A Preview: Putting Shared Values into Practice in University-Community Partnerships

March 22, 2018

Corey Portell and Emory Erker-Lynch, of Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies, are convening a panel of community partners, Margaret Amanyire​, Foundation for Sustainable Development, —Uganda; Julio Arze Balderrama​, Tukuy Pacha —Bolivia; Daniel Bryan​, Pachayasana—Ecuador; Ali Nyende,​ St. Francis Health Services—Uganda; Mauricio Ramirez​, Foundation for Sustainable Development—Bolivia; Gabriel Vargas​, Institute for Central American Development Studies—Costa Rica for the Global Service Learning Summit, to facilitate conversation around the work of aligning values and improving community outcomes in global service learning.

Margaret Amanyire, third from left, poses with alums of the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) at a Northwestern Homecoming celebration. Amanyire, Uganda Site Director for the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), will join the GSL Summit panel this April to share her perspective on defining and living out shared values through her work with GESI and the Community Based Research (CBR) Fellowship.

Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies offers a variety of opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in service-learning, such as community-based research, internships, and collaborative work in a U.S. context and abroad. Our programs, especially the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), have strong student-driven origins and philosophical roots in asset-based community development. Over the last 11 years, our student-facing and partnership practices have evolved in response to trends in higher education and in the field of global service-learning. In that time, as our partnerships have grown in number and in depth, we have learned numerous lessons that have impacted those in the partnership, many of which have altered our approach to service-learning. This is why we are excited to organize a panel of six global partners for the Global Service Learning (GSL) Summit in April.

Strong partnerships with community-based organizations/NGOs, families and community members who host students, global volunteer sending organizations [VSOs], and U.S.-based students, staff, and faculty are integral to the success of Buffett Institute undergraduate programs. University-community partnerships in service-learning and research are often multi-layered and involve accountabilities to multiple stakeholders. This presents various challenges in coordination, joint planning, assessment, and arriving at mutual objectives across several layers of partnerships. Our panel, Putting Shared Values into Practice in University-Community Partnerships, will provide a glimpse into the processes and practices we are implementing in the move toward a more community-centered praxis. Global partner voices will be emphasized; their perspectives and experiences will lead the conversation.

In the beginning, GESI was created in response to students’ desire for appropriate preparation for volunteering abroad. They wanted to make a difference, but knew that in order to do so ethically, they needed help. Since then, the Buffett Institute has worked with numerous organizations to build a program and curriculum that strives to prepare students to work collaboratively and equitably with community partners in the process of participating in small-scale, development projects. More recently, our partnerships have found other avenues for mutually beneficial collaboration through the creation of a Community-Based Research Fellowship (CBR Fellowship). In these programs (GESI and CBR), partners play a role not only as co-educators for students who participate in the programs, but they also guide university faculty and administrators to see what is needed to adequately align student preparation with desired skills and knowledge-base through coursework, advanced connection with supervisors abroad, focusing students’ efforts towards organizational priorities, and more. Furthermore, as co-coordinators, they jointly determine with program staff how to shift our collective partnership practice to improve outcomes for all involved and to assess where and how we are making progress.

While aligning our programming and partnerships with critical service-learning pedagogy (Mitchell 2008) and Fair Trade Learning standards (Hartman, Morris-Paris, & Blache-Cohen, 2014) we have sought opportunities to enhance communication and build relationships to achieve transparency and foster trust at all levels of our partnerships. This is all easier said than done. There is an inherent tension in community-engaged spaces in higher education where the goals for teaching students can potentially outweigh the goals for serving the community (Sherraden, Lough, & McBride, 2008). For example, our mission remains “to prepare undergraduates with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to collaborate for social change and lead lives of responsible global engagement.” But, what if we reoriented our values statements to explicitly put the community at the center of teaching and learning? Can or should we re-articulate program and partnership outcomes that begin with the community and translate to enhanced student learning? Who initiates these conversations and how? Where does power reside in the process of making these determinations? While we may consistently seek out and honor our partners’ critiques, concerns, ideas, and success stories, where is there dissonance between how the programs are structured and whose outcomes – student or community – are the primary focus? Putting these questions and practices into conversation and implementation relies heavily on the extent to which values are shared, relationships are built and maintained, and mutual objectives are understood across all levels of partnership.

If you are interested in amplifying partner and community voice as part of your partnership practice, then we invite you to attend our panel at the GSL Summit in April. Our session, Putting Shared Values into Practice in University-Community Partnerships, will be held on Monday, April 16, from 11:15am-12:30pm. Community-based and VSO partners will explore some of the ways we are pursuing dedication to student learning and community outcomes; come and join the discussion.


Hartman, E., Morris-Paris C., & Blache-Cohen, B. (2014). Fair trade learning: Ethical standards for international volunteer tourism. Tourism and Hospitality Research, 14(1-2), 108-116.

Mitchell, T. D., (2008). Traditional v. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, 14(2), 50-65.

Sherraden, M. S., Lough, B. J. & McBride, A. M. (2008). Effects of international volunteering and service: Individual and institutional predictors. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 19, 395-421.

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