Making Partnerships Work: Indiana University ACCT Program
In the field, partnerships are at the core of both short-term success and results that endure. Given FSD’s adherence to the ABCD model and fair-trade learning standards, it’s only natural that our academic alliances are integral to the sustainability of our international work.
Indiana University in Bloomington is among our most engaged university partners, one whose students and faculty have helped us advance lives and communities in both Kenya and Uganda. We both believe that global competency in the 21st century represents one of the greatest challenges facing the world today.
IU’s own highly regarded International Strategic Plan asserts that “Global literacy and collaboration have never been more important than they are now. While nation states and geopolitical regions will remain important forces [the] resolution of pressing global issues that influence local circumstances will require intercultural and international understanding and competencies in every field.”
IU’s Advancing Community, Collaboration, and Training (ACCT) International program provides upper-level undergraduates and masters level candidates the opportunity to learn about international development through coursework and a structured internship experience. Through its partnership with FSD students spend a full ten weeks in-country, living with host families and working full-time at local NGOs.
According to Ann Marie Thomson, Adjunct Instructor, “We take the course aspect of the ACCT program very seriously. Hence, I would have to say the most unique aspect of our partnership with FSD has been the openness and flexibility with which we have been able to jointly create a program that benefits our students at Indiana University, in particular, those at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
“From the very beginning,” Ann Marie says, “the staff at FSD have demonstrated a sincere interest in accommodating a new program into their already existing internship models. It would simply be impossible to run the ACCT program without the support of FSD on the ground. The last two years in Jinja with Margaret and Jonan have been particularly rewarding and we are grateful for their openness to learning more from us and for us to learn more from them trying hard to fit our different approach into their own structure. The give and take that characterizes true partnership has been, I think, the most rewarding aspect of working with FSD. Without the respect and willingness to be flexible at the programmatic level with the FSD staff, I believe the benefits of the internships for our students would not be nearly so profound.”
ACCT began in 2012 when an MPA student at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs spoke with Ann Marie and Project Adviser Peg Stice, about the lack of positive international internship opportunities. They asked the student to put together a team of 4 MPA students and together create a program; the resulting student-faculty team proved enormously effective and positive overall. These MPA students named the program Advancing Community, Collaboration, and Training (ACCT).
Their pilot program in Kenya during the summer of 2012 delivered both challenges and rewards. It also provided “a clear understanding that we could not manage this on our own, from afar, that we needed a team of local community members to facilitate internships on the ground,” Ann Marie says. “So we took a year off, and the four MPA students who went to Kenya in 2012 completed a Capstone studying a new model for ACCT. In their research, they learned about FSD. And that’s how we became engaged with FSD. Since then, we have been testing and refining the ACCT program model and our partnership with FSD has clearly helped to minimize the challenges we faced in 2012 in Kenya.
A key objective of this program is to foster reflection and increased awareness of and appreciation for the joys and challenges implicit in cross-cultural development work. Based on the maxim that global literacy and collaborative skills are essential for students to learn if they wish to pursue careers in international public service, this course will be located in the field as much as possible--thus the underlying methodology that is experiential in nature, or learning-by-doing.
Ann Marie advises, “We believe this is one of the best ways to prepare IU students for careers in international development as it challenges them to work side-by-side with people of widely different cultures and learn ways of addressing local community needs by harnessing local community assets. The academic rationale for this program lies in introducing students to new ways of thinking in a cross-cultural setting that prepares them to be reflective professionals based on the values of collaborative learning and public service.”
In 2018 there were seven IU/ACCT students in Jinja. Peg believes that this is an ideal number given the intensity of the ACCT program with its focus on both course-related work and the internship.
Students are able to experience the daily rhythm of Ugandan home and work life by living with local families while going to work every day, just as their host parents do. In so doing, they learn about the personal and professional joys and challenges of intercultural interaction, the ethics of cross-cultural engagement, and the realities of project-design and implementation in circumstances not always conducive to efficiently “getting things done” within pre-conceived timelines.
The IU team shares FSD’s commitment both to immediate community advances and project sustainability. To this end, Peg says,”We spend a lot of time talking with the students about the reality of development. That first of all, they are outsiders, and second, that they are there for only ten weeks, eight of which are devoted to project design and implementation. In addition to the ABCD approach –which we share with FSD, we also strongly emphasize the need for community-driven projects of scale (small is better than big); and even more importantly, we focus on the need to develop strong relationships (social capital) as the key to sustainable development.”
“We try hard,” Peg believes, “to disabuse students of the notion that they can ‘fix’ community problems; instead, we encourage the skills of listening and appreciative inquiry about what is working already in local communities, trying to build on those assets. If they have left behind strong community relationships, there is a greater likelihood that their projects will be sustainable.”
Communities are changed as a result of this collective effort, and the students are, too. Ann Marie says that “All of the participants have come back changed in personal and professional ways. It may be that the most profound changes have been personal. It is difficult to quantify the subtle changes of the heart and mind in this regard. Clearly, they have returned to IU more self-aware, more mature, more humble (I hope!), and more able to be self-reflective.
“Professionally,” she adds, “the students have come back to IU much more appreciative of the complexity of cross-cultural work, greater respect for what it takes to work in an international setting, more aware of their own goals related to international development, and more respectful of the intercultural competencies that must be developed if they are to pursue a career in this field.”
Since ACCT International’s inception in 2012, 37 IU students have jointly designed projects with local NGO staff, impacting more than 37 communities in a wide range of areas including but not limited to healthcare, HIV-AIDS, microenterprise, elder care, youth development, school programming, food security, the environment, human rights, and women’s rights.
Living and working in Uganda for most of the summer, immersed in the daily rhythms and realities of life in an unknown country, working side-by-side with people of widely different cultures, IU students learn to address local community needs by harnessing local assets. This provides, ultimately, a blueprint for the community’s success and for their own, in the academic and future professional realms.
Virtually all of the ACCT students have pursued careers in the nonprofit world upon graduation (some in international NGOs); two of them have become Peace Corps Volunteers and one returned to work for FSD as an International Program Coordinator for a summer.
According to ACCT Alumnus Nolan Meyer, “The ACCT Program model is unique because it was initiated by students. Its design and implementation represent a collaboration between students and faculty, one set apart by service learning; when coupled with experiential element and coursework, this program provides context and opportunity to observe the theories and principles of development projects management in real time. The ABCD model is an investment, one that requires intention and a commitment to context and an appreciation for culture that is so often undervalued for the sake of time or money—or to placate funders wanting to see results right away. For me, as a professional, it’s important never to lose sight of this and to advocate the longer-term view so that projects may truly serve a community and ultimately sustain. What is great about FSD and the IU/ACCT partnership is that it creates a cohort of young professionals who approach development from this same mindset. As they begin their careers, they carry this theory of change in their pockets and can help it become more appreciated by funders in the future, rather than the donors dictating approaches that may be more short-term in orientation.”