Which Is Better? Creating Your Own Event or Participating in an Existing Event?

As part of our new strategic plan, our club is stepping up efforts to improve our public image and our presence in the community, in part through social and traditional media, but also through the organization of public events and participation in existing events. Which is better? Creating our own event, or participating in events that already exist in your community?

As expected, the answer is “it depends”. Both types of events are an option, and if you can do both, all the better for your club. Let me illustrate this with two events for our club in the past week: our participation in the Barracks Row Festival (an existing event) on September 24, and our seminar on education for peace and social change at the World Bank (an event we created) on September 20.

The Barracks Row Festival is an annual family-oriented community event for Capitol Hill, the neighborhood in which our club is located in Washington, DC. Some 140 organizations and vendors have stands. Depending on weather, up to 10,000 people pass through the street where the event is located from 11 AM to 5 PM. For the second year in a row, we participated. This year our stand featured a bean bag game (as shown in the picture where you can see that our game has the Rotary emblem!)  Children and adults who succeeded in throwing a bag in the hole got a cute slap bracelet. In practice, we (of course) gave the slap bracelet to all the children who wanted it. Thanks to one of our members and her colleagues, we also had face painting for children for a few hours. This was as expected an even better attraction for children than the bean bag game.

barracks

A few hundred people came by our stand, on a few occasions because they were interested in Rotary, but mostly because their children wanted to play or get their face painted. We did make a number of useful contacts, but more importantly we got our name out there in a positive way.  We contributed to an important event in our community, which we should do independently of any potential benefit for our club.

Our second event this past week was very different. We organized a seminar at the World Bank on education, peace, and social change with three very good speakers: one from our public school system and two from great local nonprofits (Street Law and One World Education). A Rotary Peace Fellow from George Mason University served as discussant, and one of my colleagues at the World Bank served as chair.

I will write more about the seminar when I will have the video to share, but for this post, in terms of comparing participation in an existing event with organizing a new event, the lessons are twofold. First, the seminar was well attended (with about 55 participants), but it reached fewer people than our stand at the Barracks Row Festival. On the other hand the people we reached included professionals that we are aiming to work with through our Capitol Hill pro bono initiative whereby we provide strategic advise to local nonprofits and agencies on the challenges they face. The event not only contributed to the broader discussion on education and peace, but it also contributed to our credibility as a partner. The fact that we co-organized the event with the World Bank. a respected organization in DC, did not hurt.

So, the message that I wanted to convey with these two examples of recent events for our club is simple: if you can, you should consider multiple types of events to make your club better known. Some of these events could be created from scratch, as we did for the seminar at the World Bank, while others could entail participation in existing community events with broader reach. Both types of events are great opportunities to make your club better known and contribute to the community.

Education, Peace, and Social Change Event at the World Bank

For readers of this blog who are based in the greater Washington, DC, area, please take note of an event I am organizing at the World Bank. On September 20, 2016 at 4 PM (until 5:30 PM followed by a light reception), we will have a great panel discussion on education for peace and social change featuring innovative programs in the DC area. The event is co-sponsored by my Rotary club and organized ahead of International Peace Day. Details are provided below. Feel free to share this information with others as all are welcome, but please do register at the following link if you intend to come but are not a World Bank staff (space is limited).
 
Education, Peace, and Social Change: Innovations in the District of Columbia

Panel on September 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM, Room J 1-050 (Address: 701 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20006)

How can secondary education be safe for students while also promoting peace and social change? This question will be discussed by a panel featuring innovative programs in Washington, DC. These programs provide useful insights not only for the United States but also for developing countries. Case studies will be presented about work in this area by District of Columbia Public Schools (in terms of improving safety in schools and promoting restorative justice), Street Law (in terms of empowering young people with legal and civic knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring about positive change for themselves and others) and One World Education (in terms of improving the research and writing skills of students and enabling them to write about issues that they deeply care about). The panel is organized for International Peace Day (on September 21) by the World Bank’s Education Global Practice together with the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank Community Outreach, and the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. A light reception will follow the event.

Introduction: Quentin Wodon, Lead Economist, World Bank

Chair: Joel Reyes, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank

Speakers:

David Jenkins, Manager of Behavior and Student Supports, DC Public Schools

Lee Arbetman, Executive Director, Street Law

Eric Goldstein, Chief Executive Officer, One World Education

Discussant: 

Arthur Romano, Assistant Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Why do you teach the children to jump up at our throat?

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

“Why do you teach the children to jump up at our throat?” This question was once asked by an unhappy South African High School principal to Ed O’Brien, a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Washington, DC and the founder of Street Law, a nonprofit that strives to teach individuals and communities, especially in underserved area, about the law. In forty years, Street Law has grown from a pilot program to a recognized institution active throughout the US and in 40 other countries. As the South Africa quote illustrates, the road has not always been easy, but it has been successful and rewarding.

Street law

Ed founded Street Law in 1972 when he was awarded a Robert F. Kennedy fellowship which helped him launch the organization. Together with other Georgetown University Law students, he developed an experimental curriculum to teach high school students in the District of Columbia about the law. Having been a law student and a high school teachers Ed knew that while young people needed to know about the law, they did not. Because the curriculum Ed and his friends developed was very practical curriculum, it was called “Street Law.”

Over the years, materials were developed, including on crime prevention, conflict resolution, youth advocacy, and democracy. Today the program focuses on training others to become effective “Street Law” educators. The organization’s flagship textbook, Street Law: A Course in Practical Law, is in its eighth edition, and hundreds of “lessons” have been developed which can be used by teachers, principals, and school administrators, as well as lawyers, law students, and the legal community. Street Law also works with NGOs to reach and educate underserved populations, such as pregnant and parenting teens, youth emerging from foster care, and those in the juvenile justice system. Law enforcement officers are also a key partner.

Ed retired as executive director of Street Law, Inc. in November 2008, but he still serves today as honorary member of the board of directors and executive director emeritus. When asked what was most rewarding about his experience, he responded that it was “the satisfaction that something that you have started was liked and used by people all over the world.” As Ed put it, “the law should belong to the people, not the lawyers.”

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).