note:  If you’re offering any product or service, include possible responses to online reviews within your crisis comm plan.  While less valid than Wikipedia (cough, cough), online reviews can help spot trends that need addressing.

I suppose I see anonymous and sometimes fake reviews as symptomatic of a larger problem: whether in our work environments or in classroom settings, if we can’t talk face-to-face, if we’ve lost the desire and ability to negotiate – to talk out – what’s working and what’s not working between us, how do we find relief for the real dilemmas that face us? How can we communicate toward solutions to our problems if we don’t communicateBut I’ll wait for something more…

As George Michael might say:  Life isn’t a Journey lyric.  You don’t always get it any way you want it.  Because I got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith.

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NCA (and Orlando), here I come!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 15, 2012

Woot!   I am going to the annual National Communication Association Conference for a panel discussion entitled “COMMunities of Tomorrow:  At the Intersection of Physical and Digital Spaces”.  The panel abstract:  Digital and physical spaces combine to create communities in surprising ways. This panel investigates communities that exist at the intersection of digital and physical spaces. Papers theorize about the ways that these communities might impact the future of our interactions in physical spaces that are becoming increasingly digital and digital spaces that create opportunities for engagement in built space. 

Sounds a bit surreal, yes?  Panelists will talk about flash mobs, urban community development and mapping, and even Second Life.  I’m especially interested in surreal activism, especially the communities of today’s tech savvy activists involved in Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements.  Here’s my paper abstract:

Digital technology and built spaces have given rise to unique COMMunities as groups such as #OccupyWallStreet stream messages to global audiences from tent cities and community centers. This ongoing study of communication and #OWS since its September 17, 2011, inception examines how divergent technologies (such as social and traditional media) between multiple audiences (including government, grassroots activists, and locals) are creating and sustaining communities of spirit and engagement. By co-opting previously corporate practices and harnessing technological shifts, movement leaders have tweeted and posted 24/7 for each other as well the sprawling #OWS infrastructure. This strategic agitation, unity of effort, and collaborative action has plugged a New York movement into a global arena that questions previous models of leadership and communication amidst the blending of cyber – and physical – spaces.

P.S.  On a personal note, visiting Disney World has been on my bucket list since I worked at Disneyland in the early 1970’s and recruiters argued about why I should move to Orlando for the bigger, brighter experience.  One pitch that stayed:  Disney World’s Main Street is built true-to-life, while Disneyland’s is 5/8th scale.   And, while I would certainly never imply that I ever want to attend conferences based on the location, I should also add that the next ASPA conference is in New Orleans.

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Sustainability screenage and me!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 5, 2012

Consider me PUMPED!   Next Wednesday, June 13, I’ll be the featured speaker for a discussion via Telepresence with employees of the U.S. General Services Administration.  And let me tell you: It’s exciting to step outside the higher ed bubble of free and low-cost technologies (such as Voicethread) and experience how larger public and private groups are reducing carbon footprints while having conversations in the cloud.  Here’s the abstract, and if you have any thoughts to add, I’d love to include them!

From Conservation to Ecology to Sustainability — A Brief History of the Global Conversation

The shift from a top-down view of the natural world to a consensus view has changed the way we think about the planet and how we define and discuss the environment, with conversations now tied to poverty, equity, governance and business in ways that were unimaginable just a few short decades ago.

Research shows that in recent years, public policies and messages about sustainability have shifted from normative, top-down mandates to more “democratic,” horizontally-derived and consensus-driven discussions.  The discourse about environmental issues has switched from a focus on programming (such as recycling and conservation) to more complex debates about the scientific process, how we know what’s happening in complicated natural systems, and how we should respond to known and suspected ecological dynamics.

How we talk about (and reimagine) natural systems matters and the mental models we use certainly influence how we respond to changes in global conditions.  From the conservation efforts of the early 20th century, to the ecological movements of 1970’s through today’s sustainability initiatives, this session will cover a brief history of humanity’s relationship to the environment as it conversations continually to adapt to meet cycles of awareness, scientific discovery and public debate.  Specifically, we will focus on identifying case studies for sustainability, best practices and strategies for culture and leadership change, and an interactive Q and A session to share ideas and next steps.

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Food to Grow On 2.0

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on May 6, 2012

NOW I can see the need for sabbaticals:  Taking this break from teaching is recharging my brain and helping me build a better teaching philosophy and research agenda.   When I start again in the fall, it will be with renewed confidence and optimism about how to best juggle that slippery slope of delivering valuable content versus student-managed curriculum. 

To that end, I’m sharpening my immediate research agenda to focus on issues of sustainability and hunger.  As many of you know, I wrote a book (Food to Grow On, 1988) about healthy eating when my children were little; from there, I stepped away from an Earth Mother phase and am now looking at the effects of and solutions to empty stomachs in higher education.  Specifically, I’m studying how colleges (especially impoverished tribal colleges) are dealing with the hidden hunger amidst dorms and dining halls.

Yes, the grim statistics of “Third World” countries are happening here.  While the UN has global school feeding campaigns tying food to education and sustainable development, our own students are struggling with low food security.  The recession, increased competition for work-study positions, and fewer services/resources are accelerating the rates of hungry students and diminishing our learning communities as a whole.  And we’re talking beyond “typical” broke-student behavior of living off noodles and grubbing for free snacks; several colleges, including a four-year institution in Montana, report increased student attendance at lectures because those refreshments are their one-meal-a-day. Alternately, at a community college in Washington State, faculty approached the college foundation to ask what to do with students who come to them and say they are too hungry to do their work.

So, how is your college dealing with this?  Is Student Services taking the lead with a food closet?  Are individual faculty and staff donating peanut butter and apples in scattered efforts across campus?  Do you have ways to tie into local food producers?  And how are you dealing with student shame and privacy issues amidst perceived greater needs?

Working in education is a way of public service, and the essence of public service is to solve the issues that ail our society. My goal then for this effort is to develop enough strong research to satisfy grant funders who in turn may help colleges alleviate the issue of campus hunger with one-time or long-term funding.  Nourishing our college communities is nurturing our communities, our workforce, our future. Join me, and Global Spark, in this effort, in any capacity you’d like to join.

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Go Green and Go Home!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on April 28, 2012

As part of Sustainability Week at Bridgewater State University, I recently spoke about how public officials are grappling with activists about sustainability issues; specifically, I look at how administrators are talking with Occupy Wall Street and Tar Sands Action protestors.  These two movements are toppling traditional, top-down mandates by combining face-to-face interactions with tagging-based media and live-streaming.  The result:  A myriad of social justice issues, including sustainability, are molded into cross-issue discourse that is reshaping guerrilla government and leadership.  This presentation – “Go Green and Go Home!  How Public Officials and Activists are Grappling about Sustainability” – is presented in through different presentation formats.

Part One:  A Sliderocket overview of the project

Part Two:  A Slideshare Ignite talk about research findings

Part Three:  A Prezi about the broader discussion

(References are posted below)


As always, any good research project is collaborative!  Thanks to those who’ve helped with thoughts and insights, including; Deniz Leuenberger at Bridgewater State University; Danielle Newton at Global Spark; Amoshaun Toft at the University of Washington;   and Amanda Ravenhill and Ryan Kushner , who continue to be catalytic leaders about how activism can enhance sustainability goals.  To that end, I thank you all for lighting the torch that ignites public imaginations.  And, to the inspiring MPA Cohort 2 at Presidio Graduate School, I hope you continue your passion in changing the landscape of how public administrators can enhance social justice actions!

For future reading….

Blewit, J. (2008).  Understanding sustainable development.  London:  Earthscan.

della Porta, D., & Tarrow, S. (2005).  Transnational Protest and Global Activism.  New York:  Rowman & Littlefield.

Delli Carpini, M. (2004).  “Meditating democratic engagement:  The impact of communications on citizens’ involvement in political and civic life.”  Handbook of Political Communication Research.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hiwaki, K. (2011.)  Culture and Economics in the Global Community:  A Framework for Socioeconomic Development.

O’Leary: R.  (2006).  The Ethics of Dissent:  Managing Guerrilla Government. Washington D.C.:  CQ Press.

Roseland, M. (2005).  Toward Sustainable Communities:  Resources for Citizens and Their Governments.  British Columbia:  New Society.

Sandoval, C.  (2000).  Methodology of the Oppressed.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Scheufele, D. (2002).  Examining differential gains from mass media and their implications for participatory behavior.”  Communication Research. 29(1).

Spitzer, R. (1993).  Media and Public Policy, Westport, CT:  Praeger

Tocqueville, A (1835/1973). Democracy in America.  New York:  Washington Square Press.

Turke, S. (April 22, 2012).  Opinion: The Flight from Conversation.”  New York Times.

Wilkins, K.  (2000).  “The role of media in public disengagement from political life.”  Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.  44(4).

Wuthnow, R. (2002).  “The United States”  Bridging the privileged and the marginalized? “  Democracies in Flux:  The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

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Water, transparently

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on March 30, 2012

It’s been quite a news month for water activists, given the celebratory news that 89% of the world’s population had access to safe water sources at the end of 2010.  THIS IS HUGE – that over 2 billion people have improved water supplies since 1990 –and, according to the United Nations and WHO, this also means that the  Millennium Development target on water had been reached ahead of schedule.

WAIT…Not so fast.  Some activists declare that these numbers are as flimsy as bubbles, implying that the simple installation of pipes automatically ensures the flow of clean water. “I worry that a report like this makes us feel the problem is on the way to being solved when, in fact, it is the exact opposite,” said Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, and former senior U.N. advisor on water.

It’s a story worth watching, especially as people nervously watch so many MDG’s not met by the target year of 2015.   It makes me nervous, because any spin that’s put on such critical world issues might cause potential activists/funders/key leaders to think it’s resolved.   Another weird fact:  Where’s the U.S. media interest in such stories?

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A great conference teaser: WAGL 2012

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on March 25, 2012

Good thing that I took off teaching for this semester:  Turns out that starting a nonprofit is much more time/energy intensive than I’d have dreamed!  But it’s so, so worthwhile, to learn all the best practices as well as legalities that keep charities focused on missions rather than profits.  And, while my Twitter and Facebook feeds have given some updates about our work with the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana, and the Women as Global Leaders conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, here’s an interesting promotional video for the WAGL conference.  We’ve all been to conferences, and know the spin about value of networks and information sharing, but I think this is an interesting image-only depiction of sustainability (a conference theme), culture, and leadership in the Middle East.  Thoughts?

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