"A Teen Free Zone"
And then I got a text message from Barry Joseph saying that he wanted to talk.
On December 23, Barry and I had a phone conversation about a new position at Global Kids that they were having trouble filling, one that combined virtual worlds, global issues, and youth development focused on at-risk teenagers. I told Barry that I was interested in the first two subjects, but "teenagers were not a population that I was interested in working with."
Okay, to be perfectly honest, the idea of working with teens filled me with feelings of nausea and dread.
Barry heard my concerns, which were obviously big ones for a potential employee at an organization called "Global Kids." He promised me that this position would focused on program management, external partner coordination, and public communications. Another staffer was being hired at the same time to do direct work with Global Kids teens. My office would effectively be a "teen free" zone.
With those reservations on the table, and not having many other options in front of me, I took a deep breath and accepted the position.
A Virtual International Criminal Court
My first project was an ambitious one: creating a virtual presence for the new International Criminal Court, the world's first global human rights court. I say with some modesty that I was the best person on the planet to create a virtual ICC. In the late 1990s, I was the communications director for the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a network of a thousand advocacy groups supporting this new tribunal. Since 2006, I had been actively involved in the burgeoning nonprofit community in Second Life, in 2007 authoring the report "Best Practices for Nonprofits in Virtual Worlds."
It was a really cool project to start my new job with. I began by planning a trip to the Hague, Netherlands with Barry, which was the headquarters of the International Criminal Court. In the Hague, we got the opportunity to present to ICC officials, meet with several NGOs covering the court, and even see a pre-trial proceeding in action. Returning from the trip, I began in earnest to hire developers to create a virtual space called " International Justice Center."
The actual launch of the Justice Center was one of the most amazing events I've ever been involved with. Global Kids had the honor of simulcasting into the Justice Commons a major human rights address by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which took place in the real world at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. On the same day, I moderated a discussion with the ICC Lead Prosecutor Jose Moreno Ocampo and former foreign minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy. It was quite the trifecta: Holding a virtual event with Kofi Annan, the lead ICC prosecutor and a major Canadian government official.
This launch turned out to be the highpoint of the International Justice Center. While we had a number of interesting events on the island, it never really took hold as a community in the way that we had hoped. Partly this was due to the fact that there was long delays in the first trial at the International Criminal Court, which would have been the obvious event to highlight on the virtual island. But also I believe that there wasn't a critical mass of activists, legal experts, students and educators to support a virtual justice center in Second Life. So after a year, we closed down the island.
Digging Into Science
Global Kids in early 2008 got connected with the Field Museum of Chicago, one of the largest natural history museums in the world. We realized after a couple of strategy meetings that we had similar interests in finding ways to engage our youth using digital media. After some brainstorming, we came up with "I Dig Science," a virtual fossil dig that brings together teens in New York City with teens in Chicago to learn about paleontology and culture through Second Life. The first version of I Dig Science was "I Dig Tanzania," taking place as a summer camp in July 2008.
While I was ostensibly the project coordinator, the reality is that this was such an innovative and challenging project that I needed to be there for every day of the camp along with facilitators Shawna and Dominique. It was there that I started to learn the fine art of youth facilitation, Global Kids style.
I can't underestimate what a bad youth facilitator I was in those first days. I was nervous. I didn't know how to talk to teenagers. I had never written a curriculum or a workshop before. Luckily I had Shawna, Dominique and the good folks at the Field Museum to keep the train on the tracks.
What saved me was how awesome our Global Kids teens were. They were troopers going through some of my less-than-brilliant activities, endlessly patient with technology problems and delays, and always game to try something different. And when we gave them opportunities to express themselves, through text chat, virtual building, or voice, they jumped at the chance. They were just awesome to work with.
What people don't often realize about Global Kids teens is that while they may come from difficult environments and backgrounds, they WANT to learn, they are excited about serving the community, they are enthusiastic about exploring the world. Global Kids programs are "opt in," that is, teens have to choose to participate in them, rather than being forced to attend. We set high standards for their conduct, their participation and their achievements, and typically get much more than what we anticipated from our teens.
Since those initial halting steps, I have facilitated two more I Dig Science camps (as well as other programs with our youth), with increasing confidence and competence in working with teens. I've learned so much from other facilitators about how to reach teens, earn their trust, expose them to unfamiliar subjects, and help them to realize their own potentials as leaders and citizens.
- Facilitated trainings with Mayank, one of our Global Kids teen leaders, for 50 teens and educators at the 2010 National Youth Leadership Conference
- Created a "Mission" in the teen virtual world of SmallWorlds on the peace process in Sudan that has been played 14,000 times
- Supporting more than 20 civic and cultural institutions to explore the potential of virtual worlds during the Virtual World Capacity Building Program
- Simulcasted hearings by the Federal Communications Commission on broadband access in Second Life
- Produced a virtual discussion with Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation, and Cory Ondreyka, senior vice president at EMI in Second Life
- Helped produce a virtual book launch for White House deputy CTO Beth Noveck
- Taught a group of middle school girls how to breakdance!
So many of my other Global Kids colleagues have had a deep impact on me as well, including our founder Carole Artigiani, co-workers Rafi Santo, Amira Fouad, Shawna Rosenzweig, Krista Hund, and many more. Global Kids manages to assemble an incredible team of the most dedicated, talented and creative educators and activists that I've ever had the privilege of working with. Each of them in their own way are making the world a better place.
I'm so thankful for the opportunity I've had to help Global Kids, an institution that has supported tens of thousands of young people to be globally aware, digitally savvy, and effective leaders in the 21st century.