Michael J. Nyenhuis, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization Americares, spoke at an all-school convocation on February 20 about serving the common good in the context of globalization, this year's school theme.
Mr. Nyenhuis defined globalization as the phenomenon of the world becoming "a smaller place." With advancements in technology and the media, and more opportunities for global travel and tourism, people are engaging with each other in many parts of the world, Mr. Nyenhuis said. Because of globalization, "people are sharing the same experiences in a way that has never happened before," he said, noting the worldwide attention focused on the Olympic Games in South Korea as an example.
Globalization makes it faster and easier for people from around the world to trade ideas and goods with each other, Mr. Nyenhuis said. In advanced countries, this sharing is a two-way street, he noted, but in the poorest countries, the sharing tends to go in only one direction.
"We are very good at taking our media, culture, and products to less economically-developed countries of the world," he said, holding up a can of Coca Cola as an example, "but we bring back little in return."
Mr. Nyenhuis also spoke about the global work of Americares, which is dedicated to improving the lives of people living in communities affected by poverty and disaster. Americares works to improve the health and welfare of people living in poverty in places like El Salvador, Indonesia, and Nepal, and people affected by natural disasters around the world, including communities in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Americares operates on the belief that good health promotes education, employment, and active community life while bad health undermines their advancement, he said. The organization provides emergency programs and access to health care, including medicine, clinical services, and community health education, to people in more than 90 countries. Mr. Nyenhuis showed video testimonials about health improvements that Americares has supported for people and villages in El Salvador and Liberia.
While traveling with Americares, Mr. Nyenhuis has observed innovative solutions created out of necessity in less well-developed countries. In response to problems, these communities creatively make good use of limited resources, he said.
"There is much we can learn from these communities," Mr. Nyenhuis said, adding that doing so will allow the benefits of globalization to flow in both directions. He pointed to several examples, including the Masai talking stick, a physical stick used to ensure equity and maintain order in group discussions; the banning of plastic bags in Rwanda, resulting in the effective curtailing of litter; rainwater harvesting, a necessity for survival in many communities but a practice that could help conserve water everywhere; and computer sharing in schools, born of necessity in India, but also advancing the positive impact of cooperation and teamwork among students.
Mr. Nyenhuis encouraged the audience to consider the reciprocal benefits of sharing experiences with people from less advanced countries than their own, especially when engaged in service learning trips.
"When you go to serve others," challenged Mr. Nyenhuis, "keep your eyes and ears open — and bring some of those best ideas back. Be a learner as much as a server when you go."
During his visit to campus, Mr. Nyenhuis spoke with students in an environmental science course on human populations, and other students interested in international learning opportunities.