On an average Wednesday night, it is rare to find discussions that can keep a room full of nearly forty people immersed and engaged for two hours. However, the symposium’s second-to-last public event, a Peace Projects peer critiques session facilitated by Alan Harlam, maintained a consistent, lively conversation for more than its allotted two-hour time slot. Tonight, the Strait Talk delegates, organizers, and other interested members of the Brown community met in the basement of a Brown building to engage in an intense peer critique. This critique brought together people associated with the Social Innovation Initiative (SII) and the members of the Strait Talk symposium for an exciting collaboration to brainstorm and expand upon the Peace Project ideas that the delegates are in the process of developing.
SII is a student initiative at Brown that aims to create a support network and community for social entrepreneurship projects. Alan Harlam, who works at the Swearer Center for Community Service at Brown and very closely with SII, acted as the moderator of the discussion. He introduced the format by describing the role of these peer critiques in the SII network: a forum to have a discussion with the person proposing or organizing the project and to provide the resources of “power, knowledge and advice” that the other students in the network possess. Several Starr Fellows, who received funding from SII to work on projects over the summer and participate in exchanges of mentoring through the fellowship, helped provide insightful and useful feedback for the peace project groups. However, all those who present were encouraged to participate; people affiliated with neither Strait Talk nor SII offered comments did offer valuable feedback as well.
The Strait Talk delegates took turns presenting in groups the inchoate ideas that they have started working on for the Peace Projects that they hope to carry out after the symposium. After a short description of their ideas for the potential project, the room became an open forum for recommendations, questions and suggestions of resources that the group may find useful in their future work on the project. At points, the entire room would be buzzing with excitement and eager to interject comments.
Ideas presented by the delegates were wide-ranging and innovative. One group proposed a travel and exchange program for youth in Asia to help create cultural understanding to aide in post World War II reconciliation. Suggestions and advice included partnering with existing study abroad organizations and historical museums and to focus on the curriculum. Another group’s project proposal is for a “match-making” site to pair interested individuals from USA, Taiwan and China with service NGO’s on both sides of the strait. Also discussed was the idea for a new social networking site, particularly aimed at highlighting cross-strait connections. Concerns and ideas from the peer-critique: where would the server be? How would the new site divert traffic from pre-existing sites such as Renren and Facebook? A pair of delegates proposed creating “Strait Talk Lite” at the University of Wisconsin Madison. They envision a remodeling of Strait Talk methodology to connect the Chinese and Taiwanese student communities at their home university. This garnered much excitement from the entire group, including the exclamation from Dr. Tatsui Arai, “This is brilliant!”
Overall, the intensive session left the delegates with much to think about for their future work on the projects. Alan also expressed his delight in getting to hear about the projects, provide feedback and that the atmosphere of the discussion had exceeded his expectations. The ideas of the young people in the room were so full of potential and passion that the inspiration in the air was nearly a tangible force.