Tag Archives: Education

Sustainability and Educating Women and Girls

Before becoming a sustainability advocate, I spent most of my career working with technology beginning with a Fire and Emergency Information Reporting System project for the City of Toledo (1975) moving in the early 80’s to technology companies.  I first used an email system and a PC at Computerland (1983), having moved off mini-computers, and in 1999 began to market high tech products and services developing on the Web seminars (now called webinars), database-driven landing pages, and micro environments.

So the eye-catching graphics with heady statistics by Allison Morris of OnlineClasses.org, which I am sharing with you to encourage them being passed on, reminded me of the progress women have made and of the roads still unpaved for women and girls when it comes to the access I have been taking for granted.

The importance of online access, especially from Ms. Morris’ interest in free e-learning sites, should be addressed in all initiatives, products, and programs that have education of women and girls as their focus especially in developing countries. But is this so?

In a blog supporting the University of Waterloo course MSci 442, The Impact of Information Systems on Organisations and Society (1) Peter Carr addresses information technology in the context of economic development, education and in the article I link to, the digital divide. A practicing online learning professor, Dr. Carr cites more stats and notes, “If we accept that the internet has a significant contribution to make to development then there would be an urgent need to tackle this issue.”

Is there urgency when it comes to educating women and girls? Do we accept the internet as a significant contribution?  If not, why not?

Could it be that the big picture of information technology and the issue of the digital divide come into play only when addressing commercial applications and not in terms of educating women and girls? Is it likely that out-dated stereotypes of women, girls, and of the Web itself are the cause and ignorance the driver?

If so, then it’s important to illustrate related facts and spread them far and wide especially among folks like myself who take Internet access for granted and yet understand the importance of educating women and girls to sustainability awareness and adoption.

Source: OnlineClasses.org
 Girls Online Infographic

For those of my readers who are communicators and have a need for text,  Allison provided this text and like the graphics, use freely, but provide attribution to OnlineClasses.org.  Thank you.

Across the globe, there are an estimated 2.4 billion Internet users. And in Western society, women actually have a stronger web presence than men, according to the infographic “Women & the Web,” posted by OnlineClasses.org. However, this is not the case everywhere. In areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East & North Africa, and South Asia, women’s access to the Internet is significantly lower than for males. In fact, according to statistics, there are 23% fewer women online than men in developing countries across the world.

Considering the benefits women and their families can obtain through Internet access, this is an important topic of discussion. In a survey of women from developing nations who used the web, 50% reported using it to find and apply for a job, and 30% used it to earn additional income for their families. On average, women reinvested 90% of their income into their family. This figure was only 30-40% for men.

In addition, free e-learning opportunities also contributed to the liberating influence of the Internet. Approximately 8 in 10 women with web access in developing nations reported using the Internet to educate themselves. Sites like Coursera and Udacity are particularly popular.

The economic benefits of increasing women’s access to the internet across the world is undeniable. It’s estimated that $13 to $18 billion would be contributed to the annual GDP in 144 developing nations as women improved their ability to generate income and further their education. So, it’s not surprising that 90% of women surveyed said that Internet access should be a basic human right.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, February 26, 2013, San Francisco, California.

(1) The blog posts are content for the course which considers the impact of IT in a number of areas including the digital divide and education. Peter Carr is a professor in the Department of Managements Sciences . His research has focused on online collaboration in business and on collaboration in online learning. Peter lives in Toronto, Canada.

Massive Open Online Conferences?

ThurnThis interview is an excellent window into the thinking behind what is happening in education called Massive Open Online Courses, (MOOC). It’s with the founders of Udacity, David Evans and Sebastian Thrun (pictured here) as interviewed by Dick Gordan on The Story. Click here.  It gives one pause as to how the concept applies to conferences.

Think about what is said about scalability, format, and tradition in terms of your work in meeting and conference planning as it impacts both logistics and program.  If listening results in a discussion, all the better, but this posting is meant to be educational and to encourage professionals to learn more and experiment.

For me, coming from a marketing history, an online video preference,  and a strong will to increase sustainability awareness, there is much here that is applicable to conferences. Conferences with the  footprintgreensmallintention to educate, inspire, and promote sustainability with an objective of extending audience reach while reducing the carbon footprint events create. It just so happens that extending audience reach with tools such as video streaming is generally an objective that sponsors are willing to pay for and cover the “additional” expenses that are now considered out of the norm. Post conference education comes in here as well with the conference(s)  but one element of a multi-step learning and awareness objective that may span years.

And MOOC goes beyond logistics and technology. We have to rethink the very format of the meeting itself, making it more experiential and engaging, rather than the one to many, lecture model of which the panel is just a slight variation.  There is lots of work involved, but we have the possibility of scaling from hundreds to thousands our rich message of sustainability and a learning experience.  It doesn’t mean the end of getting together, but, rather, hybrid events.

From a blog about open and online education is information about the learning theory behind a MOOC.  It’s “based on the theory of ‘connectivism‘ *which embraces an active learning approach. One learns through mooc-video-still-2participating in activities. It emphasizes doing –   discussing, reflecting and  applying. Learning comes through action.” And here are some of the tools you may need to learn about:

1. Aggregating
2. Remixing
3. Repurposing
4. Feeding Forward.

As carbon emissions from air travel continue to be felt in the pocketbook of attendees through increased fares, (carbon footprint calculator) the budgets for travel of any kind remain at best fixed, and the attendee numbers for conferences don’t meet expectations, it will become incumbent upon all of us to find ways to educate, inspire, and motivate our members, customers, partners, and citizens.

P.S. Udacity is similar to services such as Coursera and edX, the latter recently announced by Harvard and MIT.

*Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual.

Ruth Ann Barrett, EarthSayers.tv, May 8, 2012

Sustainability and Web Search: Low Interest

This post is not about low interest on the part of our citizens searching on the Web for information about global warming, climate change, and sustainability, but low interest on the part of content producers towards Web search and how it is related to citizens searching, but not finding vital information on these and other sustainability-related issues.

Today’s New York Times article on Yahoo’s efforts to use search data to create search-generated content calls out a little known growth industry around the Web and highlights what every educator needs to know.

“Search-generated content has been growing on the Internet, as evidenced by the success of companies like Associated Content, which Yahoo recently bought, and Demand Media, which has used freelance writers to create an online library of more than a million instructional articles.”

Compare this to the old school educators and social activists who blanch at the phrase, content generation, and hold steady to the practices of print, and you will begin to understand why our citizens don’t get answers to their basic questions about global warming, climate change, sustainability or even about our oceans and water pollution.

It starts and ends with interest.

Yahoo and advertisers have a big interest in being in the top organic search results on key search terms because supplying relevant information when a person is in the buying cycle is a basic tenet of marketing success. Indeed, a recent article in DM News suggests Search Engine Optimization (part of what we are talking about) was once overlooked, but have realized it “doesn’t strain their budgets” and improved analytics make it “easy to understand the relationship between natural search rankings and revenue.”

Those in the business of education or those who would benefit the most from an informed public have shown very little interest.

The power of the Web has been highly commercialized largely because it is a buying machine. But it is also a learning and training machine, yet it just may be that to meet searchers needs is just too crass of a reason to create content that explains important concepts and issues and may interfere with the editorial and research freedom to publish what is important and what is not and to use language such as “eco-economics” and avoid prosperity in favor of ROI.   Yahoo points out (you really need to read the NYTimes article) to its journalistic detractors: “The information is valuable because editors can integrate it into their decision making. It’s an asset. It’s a totally amazing and useful tool that we have at Yahoo. But it does not lead Yahoo editorial content.”  A tool.

In other words, how can it not be crucial to understand that although there are 28M webpages out there on the subject of “global warming” less than 170,000 of them are titled to appear in top rankings (and thus be seen) to a search on the term, global warming, and even less on the question what is global warming? Yet there is significant search on this term, more on this term than on sustainability or climate change.

Screen shot 2010-07-05 at 4.32.39 PM

This chart (1) from Google Insights gives you a general idea of the popularity, if you will, of the three terms in relationship to each other. You can use the chart below to get some feel for search traffic on these terms which come from a snapshot (1%) of the search traffic over a years period of time using software called, WordTracker.   For nearly every sustainability-related topic that I looked at, the search on “what is” or “definition of” was relatively high and the number of Web pages with a title that grabs was low.  This is a great opportunity for organizations with a cause to gain traction with searchers out there who are entering or are in the learning cycle. In the hundreds of video programs we have reviewed for inclusion in our sustainability collection on EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability, the titles reflect a general disconnect from what the video actually covers, choosing in some cases to emphasize the name of the person answering the question, what is sustainability, or the event at which the person attended and was recorded. These are just two examples of hundreds.

But first to change things, the educators and proponents of sustainability have to know and understand the capability of SEO and search engine marketing. Indeed, from my own experience, a greater interest in the Web would be a starting point for many of our leaders addressing environmental, social, cultural or economic sustainability, followed by increasing their (1) personal, (2) professional, (3) organizational, and (4) cause presence (brand) on the Web in all four categories,  and take a crash course on SEO so they can better align their language and messaging with their objectives and audience.  SEO by the way is complicated and is a learning experience for even the most seasoned of marketing professionals.

This is my agenda.

If you invite me to participate in a meeting around sustainability, this is what I am going to talk about; if you want me to increase your revenue for a sustainable product or service, this is what I am going to talk about and help you achieve; and if you ask me how to increase your membership, this is what I am going to talk about and make suggestions around. If you ask me about sustainability, I’ll probably refer you to one of the hundreds voices of sustainability found at EarthSayers.tv.

P.S. I included Walmart in the following chart to give an idea of corporate-related efforts to be in the top rankings, mostly using paid search, but increasingly using organic search more effectively.


Note: (1)

The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100

Sustainability and Higher Education

The Greening of Educational Institutions

When we began to build the collection of EarthSayers.tv, we reviewed many videos featuring professors and students from colleges around the world, mostly addressing issues of how to make their living, learning, and working spaces more sustainable.  It was how I became aware of the growing movement of “greening” campus operations and endowment practices. The Sustainable Endowments Institute publishes The College Sustainability Report Card and is the only Picture 6independent evaluation of campus and endowment sustainability activities at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.  The rationale behind investing in this report card is the same reason many companies are touting their green initiatives: “Colleges are now taking pride in greener campuses and sustainability-savvy investments—increasingly important concerns for parents and students in choosing a school…They can find the first comprehensive college sustainability selection tool at GreenReportCard.org.”

Sustainability Research and Curriculum

At the same time, I was seeing on EarthSayers.tv many colleges addressing the academic side of sustainability with courses and programs such as Harvard’s Program in Sustainability and Environmental Management and Portland State University’s (PSU) Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, an integrated series of post-baccalaureate courses that comprise a multidisciplinary study of the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability.

This interdisciplinary approach is called out in a recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HR 4137) which included the University Sustainability Program (USP).  Under this Act, individual institutions are eligible for funding to “integrate sustainability curriculum in all programs of instruction, particularly in business, architecture, technology, manufacturing, engineering, and science programs.”  At the original intended authorization level of $50 million, USP will annually support between 25 and 200 sustainability projects as reported by the Campaign for Environmental Literacy.

This growth of the academic side of Sustainability is tracked by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  AASHE is an association of colleges and universities working to create a sustainable future. The AASHE notes “from the creation of 70+ sustainability-focused academic programs compared to 27 in the Digest in 2007 and the hiring of 57 new sustainability faculty, to the opening of 13 sustainability-themed research centers and nearly triple that number in the planning stages, it is clear that curricular transformation is underway in the academy.”  They expect a big  boost in numbers and activities given funding of the University Sustainability Program at the Department of Education.

Now that I have relocated EarthSayers.tv and myself to Portland, Oregon from San Francisco, I am taking the opportunity to become more involved in the education side of sustainability. While having worked for the last twenty plus years for corporations, including my own for the last fifteen years, a high tech direct marketing agency, I wanted my understanding and experience with sustainability to be more integrated encompassing education and government as well as business.

Picture 9So for grounding purposes and to help in any way I can with marketing and communications,  I have begun working with the Social Sustainability Network at PSU. The Network is a funded project by the Miller Foundation to develop an infrastructure to support and extend social sustainability work and make a tangible and critical difference in the world.  “The focus is on truly integrating the academy and the community; and theory, research, and practice” says Network organizer, Marion Sharp.  Of particular interest to me is a  colloquium series co-sponsored by the Center of Professional Integrity & Accountability.  Jesse Dillard is the Center’s Director and Retzlaff Chair, Accounting, and a professor of accounting who introduced me to the Network and has been very helpful in introducing me to faculty and staff members.

In upcoming posts I will be reporting back the work of the Network, the Center, and other sustainability-related programs at Portland State University.  This week the School of Business Administration and the Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability is sponsoring the 3rd Annual International Conference on Business and Sustainability, November 5 and 6, 2009. The theme of this year’s conference is regenerate. We hope to include some of the content in EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability.


November 5th and 6th, 2009

Sustainability and the VC Taskforce Roundtable

Each month the VC Taskforce hosts The Elevator Pitch Roundtable an opportunity for entrepreneurs “in a startup that is currently seeking capital” to present a 90-second elevator pitch to a panel of VCs, usually four. These are very interesting as the panel gives a score of their interests based on the pitch and the Q/A that follows.

If I were to expand beyond my experience with this group it seems to me many VC’s, not ALL of course, have no sustainability strategy for their investment activities. If they venture outside the business as usual space, they have a laundry list of sustainability related categories, as do the big consulting firms. See my blog article below on laundry lists. Mobile, alternative energy and bio refineries is a list from Khosla Ventures and under “the things we care about”  (Khosla Ventures), you will find some of this and some of that.

  • Microfinance – SKS, SHARE, ASA, CFTS, Jamii Bora Grameen USA, Unitus – with a goal to provide credit to over 25 million “below poverty line” borrowers. See also An Anti-Poverty Success Story; Video
  • Environment – GE Ecomagination Advisory Council, Chairman of India Advisory Board of the Cleantech Network
  • Education – Indian School of Business – a world class school of business, DonorsChoose.org – teachers ask for private funding on thousands of projects
  • Health – Public Health Institutes of India, UNICEF
  • Affordable housing – Global Home – goaled to build a $5000 home!

Companies need to put all the wood behind one arrow as spreading energies across a broad spectrum of sustainability categories has proven to be pretty ineffective.  Jeffrey Hollinger of Seventh Generation hits the nail on the head when he talks about the need for companies – and VCs are no exception – to make sustainability their core business strategy.

At one Roundtable they poohed-poohed two technologies relating to reducing energy consumption in existing buildings (big, big source of greenhouse gases), but got  excited over a travel Website catering to honeymooners.  That’s when the question entered my mind: Are we twittering while Rome burns?

It’s going to take more than Al Gore to turn things around, if they can be turned around.