Training Trends, Learning Outcomes, and Setting More Productive Goals

February 10, 2011

When we look at trends and predictions for workplace learning and performance (training) in pieces such as Training Industry, Inc. CEO and Founder Doug Harward’s recent article posted on TrainingIndustry.com, we find an intriguing combination of potentially positive changes and misdirected attention.

The positive elements include predictions that “total spending for training services” will increase by seven to nine percent in 2011; “the role of the learning leader” in organizations is changing for the better; “learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual”; and “learning content will be transformed for easier consumption”—situations many of us have already been seeing or can, without too much thought, accept as likely.

Sources including the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) “2010 State of the Industry Report” confirm that training remains a well funded industry in some ways even though many of us note and lament reductions in training budgets: “U.S. organizations spent $125.88 billion on employee learning and development  in 2009” (p. 5)—the year during which the data in the 2010 report was gathered. The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0” and co-writers Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in their book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, provide support for the idea that social media tools are already making a positive difference in fostering learner-centric training. And interviews that Lori Reed and I conducted for our forthcoming book on trainers as leaders (Workplace Learning & Leadership) document the increasingly important roles workplace learning and performance professionals are assuming in developing, delivering, and evaluating effective learning opportunities.

One particularly interesting assertion among Harward’s predictions is that learning leaders are becoming solutions architects or learning architects—“someone who designs innovative approaches for employees to access knowledge, when they need it, in relevant chunks, no matter where they are.” This, he suggests, moves them/us closer to the role of consultant—a role which trainer-consultants including Peter Block (Flawless Consulting) and the late Gordon and Ronald Lippitt (The Consulting Process in Action—particularly Chapter 6) have abundantly described in their own work when they write of internal and external consultants (long-term employees as opposed to those hired for well defined projects with specific beginning and end points).

As was the case with Training Industry, Inc.’s report on “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” however, there is a bit of myopia among the predictions. The proposal that “metrics for learning will be based on content access, view, involvement, and downloads” rather than “how many students attended a program” doesn’t appear to provide a significant and positive change; furthermore, it ignores the larger issue to be addressed: is all this workplace learning leading to positive change for learners, organizations, and the customers and clients they serve? The unfortunate answer, as documented elsewhere, is an emphatic “no.”

More importantly, this proposed shift in focus misses the larger mark because it still makes no attempt to engage in the levels of assessment suggested in Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels™ Evaluation Model, Robert Binkerhoff’s Telling Training’s Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective, or Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results—those measurements of workplace learning and performance’s real results in terms of positive change.

There is much to admire in what Hayward writes. There is also obviously much room for seeking trends that, in his words, “will reshape the training industry” in a significant and sustainable way. All we have to do is keep our attention on the learners and those they serve. And set even more productive, measurable goals.


When Trainers Lead: Drawing From the Past to Build the Future

August 19, 2010

A magnificent—and not unexpected—success story is continuing to develop for the trainers-as-leaders at the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay Area: long-missing colleagues, including former members of the Chapter Board, are continuing to return to the organization after months or years of absence. More importantly, they are quickly becoming re-engaged in the organization’s growth and sustainability and are offering much needed skills.

Some are becoming formal business partners. Others are considering new volunteer non-Board roles in support of initiatives like special interest groups to serve members’ and prospective members’ professional development and workplace learning and performance needs. And still others are simply being drawn back to the Chapter’s monthly meetings because of the learning opportunities offered by guest speakers at those events.

As noted in earlier articles, this 80-person chapter of the 40,000-member national/international organization (the American Society for Training & Development) with more than 130 chapters in the United States and more than 30 international partners, was near collapse three years ago. A few dedicated Board and non-Board members refused to let it go under, and their (our) efforts have helped to bring it back to its position as a well focused, structurally sound, vital, vibrant, and sustainable community of learners in a heavily populated part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The rewards to the Chapter and its supporters are obvious. Our members go far beyond the usual pay-your-dues-and-run sort of relationship often maintained within organizations. They bring a level of engagement which shapes and nurtures the sort of third place—community meeting place—described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place and the complementary fourth place—a community gathering place for social learning—that several of us are just beginning to define and promote.

Our still-evolving vision of business partners through our Chapter Community Involvement process builds upon existing strengths instead of attempting to create something from scratch through cold calls with those who are completely unfamiliar with what we do and offer. Those business partnerships are a real point of pride for us and serve as an easy model for others to pursue. They begin with us looking at resources far-too-long ignored: Diane Fleck, a former Chapter Board president who became inactive in the Chapter after successfully establishing a business through the contacts she developed via ASTD—not her fault that she fell away, mind you; it happened because the Chapter no longer worked to be an important part of what she needed. That’s a chilling warning for those who don’t know that they’ve got till it’s gone.

Lynda McDaniel, our second business partner, came as naturally as the first: she is a Chapter member with tremendous writing and outreach skills—which she is willing to use on our behalf in exchange for the additional visibility it creates for her. Again, everyone wins. And our latest partners, Steven “Shags” Shagrin and Thornton Prayer through The Networking Lounge, are two consultants who have offered invaluable pro bono organizational development support at critical times in the Chapter’s growth; by acknowledging what they have done in ways that bring them visibility, we’ve nurtured another important relationship while gaining additional resources—including free meeting space—at a time when the number of activities we are scheduling is increasing and free meeting space will be critically important to the success of those events.

So here we are, a small and growing community of learners creating a fourth place for those who want and need it. And all that is needed—how strange and encouraging that what once seemed so daunting now is almost casually dismissed with the phrase “all that is needed”—by anyone wanting to build from this example is a core group of dedicated members who would not and will not give up something that they value; a shared vision which evolves to meet the community’s needs; and a willingness to cherish past resources in ways that re-engage them in the present and the future.


When Trainers Lead: To Market We Go

July 23, 2010

Because trainers and those who use their services often ask what tangible results they produce, it’s a pleasure to note the continuing successes one group—board members of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter—is achieving.

While the adoption this week of a Chapter marketing and communications plan might sound about as exciting as watching gopher holes under construction in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where do people find time to make and post these videos?), it actually serves as another example of what happens when trainers assume leadership positions.

The plan, like the strategic plan Board members adopted earlier this year after more than 14 months of work, is notable for several reasons. It fills an obvious need: helping Chapter leaders, other members, and an evolving group of business partners, collaborate to better serve the organization’s core constituency of workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco East Bay Area. It is part of a larger organizational development effort since it is interwoven with the strategic plan and has, as its foundation, a commitment to implementing the Chapter’s mission, vision, and value statements. It was developed relatively quickly and in a way that generated enthusiasm rather than boredom; all that was required were three intensely focused and very productive conference calls lasting less than 75 minutes each and easy-to-accomplish between-meeting activities on the part of a Chapter marketing and communications task force—all in response to a clearly defined mandate with a definitive set of deadlines.

Best of all, it was far from the work of a small group of insiders who were simply egging each other on to produce a document that would gather dust instead of producing worthwhile results. The plan draws from the expertise of current Board members; other Chapter members with marketing, writing, and editing skills; and a successful and respected business partner—Diane Fleck, Founder and CEO of The Learning Café—who had not, until recently, had a formal affiliation with the Chapter in more than five years even though she had served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago. Flecks’ participation in shaping and now moving quickly to implement the plan provided expertise and a simultaneous opportunity to revive that long-dormant relationship; it also offers the additional benefit of providing a template for additional business partnerships to strengthen the Chapter’s ability to meet and exceed its members’ needs and expectations. Not bad for a process that was originally designed to provide a roadmap for organizational growth and development through better communication with its constituency.

With the ink hardly dry on the document, key Chapter trainers as leaders and other volunteers are moving to maximize the impact of the plan. Joe Novosel, Chapter VP, Communications, posted the document on the Chapter’s website so members and guests would have access to it and so it could serve as a resource to other ASTD Chapter leaders throughout the country. Task force and Chapter member Lynda McDaniel—a second newly acquired Chapter business partner and Founder/Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing—is providing much needed assistance in writing and editing marketing and promotional materials for the Chapter. Fleck is reaching out to her extensive network of contacts to provide additional resources for the Chapter. And all of us on the Board are beginning to breathe a little more easily as we see the incredible workload we have been carrying being dispersed a bit into additional obviously qualified hands—one of the many goals we set for ourselves in the Chapter’s strategic plan.

As mentioned in an earlier article, the Chapter—with collaboration from a variety of interested and dedicated volunteers—has been on a long and steady road to recovery from the threat of extinction nearly three years ago. A partially moribund Board was slowly and steadily rebuilt while the Chapter bylaws were rewritten. Board job descriptions were revised to stress the collaborative approach Board members take to conducting Chapter business. And the strategic plan was created through the same sort of process which produced the marketing and communications plan—formation of a task force which included Board members, other Chapter members, and those who had previously been active in the Chapter but had, for a variety of reasons, drifted away over a several-year period.

Facing the final five months of its existence in its current form, the Board (where members serve overlapping two-year terms designed so that half of the Board’s members are up for re-election or replacement every year and half remain to provide continuity from year to year) will aggressively move forward to build on the Chapter’s successes while seeking even more. And always with an eye on what can be done to promote the Chapter as a sustainable organization offering “a professional, caring, supportive, and fun environment” that is rewarding for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance.


Leaders Emerging

July 5, 2010

One of the great pleasures of attending the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last week was seeing Emerging Leaders Program participants display and discuss the year-long projects they completed.

Projects on view during a two-hour poster session held on Friday, June 25 in the Washington Convention Center showed a great amount of planning, creativity, and practical application. Among the topics were web-based leadership development; a free-links project “to identify and select free web-based tutorials and professional development information for librarians in other countries to access via the Internet,” with the links being posted on a wiki; a survey of ALA members to determine how interested they were in having the Association adapt Web 2.0 tools into its new content management system;  and revising and updating an online staff development resource center so that individuals and organizations can “share policies, manuals, materials, and other information related to library staff development,” according to printed material distributed  by members of the Emerging Leaders group that completed that project.

Two projects which quickly caught my attention were sponsored by the ALA Learning Round Table (formerly CLENE), an ALA group which serves as an online and conference-level home away from home for me and many others involved in workplace learning and performance. The first, providing a recipe for planning successful staff day activities, drew from responses provided by nearly 600 ALA members and resulted in creation of a wiki which includes a variety of resources for those interested in developing their own staff day successes and a short video documenting their work. The second, creating and documenting the process of offering a sustainable webinar series for workplace learning and performance professionals in libraries, provides information for others interested in developing a similar series and is also described in two separate short online videos.

There really wasn’t a bad project among the more than 20 that were on display, and it’s a credit to those who each year facilitate this dynamic project for library staff members who are either under 35 years old or who have fewer than five years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level within libraries.

What was somewhat surprising to me was how few of the sponsoring ALA divisions and round tables actually had members onsite to work alongside the Emerging Leaders during their presentations. Discussions with program participants provided food for thought: although they were tremendously grateful for the opportunities they had under the Emerging Leaders program, many of them said they had not been approached about becoming members of the groups, were not sure whether they would continue their relationships with the groups which sponsored their projects, and wished they had been able to work alongside members of those sponsoring organizations during the  two-hour session on June 25—a clear call to action for those of us who want to support the efforts of these and the other emerging leaders in our lives.


When Trainers Lead: Collaboration and Midyear Reviews

June 20, 2010

The trainers-as-leaders who serve as Chapter Board members for the The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay area took another leap forward last week by reestablishing a dormant connection: the Board voted to create a formal partnership with The Learning Café in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

This collaboration, for all involved, looks to be a positive and significant move in many ways. It reunites the Chapter with The Learning Café’s founder and CEO, Diane Fleck, who served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago and who credits that experience with having inspired her to found her organization for workplace learning and performance professionals and others seeking to improve their business skills. It brings Fleck’s tremendous marketing and training skills to the Chapter at a time when Board and other Chapter members are seeking to increase awareness of the Chapter’s activities and offerings among its current and prospective members. It brings The Learning Café’s many workplace learning and performance opportunities more directly to the attention of those involved in ASTD locally and regionally. And it continues Chapter leaders’ current efforts to mine the Chapter’s past to assure its healthy future by reaching out to those who played key roles in the Chapter’s development over a long period of time before moving on to other endeavors.

Under the terms of the partnership, Fleck will serve as a formal marketing advisor to the Chapter at least through the end of 2010; help finalize and coordinate implementation of the Chapter marketing plan; and provide public relations support by including promotion of Chapter events in the form of notices within The Learning Café weekly online newsletters, which are directed to more than 7,000 people throughout the United States. The Chapter will keep The Learning Café’s logo on Chapter website homepage, promote The Learning Café’s activities and its Advisor Network on the Chapter website, and keep Chapter members aware of learning and professional development opportunities offered by The Learning Café’s through the Chapter’s own publicity efforts.

The timing for this important step couldn’t have been better. Board members, taking a midyear look back toward the Chapter strategic plan discussed and adopted during the first two months of 2010 after a nearly year-long effort to create the document, confirmed that the overall theme of seeking opportunities to add value to members’ involvement in the Chapter are well underway. Membership remains steady at a time when other ASTD chapters are struggling to attract and retain members, and innovative programming continues to provide what Chapter members seem to value most: learning opportunities which can be used in members’ own workplaces.

Collaboration and building a community of learning have been important elements of what the  Chapter Board set out to do when it was struggling to overcome challenges in 2007 and 2008. Consistent attention to this goal is now beginning to pay off for the organization, and all of us are looking forward to continuing to lead through collaborations for the remainder of the 2010 Chapter Board’s term of office.


Training, Leading, and Creativity

June 19, 2010

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert earlier this week wrote about how those who helped cause the worst financial crisis we’ve faced since the Great Depression remain “unfazed by reality” and are attempting to make it worse. They are, he suggested, creating reductions in the state and local services that are instrumental to building the economy.

He quotes a Northern California school district chief who, rather than seeking creative solutions to a terrible situation, is trying to balance a budget by laying off teachers and health aids, increasing the number of students within classrooms, decreasing the number of days students spend in school each year, and closing school libraries.

“Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other, “ Herbert writes. “For the federal government to stand by like a disinterested onlooker as this carnage plays out would be crazy.”

That’s all too familiar to those of us watching vacancies in businesses and nonprofit agencies go unfilled; watching first-rate trainer-teacher-learners losing their jobs or struggling to find work when the organizations for which they work lose their funding; and watching those who remain behind, employed and overwhelmed by increasing workloads and decreases in pay and benefits.

But we can’t afford to hunker down—we never could, and we certainly don’t have the luxury of pulling back now and waiting for things to improve before we seek creative responses to the challenges our communities are facing. The need for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance to step up to the plate and assume roles of leadership within the organizations we serve remains as strong as it has ever been. We need to position ourselves to be leaders seeking solutions rather than part of the crowd sitting so high in the bleachers that our voices cannot be heard and our actions cannot be seen.

If the companies, agencies, and groups we serve can no longer afford to hire outside instructors to meet our colleagues’ learning needs, we need to find innovative, inexpensive ways to draw from the expertise of those already within our organizations. If organizations continue to struggle to free up employees to attend training sessions with “release time”—an awful term when you think of it; it implies that learning is a perk, something less than essential to every employee’s efforts—then we need to find ways to provide learning opportunities which are stimulating, rewarding, productive, easy to deliver and attend, and offered in ways which keep our colleagues growing in ways that serve themselves as well as the organizations for which they are working.

There’s nothing magic about trying to incorporate learning opportunities into meetings which have already been scheduled for entire work groups, nor is there anything tremendously challenging about setting up optional learning opportunities during pre- and post-work hours as well as during (staggered) lunch breaks—something as simple as a series of “lessons at lunch” in which colleagues share valuable tricks and tips on how to better function in our ever-changing workplaces or view and discuss podcasts (webcasts) and other online offerings. Let’s set up LinkedIn discussion groups to allow for the sharing of learning opportunities when learners are ready to take advantage of those opportunities, not just when we are available to provide them face-to-face or in synchronous online learning sessions. Let’s use Skype and Google Chat and other innovative online resources to quickly reach those who are not geographically accessible. And let’s draw from the expertise available from organizations including the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and blogs such as ALA Learning.

Workplace learning and development remains as important as ever. We are in a position to make a difference even in the worst of times. For us to stand by as onlookers would, as Herbert said in the context of his recent column, be nothing short of crazy.

N.B.–Those attending the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington DC are invited to join Paul and colleagues Maurice Coleman, Sandra Smith, and Louise Whitaker for a discussion of “Library Trainers as Leaders” on Sunday, June 27, 2010 from 10:30 am – noon in Washington Conference Center Room 201. Paul will also be participating in the ALA Learning Round Table Training Showcase that afternoon from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in the Washington Conference Center Ballroom.


When Trainers Lead: Planning and Learning Strategically

February 19, 2010

Talking with colleagues confirms that those involved in workplace learning and performance efforts are often in a position of implementing what others plan and mandate rather than being part of the group at the decision-making table.

The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) remains an organization where trainers serve as members as well as leaders, and member-leaders of the organization’s award-winning Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay area are continuing to learn and lead and collaborate in ways many of us might not otherwise have experienced.

What’s interesting about the way the group operates is that it’s far from hierarchical. We actually function as the sort of organization which Ralph Kilmann—a writer, consultant, and former professor of organization and management—describes in his book Quantum Organizations: A New Paradigm for Achieving Organizational Success and Personal Meaning.

The group also, over the past few years, has managed to avoid the sort of cliquishness which organizations can fall into once leaders become comfortable an ensconced in their positions. With value propositions which include striving “to create a professional, caring, supportive, and fun environment which is rewarding to everyone involved” and a commitment to serving “a cutting-edge model community of learners valuing and promoting training, professional development, and workplace learning in partnership with national ASTD and other chapters,” the shared vision is as explicit as it is flexible. Which, of course, means, that it provides shared values while allowing the organization to evolve as the faces on the Chapter Board change over time.

Board members, with a commitment to having meetings serve as learning opportunities at the same time that they serve as opportunities to conduct Chapter business, last month experimented with a form of dialogue and decision-making adapted from an entirely different context. In that process, we picked up a new tool we can use in other contexts. We met again this week and brought more than a year of work to what appears to be a successful conclusion by adopting and beginning to implement the Chapter’s first three-year strategic plan.

The effort was far from easy, and it wasn’t always seamless. Initial work on the strategic plan  began during a Board retreat facilitated by a former Board member in January 2009, after a year during which basic elements such as the Chapter bylaws were heavily revised to streamline and facilitate the way we operate. The process continued as a few Board members who had completed their terms were replaced by colleagues elected to newly established two-year terms. A four-member strategic planning committee stepped up to the plate—two current Board members; the former Board member who had been inactive in the Chapter’s activities for several years; and a new and energetic volunteer whose level of engagement was so high that, by the end of the year, she had been chosen by Chapter members to serve as the incoming President-Elect (2010)/President (2011).

Strategic Planning Committee members returned to the full Board in June 2009 for a mid-year review of a draft-in-progress. We then continued working well into autumn 2009 to produce a completed document before the end of the year. When that report finally reached the Board for approval, outgoing members joined with those who were continuing into the second of their two-year terms to delay adoption of the draft until the newly elected members who would be responsible for implementation began their own two-year terms of office.

The 2010 Board began its year with a facilitated retreat which introduced incoming members to the Committee’s work. We reviewed and fine-tuned the draft-in-progress. We agreed that the rolling three-year plan would be updated on an annual basis so it continues to reflect the changing circumstances the Chapter and its members will face. Best of all, we had already begun implementing some of the goals and objectives documented—rather than established—in the plan. Which, as is probably obvious, suggests that as we learned how to effectively create a strategic plan shaped by two consecutive groups of Board members, we also took the most important step of all: we learned that planning and implementation can and should occur side by side rather than being treated as artificially separated parts of a cohesive, sustainable process.


Training, Creative Leadership, and Tuscan Evening Conversations

January 20, 2010

Trainer-teacher-learners never seem happier than when they are trying something new. Since repetition breeds boredom and boredom kills learning, we thrive on exposure to anything novel that deepens our ability to serve the organizations and clients with which we work.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that when you place workplace learning and performance professionals in leadership roles, you’re going to find people who combine their love of producing tangible and sustainable results with a never-ending search for new ways to approach routine challenges. Which is what happened again last night when ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Mt. Diablo Chapter Board members held their first monthly meeting of the new year.

We knew we had to take a series of actions on routine financial and administrative matters, so we blasted through those items within the first 15 or 20 minutes of our time together. We then turned our attention to our continuing efforts to adopt a Chapter strategic plan—a year-long effort which is nearing completion.

But this was not to be a routine discussion conducted by a group of trainers-as-leaders sitting around a table. Because we try to conduct business in a way which provides learning opportunities for us, contributes to our development as a community of learners, and keeps our meetings lively and engaging, we decided to try something new—a way of practicing our ability to deliver elevator speeches (those brief and focused presentations which force presenters to effectively communicate in brief periods of time); we also wanted to be sure that everyone had ample opportunities to contribute to the strategic planning conversation.

The set-up was simple and adapted from something I had seen in an entirely different context: a conversation among long-time friends and neighbors on a warm summer evening in Vagliagli, a small Tuscan village in Italy’s Chianti region, many years ago.  In the original model, two older men sat on a bench directly outside the village caffè while the other men stood in a semicircle around them. Those standing men took turns speaking; when one spoke, he would move forward out of the semi-circle, closer to the two seated men, before making his point and then melting back into the semi-circle. The two in the middle occasionally punctuated this conversation with their own comments, as if to introduce a new theme into the chanting of a Greek chorus, then returned to silence as the others continued their discussion. I could see each man claiming the stage in several ways: the direct act of interruption. Or by stepping forward, closer to their seated friends. Or leaning in toward the center and extending a hand or arm as if to brush some air away to make room for their words. The semi-circle was far from static, and the connections between the speakers also appeared fluid. It was a dynamic version of engaged conversation unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, and we decided to bring a variation of that Tuscan conversation to a San Francisco Bay Area meeting room on a stormy winter night.

It worked magnificently with minor modifications.

No one sat on the bench during our conversation or acted as a moderator; we formed a semicircle of equal participants, comfortably took turns—in a completely unchoreographed way—stepping forward into the center whenever we had anything to contribute to the fast-paced conversation. Within 15 minutes—more or less the amount of time we had given ourselves to complete the conversation—we had agreed upon a set of steps designed to produce a final draft of the strategic plan before our next monthly meeting is held. And we had fun in the process.

As we returned from our virtual visit to Tuscany and reseated ourselves around the table in our meeting room, we found ourselves in agreement that the experiment had produced the results we were seeking. It gave us a facilitation tool which we can use with other learners. And it had the added benefit of encouraging us to conduct business in a playful and innovative way where no voice went unheard. Where everyone contributed equally to the overall effort simply by adapting a well-tested method of communication into a setting that inspires us and keeps us engaged at the playful level we all cherish. And continues to help us develop as a group of trainers-as-leaders who depend on collaboration, rather than hierarchical methods, to make decisions on behalf of those we serve.


Leading and Training by Living: The Goldman Environmental Prize Winners (2009)

June 2, 2009

 

Library directors and managers, colleagues have been assuring me recently, play a critical role in the success or failure of workplace learning and performance programs in the organizations they oversee. It goes beyond supporting and approving budgets: if they show an advocate’s interest in what is happening through training programs, check with their colleagues and their staff to see what effect those programs are having, and actually participate in learning opportunities offered within their organizations, they are setting a standard which encourages effective learning and the development of communities of learners.

It was no surprise to me, then, that these comments came to mind repeatedly when I was lucky enough to attend the awards ceremony for the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients here in San Francisco last night. The awards honor people who, by the act of living and acting on their beliefs in spite of significant challenges, time constraints, and, occasionally, threats of incarceration and death, train the rest of us to believe that we, too, can make a difference.

The usual high profile environmental activists were there: Al Gore and Robert Redford provided opening comments which (globally) warmed up the crowd and reminded all of us that we have a role to play. Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman provided entertainment by singing one of her own songs (“Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”) and doing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”—“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

But the real stars and trainers were those being honored, including Maria Gunnoe. From her home in the heart of Appalachia, in West Virginia, she stood up against the removal of mountaintops to expedite coal mining because the byproducts of that process are creating toxic wastes which are destroying the area where her family has lived for more than a century. Although neighbors were afraid to testify, she did, and a court ruling halted one particularly damaging mountaintop removal project which was affecting her property. The joy all of us in the audience felt as she accepted her award was tempered by the image of the tall cyclone fence which was constructed around her house and the news that she needed  around-the-clock security protection to counter the threats she was receiving while she carried on her fight.

Then there were Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini, who successfully organized entire communities in the Saramaka lands in Suriname (within the Amazonian forests) to halt destructive logging. And Yuyun Ismawati, who helped implement community-based safe and sustainable waste management programs in Indonesian communities through her organization, Bali Fokus. And Olga Speranskaya, a Russian scientist whose community-based efforts have become a model worldwide for efforts to encourage the clean-up of toxic waste sites. And Syeda Rizwana Hasan, an environmental attorney in Bangladesh whose efforts successfully stopped toxin-laden ships from being allowed to be brought up on beaches in her country so the wrecks could be broken into scrap—a process called “ship breaking”—to be resold while the waste polluted the beaches. And, finally, Marc Ona Essangui, a wheelchair-using activist whose successful efforts to stop a massive government-approved mining project in Gabon’s Ivindo National Park (in west central Africa) led to his arrest and detention for several days earlier this year.

Each one of them received standing ovations from those of us who were there to hear their acceptance speeches. Hundreds of us joined them at a post-event reception in their honor to shake their hands and thank them for reminding us that significant effects begin with the efforts of individuals. And at least a few of us, in thinking about what we can do in our own lives to make a difference within the communities we serve, were reminded that some of the most effective training comes from those who live the lessons the rest of us still need to learn and follow.

This item was originally posted on April 23, 2009 on CE Buzz at http://cebuzz.wordpress.com/.


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