Sustained Dialogue Action Ambassadors
Develop everyday leaders who engage differences as strengths to improve their schools. College students lead high school students in dialogue-to-action.
About Your Organization
International Institute for Sustained Dialogue
United States, DC, Washington, Washington
Country where this project is creating social impact
United States, Multiple
Is your organization a
Non‐profit / NGO / Citizen sector organization
Your role in Education
The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with
How long has your organization been operating?
More than 5 years
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Select the stage that best applies to your solution
Idea (you're poised to launch)
How long has your solution been in operation?
Operating for more than 5 years
The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?
High school students often experience exclusion, a key factor in violence, poor achievement and suicide rates. A third of youth are bullied or bully others, with 85% of LGBTQ youth reporting being harassed at school. Students also experience exclusion from teachers, administrators, and structures. Students of color are significantly less likely to be in well-resourced schools, receive individual attention, and are punished more severely for more subjectively defined infractions. Unfortunately, students are poorly equipped to battle these issues. Only a third of youth have access to civic learning opportunities, which robs them of their voice and perpetuates their alienation into adulthood. In this polarized culture, we need leaders who can engage differences as strengths.
The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!
The International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (IISD) applies Sustained Dialogue (SD) in international communities, workplaces, and college campuses. SD is a 5 stage dialogue-to-action system codified by Hal Saunders, former Assistant Secretary of State. Through SD, individuals identify who to engage (stage 1), build trust and empathy by exchanging experiences (stage 2), identify root causes of issues surfaced (stage 3), brainstorm individual and collective actions (stage 4), and act where the group has courage and resources to create change (stage 5). After 30 years, in 20 international settings, 15 workplaces, and 20 college campuses, we want to support younger leaders addressing exclusion in schools. With Ashoka’s support, we will use the near-peer model of college students leading high school groups, enabling all students to gain empathy-building and civic agency skills while improving academic performance and designing community change.
The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities
“SD saved my college experience. People about whom I held such hateful prejudices became more than the one-dimensional labels I stuck on them....and the shift in my worldview that followed caused me to act and treat people differently.” -Grace, SD participant. We work with students like Grace through national summits, on-campus inclusive leadership workshops, evaluations, and weekly mentoring. After graduation, SD’s “different way of knowing” persists: alumni like Grace start SD in their Peace Corps posts and at major consulting firms, bring their conflict navigation skills to organizations like Teach for America, and alter a culture of debate as lawyers. Understanding that identity-based exclusion and violence start in childhood, we want to begin building a culture of empathy in high school, or earlier. Through our proposed pilot, two highly-trained SD college students will co-moderate a group of 10 high school students. Together, they will listen, understand, and take action. Using SD, diplomats have created peace treaties; workplaces have increased retention; and college students have amended racial profiling policies, hosted Mental Health Awareness campaigns, and created Bias Response Initiatives. Likewise, high school students will develop their own projects to tackle issues such as bullying. After the initial pilot, college and high school students will expand their reach by moderating dialogue-to-action for middle and elementary students to build an expectation and culture of empathy.
The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?
Our work is at the nexus of civic engagement, millennial leadership development, and inclusion. We join strong sister organizations in developing inclusive leaders (e.g., Interfaith Youth Corps, Intergroup Dialogue, Facing History) and collaborate with One World Youth Project, LeaderShape, EverydayDemocracy, and Youth Venture. IISD has a grassroots focus on student leadership and sustained engagement, utilizes a proven process in versatile contexts, and develops an international network of empathic youth change agents. Working together, a movement of all sister organizations could create a new norm by increasing the supply of young talent with leadership skills. We look forward to learning about more partners and kindred spirits through Changemakers.
Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]
Develop everyday leaders who engage differences as strengths. College students lead high school students in dialogue-to-action.
Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]
Near-peer model adapts international diplomatic process where college students facilitate high school students in transforming relations
This Entry is about (Issues)
What has been the impact of your solution to date?
While students’ empathy scores are decreasing at a national level, 91% of students who went through SD reported thinking critically to improve others’ experiences. They also reported a higher willingness to speak about their identity (from 78% to 96%) and engage to change group norms (from 59% to 92%). SD’s impact is not confined to campuses, however: in Tajikistan’s SD participants’ covenants became part of the constitution. A California organization director said “Thanks to SD…we can work together in ways I never imagined possible.” At a consulting firm, 80% of employees agreed they “felt comfortable bringing their full identities to the workplace” after SD as opposed to 40% before. Given the power of SD in versatile contexts, there is every reason to see similar results in a high school pilot. Since 2009, IISD has grown from serving 600 students and professionals to 5,000 annually, readying our capacity for growth.
What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?
From our strategic plan, IISD will directly train 3,000 youth, youth-advocates, and professionals in the next 3 years, with 36,000 individuals benefiting from the skills and concepts gained through SD. Pilot Year 1 will work with 1 site (20 college and 100 high school students). Year 2 will increase to 5 sites (100 college and 500 high school students). In Year 3, high school students will bring SD to K-8, infusing a district culture and skill-set of empathy: Given that inclusion leads to better performance and speaking up and talking to someone are the best ways to end bullying, creating a norm for building trust, finding voice, and taking action will positively impact academic and civic lives. SD provides the much-needed outlet and skills needed to walk a mile in someone else’s skin.
What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?
There are three main barriers. First, selecting and building strong partnerships with communities is integral to success. To ensure strong partnerships, we strategically select based on criteria developed over our 10+ years of lessons learned and strong partnership. Second, given the versatility and power of SD, we receive more requests for services than we can provide. Building capacity and selecting scaling partners to maintain the fidelity of the high quality program will mitigate this. Third, pursuing these milestones and equipping more youth with tools for empathic leadership requires garnering financial and human resources. We will aggressively implement our resource development plan and seek like-minded organizations to partner toward shared goals.
Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact
Solidify relationship between pilot campus and high school. Prepare college students to apply skills for high school students.
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Host Summer Summit where 80 youth leaders and administrators convene; subset of 20 focuses on pilot for high schools
Train pilot students and high school partners in Inclusive Leadership workshop. Modify curriculum for durining/after school
Create evaluations and assessments to track progress and outcomes; work with existing measures at the high school and college
Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone
Expand from 1-5 sites, increasing from 20 college students & 100 high schoolers to 100 college students & 500 high schoolers.
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Secure financial resources for pilot program. Work with local and regional partners, campus resources, public education.
Finalize the new campus/high school partners for after pilot year. Harvard, UVA, Cuyahoga expressed interest and capacity.
Evaluate program metrics and academic outcomes of control group of college and high school students to inform future years.
Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]
Hal Saunders was negotiating the Camp David Peace Accords, Egyptian Israeli Peace Treaty, and other international conflicts when he realized intractable problems dividing nations couldn’t be solved if people in those nations couldn’t communicate and relate with each other. His experiments with democracy led him to conceptualize Sustained Dialogue: five stages with a focus on building relationship while transforming communities (Tajikistan’s Sustained Dialogue Action informed the new country’s constitution)! In 1999, Princeton University students, alarmed by data repeatedly showing students of color less happy than white students, worked with Hal to adapt SD to campus. Deemed most effective student organization, SD spread to other campuses. Seeing SD’s power at every age, the next progression is for SD campuses to work with local K-12 students toward a more inclusive society. This is inspired by our participation in a high school group teaching elementary students about difference.
Tell us about your partnerships
Leadership Exchange, which brings high school students to Botswana for cultural immersion and service, hires trained SD alumni as chaperones and has IISD conduct change agent and communication workshops. We work closely with each university partner around engagement, inclusion, and student success. Bridgespan recruits directly from SD alumni. MRM Worldwide provides pro-bono marketing support. USA Characters Unite and Comcast invest in our work. We provide trainings for Year Up, Children’s Defense Fund, Holocaust Memorial Museum, New Sector Alliance, and Atlas Service Corps.
What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]
While Hal and his senior associates lend experience, the near-peer training model reinforces the importance of college students facilitating leadership and conflict resolution for youth. A member from the IISD Board of Directors agreed to oversee the pilot’s successful implementation at her institution, where she is senior advisor to the President. Relationships with local high schools and the SD club on campus since 2002 ensures that there are locals on the ground to work with youth. Strengthening our Alumni Network hubs in pilot cities engages the dialogue-to-action movement at every age.
Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list
We will support trainings on transforming relationships and designing community change at every age group, send our trained alumni to organizations seeking talent, share findings from scaling to 30+ different types of campuses, workplaces, and communities. We seek investment and similar models of teaching high school students.