2019-2020 marks the 10 year anniversary of the Global Lounge. To celebrate, we will be doing a series of Global Lounge alumni features to find out more about how their time as members helped shape where they are today.
“Stop asking young people what they want to be when they grow up and start asking them what kinds of problems they want to solve”
Meet Matt Whiteman, one of the founding members of the Global Lounge Community. Matt completed his undergraduate degree at UBC in Human Geography and Political Science & moved on to complete his Master’s Degree with a focus on International Development, through field work primarily in Kenya.
Between his graduate and undergraduate degrees however, Matt, like many of us, had no idea at the time what he wanted to do post-graduation. But he did know what ideas and problems he was passionate about working towards solving. He knew that he wanted to do whatever he could to fill in gaps in the existing university and community framework, and do whatever he could to extend his own insights to others.
And that’s exactly the type of skill that Matt was able to foster through his time at UBC, and being involved with the UBC Global Lounge.
Tell us about your work at the Global Lounge back in 2009.
“I helped Jola choose the furniture! The walls were still being finished when we met in the space. And we were doing everything from choosing the furniture to creating an identity for the space.
We were asking ourselves who is this space for, who is in and out, how do we think about ourselves in a philosophical and academic sense and what is the kind of community we want to build, what kinds of conversations do we want to have here — those were the kind of conversations I was involved in right at the beginning. The Global Lounge as we know it didn’t exist back then – we had to figure out what it was going to be.
We were looking to create a physical space that did justice to the kind of conversations on global issues we wanted, but we also needed a sort of imagined community to use the words of Benedict Anderson – we had to find that which binds all these groups together.”
Today the Global Lounge has close to 40 UBC student clubs and organizations in our membership – what student organization or club were you involved with the Global Lounge through?
“I was one of the coordinators for a UBC funded research project called the ‘Ethics of International Engagement and Service-Learning Project – or EIESL.
Our project came out of a need to develop a consciousness around the ethical implications for volunteers servicing in marginalized communities abroad.
We were really trying to create a movement to try and draw more awareness toward some unchallenged assumptions. My last name is literally ‘White man’ and I’d done 8 months of volunteering in East Africa before joining the EIESL project, and came home with a fair amount of moral pain after being put in a position to make decisions where I shouldn’t really have had authority or where I didn’t have enough intercultural intelligence in what I was doing.
I wanted to fill in that knowledge gap – there wasn’t a lot of conversation about these things at the time. It was about the benefits and challenges for students in a service-learning project. People were not really talking about the challenges host communitiesthemselves faced.
The EIESL project developed learning materials designed for volunteers themselves, and groups of globally focused student groups – like the ones you would find in the membership of the Global Lounge. The trainings we offered were designed to raise consciousness around the implications of the decisions we make as individuals and as groups when we try to “help” others.”
Matt played a significant role in the founding of the Global Lounge in another way as well – he wrote our motto, “Civis Mundus Sum,” which is Latin for “I am a citizen of the world.”
“Many times people will say that because they are a citizen of a country, that entails them with certain inalienable rights. But for me, the responsibility piece seemed missing in this statement. So when I proposed the motto, it was meant to reflect the balance between rights and responsibilities that must be associated with global membership.”
Can you talk a little about your current job, and how your work at the Global Lounge led to your current position at Choco4Peace?
“I currently work at Choco 4 Peace as Partnership and Growth Manager, which is a multi-institutional movement that uses financial models, disruptive technology and delicious chocolate to try and build peace in post conflict regions. So starting in Columbia, we work with ex-cocoa leaf growers and war-victims and connect them with access to markets, investment, and capacity building, and technology, using hyper ledger block chain.
As consumers it is important for many to know where our food comes from – but it is also possible to trace the socio-economic and environmental impacts. We measure this using blockchain – so we can see exactly how much a farmer is getting paid when people buy our chocolate. Through this project we connect farmers to a chocolate maker who will pay a price far above what they would get selling to the domestic market, and thus increase revenue by 50% – so instead of, for example employing children on a farm, they can now afford to send them to school.
My role in the EIESL project at UBC helped me understand international development from a much broader perspective – and that it was my responsibility to bring different actors together and share ideas and resources together, so we could create conversation that would land with the university community and inspire people.
And that’s something that I continue doing today through the work I do at Choco4Peace – inspiring people to build the world they want to live in.”
What’s one thing that has stuck with you after leaving UBC & the Global Lounge? How did this space end up shaping you?
“There was this article written by then president of Brown University and she was being criticized because the rate at which grads at the University were getting jobs was not that high. She said the University’s purpose is not to get you a job but to transform your soul. And that’s what this is – a place you come to with more questions than answers, and where you may not leave with all those answers, but you may have better questions.
I pride myself now at being really good at asking better questions. That was something I was really able to hone at the Global Lounge.”
*You can Check out More about “Choco4Peace” here: www.choco4peace.org*
“Wait until you find something that makes you say – this is really important and I won’t be able to stop until I have an answer to this question.”
Huge thank you to Matt for being the first of our featured alumni in this series commemorating the Lounge’s 10 year anniversary. Keep an eye out for more features coming soon!