Lending a Hand Abroad

MAKE AN IMPACT: Will Slotznick, a junior from West Chester, Pa., is studying international relations in the College of Arts & Sciences with minors in African studies and international development, and is the founding director of Global Impact Collaborative (GIC). This student-run initiative pairs undergraduates with international nonprofits for pro bono research and consulting services around issues of education, as well as monitoring and evaluation. GIC partners with eight organizations in six different countries and has 40 student members.

GLOBAL CITIZEN: Slotznick was first introduced to African affairs in high school, after his father became involved with the Liberian immigrant community in Philadelphia. When the opportunity arose, Slotznick applied for a travel grant and went to Ghana after his sophomore year in high school (with 60 pounds of art supplies in tow) to teach West African art and history.

A ‘DO-GOOD HEART’: At the end of his trip, Slotznick asked the school director if he could return; the following summer, he introduced a conflict resolution curriculum to students. “The problem was, I had used a model based on American public schools,” Slotznick says. “I was 17 years old and I had a do-good heart, I suppose. I just wanted to help but I realized that it’s far more complicated than that. You can't just go and expect to be impactful. This work is complex, you need to think about a lot of different things—you need to think about the relationship forming, the way you’re communicating with other people, you need to consider the preferences and experience of the community you’re going to support, otherwise you're just not going to be effective.”

WORK IN NICARAGUA: Around this time, Slotznick read about Sharon Ravitch, senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Education, and Ph.D. student Matt Tarditi, who work on Semillas Digitales (Digital Seeds), which brings technology to coffee-producing communities in Nicaragua. In Slotznick’s freshman year at Penn, he worked with Tarditi to recast his conflict resolution curriculum from Ghana, and traveled to Nicaragua in October of 2014 to deliver the program to a group of teachers. Slotznick returned to Nicaragua in the summer of 2015.

Will Slotznick

Will Slotznick, a junior from West Chester, Pa., is studying international relations in the College of Arts & Sciences with minors in African studies and international development.

A VARIETY OF INTERESTS: The students in GIC are studying everything from economics, international relations, history, English, and anthropology, to business and engineering. They work on teams of four to five people to tackle a problem presented by a partner organization. On one project, under the guidance of Tarditi, Slotznick and several other students helped the Fabretto Children’s Foundation streamline and rethink measurements used to evaluate programs.

STUDENT-POWERED: Because GIC is run by students, Slotznick says it’s important for participants to be up-front about what they can accomplish. “At the same time, we want to make sure that what we provide is truly tangible and supportive of the organizations that we are working with,” he says.

THE FUTURE OF GIC: Slotznick is laying the groundwork for GIC to be sustainable after he leaves Penn. Post-graduation, he’d like to try international development consulting. “Working so closely with Matt and Dr. Ravitch really changed my perspective in how I should be approaching this work,” Slotznick says. “I think a lot of people approach this work thinking that since we have the resources, then obviously we can be supportive and impactful—but there’s a lot more to that.”

  • Text by Heather A. Davis
  • Video by Rebecca Elias Abboud
  • Photos by Scott Spitzer