Thursday, March 30, 2006
Revered MIIS professor Beryl Levinger believes most people are prepared to do something about making their world better. She has responded by creating a way for them to develop the tools to do that.
Levinger is instituting a change to MIIS’s breakthrough Development Project Management Institute Program (DPMI). In the past, only MIIS students and other grad students from around the world could apply (and were doing so at a rate of twice the number of open spots). This summer, Levinger is opening the program to locals—with priority enrollment.
“The truth is that MIIS has so many wonderful resources,” she says. “and we saw this strong, aware, activist community in our own backyard that could benefit from them.”
Levinger’s definition of “activist” differs from the standard politically-motivated picketer, and instead refers to those who work out “in the field.”
“An activist for me,” she says, “is somebody who says, ‘I want to make a difference, not necessarily through protest, but through field-based change.”
Levinger is well-qualified to recognize these people—she’s worked with them throughout a career that included 40 years in international development as a senior vice president with groups like Save the Children and CARE. Along the way, she came to believe that students of international aid do not receive adequate preparation.
“If people want to become engaged in poverty alleviation, emergency response, stopping degradation of the environment and refugee response,” she says, “the training is theoretical. They need something really practical.”
Enter the DPMI, which squeezes a semester’s worth of work into three hard-hitting weeks of practical study of program design, effective partnering methods and ways to effect lasting change. This year, Levinger’s taken practicality a step further, adding an optional hands-on week in Quito, Ecuador organizing aid for the needy with Pact, a distinguished American NGO.
In essence, think Peace Corps experience for local folks who don’t have two years to spare.
Stephanie Babyak, director of a US Department of Education project known as the Fund for Improvement of Secondary Education, says that the DPMI program’s innovative design was so effective in meeting an “unmet need” that it earned a coveted grant—of 400 applicants for the DoE money, only 20 were awarded such a grant.
“Essentially,” Levinger says, “there’s no program like it anywhere.” She adds that the grant helps defray the seemingly stiff cost of the program for community members, and points out that even at $2,325, the program is much cheaper than similar curricula elsewhere.
Alumni accomplishments reflect the effectiveness of the program, abroad and, by design, here at home.
MIIS student and recent DPMI graduate Renee Mungas helped train staffers for Save the Children in Bolivia. She also worked with international organizations to advance research in newborn health.
“DPMI teaches you to view change from the perspective of those who will be most impacted by the work,” Mungas says. “You leave with a much clearer understanding of the importance of working together, and perhaps more importantly, how to work together.”
Scott Webb, 32-year-old program alum and former Peace Corps recruiter, has worked to alleviate poverty in Niger, in west Africa, where he plans to return. With each mission, he says, DPMI’s brand of teamwork is critical.
“A tsunami happens, and everybody wants a piece of it,” he says. “You have to have a way to keep people from stepping on toes and doing the same thing.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Patrick Heiman used his training to assess damage in the Katrina-ravaged South, and is now forging new innovative partnerships for Ag Against Hunger in Salinas, a nonprofit that teams with growers and food banks to feed the hungry.
“A lot of people come into [DPMI] with their heart in the right place,” Heiman says. “The program helps channel those good intentions into practical skills, combining the power of heart with power of mind.”
Levinger finds local projects like Heiman’s representative of the program’s new possibilities. “People will be empowered to work on any issue they want to tackle,” she says. “Issues like services for bypassed populations in Monterey, gang violence in Salinas...
“It’s like boot camp for people who want to make things better.”
The deadline to turn in applications for the DPMI is April 10. Visit miis.edu/gsips-progs-dpmi.html or call 647-4115. The program runs June 26–July 14.