Have you seen the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? It focuses on disadvantaged/deserving families in the USA, people who are really active in the community, who’ve suffered a bereavement in the military and so on. The prize is not bad: The family get a new house built from the ground up in one week (the old house is demolished and the new house built on the same site). This extraordinary event could only happen with (a) TV funding (b) great planning and (c) an enormous level of community volunteer support. Sometimes several hundred people are involved in the construction. In trying to understand the root of this community based behaviour, the concept of ‘Service Learning’ which is fairly common across the US, helps to explain this.
US Trip: About 3 years ago, I visited two Jesuit universities in the USA, in Denver and Connecticut. Both of them had active Service Learning programmes. It works like this. Students spend time working on selected community projects and this time is ‘credited’ i.e. it’s a formal part of their 3rd level learning experience. Service Learning is not confined to Jesuit schools, but is widespread across the US at both 2nd and 3rd level. While the concept is understood, Service Learning is not integrated into the educational system in Ireland. But that’s slowly changing. A recent example helps to bring the point alive.
Cold Nights: The annual Belvedere College sleep out for the homeless is a tough stint. Just before Christmas I went into town to see my son Cillian who was part of the programme this year. We stood talking at the corner of Abbey Street and O’ Connell Street. The first 10 minutes or so were grand; after 20 minutes I was colder than Tarzan on a trip to Winnipeg. We walked up and down just to generate a bit of heat. The collection was going well. Earlier that evening, one man having asked a couple of questions about how the money would be used, wrote a cheque for €1,000. People give according to their means, so 50 cent from a child can be a hugely generous gesture. In 3 days, over €127K was collected with the money going directly to the Fr. Peter McVerry SJ Trust. Every penny provides food and shelter for the homeless (in an organization with zero administration costs, this amount goes a long way). Current students sleep in O’Connell Street. Ex Belvedere Boys sleep outside the Bank of Ireland in College Green – so the Service Learning tradition continues even after they leave. And many of the teachers stay out on the collection too, ‘leading by doing’. An inscription in the college reads: ‘If not you who, if not now, when?’
In all, Cillian spent 56 hours on the street, 24 of those without food. On the 2nd night a homeless guy stole his sleeping bag from the tent erected beside the Spire, which was somewhat ironic. So he spent a cold night there and a lot of the Christmas holidays catching up on lost sleep. I’m usually rabbiting on about how much my kids underperform so it’s nice to have something positive to report (it’s the rebirth of hope!).
Management Development: All interesting of course, but how does it apply to the world of work? In times of tight budgets, the amount of money available for management development is limited. Training time and € expenditure is often focused on an organizations high achievers, understandable in a time of austerity. But there is also a strong case for focusing on the ‘magnificent middle’ – the group below the top who also need to develop skills and usually want to progress in your organization.
Win: Win: Win: If you have a nose for it, there are tremendous development opportunities in the community and not-for-profit sector. Many community organizations need support in areas like finance/accounting, human resources, project management, public relations and marketing. These can provide great development opportunities for staff in professional organizations. Becoming involved in complex projects gives people exposure, sometimes in areas where commercial organization would be reluctant to ‘let them loose’. Corporate Social Responsibility projects that have an explicit development angle therefore provide a win for participating staff, a win for the community organization and a win for the employer.
70: 20:10: Those of us who have been around the training space since Louis Walsh was in short trousers, often refer to the 70:20:10 principle i.e. 70% of the value of learning typically takes place on the job, 20% through coaching and 10% through formal education programmes. Are you maximizing that 70%? We may not like everything imported from the US (the Whopper springs to mind) but Service Learning is a solid idea and should be part of your developmental jigsaw. To steal a title from Jack Canfield, this is Chicken Soup for the Soul. Check it out.
PS All too serious? A mate of mine recently admitted to being addicted to brake fluid. When I quizzed him on it, he reckoned he could stop at any time!
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