Dr. Tavanti implemented various collaborative research projects benefiting Maya Tzotzil indigenous people belonging to the civil society organization in resistance called Las Abejas (The Bees), in Chiapas, Mexico.
The Ethos of Research
What's the value of research? One could argue that research has a value in and of itself. This may be true. Shouldn't we think about how our research affects those we are researching? Research can also be a valuable tool used to improve the lives of impoverished communities. Research, when engaged, participatory and community-based can find sustainable solutions to global problems like world poverty. It can be directed toward making the world a better place while supported by methods and praxis (theory and practice together) that can be used as positive agents for transforming lives and communities alike. Most often, research is reviewed by boards in academic institutions that make sure research "does no harm" to individuals or animals (especially the most vulnerable ones). But much less effort is placed on directing and evaluating research on its social responsibility "to do good".
Bill Gates summarized this idea of social responsibility of research to address the world most pressing problems affecting the lives of impoverished and marginalized communities at Harvard University's 2007 Law School graduation ceremony:
I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemns millions of people to lives of despair. I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences. But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement. I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries. It took me decades to find out (Gates, 2007).
My research is driven by a social responsibility of working together to find sustainable solutions to the world most pressing problems afflicting the the poorest and most marginalized. Engaging other stakeholders in this process could be time consuming but it's necessary if we take at heart the notion of research ethics, not simply as do-no-harm but also as do-good. In addition, making the research an asset in the toolbox of the people so they empower themselves, requires a participatory, educational and development approach. The same notion of action research or poverty assessments have become, today, essentially framed as Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA).
Academic Social Responsibility (ASR)
I have been involved and supporting the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) emerged from the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). Though quite basic in themselves, the Principles represent a movement in academia (research, teaching, service and administration) that reflects the value of academic social responsibility (ASR), or as the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) prefers to call it, Intellectual Social Responsibility (IRS). Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and UN Millennium Campaign in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emphasize that working toward the most pressing world problems, especially alleviating poverty, is the most pressing social responsibility of our generation. For the first time in human history, our generation has the knowledge, capacity and responsibility to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and end it by 2025 What is the of academia in this challenge?
Today, PRME represents a growing movement of academic institutions and management programs committed to the promotion and integration of socially responsible principles and practices. They represent a platform for dialogue and implementation of social responsibility in education and for making management education relevant to local and global poverty reduction and sustainable development. Social responsibility and sustain-ability are not a fashion in management education. They reflect fundamental shifts in our societies and economic systems that will develop in the years to come. The PRME offer an engagement model for management schools and academic institutions who want to stay “ahead of the curve” by integrating sustainability and social responsibility into their learning outcomes and programs.
There are various studies in the separate treatment of “human rights” and “sustainable development”. However, as public policy makers (at the national and international levels) feel the intense pressure from civil society: (a) to do something substantive about the quality of our human and natural environments and (b) to establish the proper institutional architecture to sustain the welfare of this and future generations, there is a need to develop a new united conceptual and practical framework to bring these two themes together. Working with Dr. Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, an internationally renowned scholar and leader in the fields of sustainable development and human rights, we make an argument and a pratical framework to merge these two paradigms. To find a united framework which will translate into significant revisions of the ways we conceive both “human rights” and “sustainable development”. To understand this combined approaches we first need to recognize the values and limitations of sustainable development and human rights.
Sustainable Development: One prominent definition of sustainable development is from the renowned Brundtland Commission Report (1987). The authors stated that sustainability is attained when we are able to satisfy the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the welfare of future generations. This was one of the first definitions available as an international consensus on the subject. One of the most notable parts of this definition is the recognition of the inter-temporal nature of sustainability. What do we mean by that? They explicitly recognized the existence of future generations. This is to say that our activities in this Planet –production, consumption, trade, servicing, etc. -- must not just respond to the needs of the present generation, ‘us’. They also recognized the importance of long-term development. The idea was not just to observe and measure what may happen in a couple of years from now, but many years ahead of us. This notion of acting today for tomorrow has long been a priority to indigenous peoples. One major limitation of The Brundtland Commission Report definition of sustainability has to do with the concept of “need”. What are the needs that have to be satisfied? Whose needs? Are the needs of the rich equally important to the needs of the poor? The question here is how one defines the concept of need, and what would be the yardstick against which we will measure advances towards sustainability in development. If all depended on private actions and privately held resources, the answer would be very simple: What each society can afford. But when we depend on common resources, earth resources that belong to everyone, the situation is quite complex. This is in addition to the ethical and moral questions that this concept of “needs” and the satisfaction of those needs raise in our human context. There are many other definitions of sustainable development. An easy one to remember is that sustainable development necessitates that development be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. This was often referred to as the “sustainability triangle” A lot was said about each of the axis of the triangle, but very little was brought about them together. There was no optimization framework that would look into the trade-offs between growth and environment, or any other combination or permutation.
Rights-based Development: The goal of a rights-based approach to development is greater realization of rights. A rights-based approach is used in international development and as a method for broad based poverty reduction. Before an intervention is carried out, two groups are identified: 1) The rights-holders. The target group who does not experience fulfillment of rights and 2) The duty-bearers. The institutions who are obliged to fulfill the rights of the rights-holders. Most would consider the mandates by Kofi Annan in 1997 to be the catalyst for infusing human rights into every aspect of the United Nations. This is most clearly depicted in the UNDP’s policy document “Integrating Human Rights with Sustainable Human Development.” This approach is not new. For most people addressing the debate on human rights and the environment, a sub-sample of declarations, statements or treaties are often in their minds. In particular, one would hear references, for example, on: the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 1968, which makes explicit reference to the role of the quality of the human environment on the quality of life of people; the 1972 Declaration of Stockholm, which was a direct result of the First Conference on Development and Environment; the Hague Declaration which makes reference to the linkages between the Right to Life and the quality of the human and natural environment; the General Assembly of the United Nations Declaration in 1990, which said that people are entitled to live in an environment that is healthy and appropriate for their well-being; the Resolution of the Commission on Human Rights specifically on human rights and the environment (first time!); The Rio Declaration of 1992 which was the result of the Second Conference on Development and Environment; the OECD Declaration as regards the Right To Environment as a fundamental rights (“live in a decent environment”); the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe where the issue of protection of the environment and forests for both the present and future generations.
This is a participatory action research project assessing the impact of the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) in its community development work with internally displaced informal settlers in Manila, Philippines. Through initial involvement of graduate students from DePaul University's School of Public Service and in close collaboration with teams of volunteers and researchers from Adamson University, the research has been evaluating the community development model in its micro-savings, social enterprises and value-based women leadership development programs. The impact assessment is conducted through a comprehensive tool called Sustainable Community Integrated Assessment (SCIA).
SCIA is an integrated assessment tool measuring social economic and environmental community development. This tool captures various tools and indicators relevant the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) and their programs for community value formation, micro-savings and community social entrepreneurship among displaced informal settlers in Metro Manila – Philippines. Some of the pre-existing tools include the Social Impact Assessment Tool (SOCAT), a set of integral quantitative and qualitative measurement tools often complementary of Social Impact Analysis (SIA) and Beneficiary Assessment (BA). More information on this and other related tools can be found at World Bank Poverty and Social Impact Analysis (PSIA). The Sustainable Community Impact Analysis is a tool used to assess the impact of a multifaceted program engaged in urban poverty reduction and community development. The VCSR programs aim at achieving sustainable, replicable, participatory and civically integrated community development and quality of life. Community sustainability is assessed along a multi-capital approach that includes social capital, financial-economic capital, environmental-health capital, political-institutional capital, spatial-geographical capital, leadership and self-reliance capital, gender empowerment capital. SCIA is based on the assumption that individual/family and community well-being is the result of an integrated approach to sustainable development. "Sustainable community development is therefore the ability to make development choices which respect the relationship between these various capitals. These capitals follow four “Es” for Engagement, Empowerment, Environment and Economy. The economic activities of the program connected to microfinance, social entrepreneurship and livelihood should positively impact the financial security of participating individuals, families and communities. The community value formation and collaborative activities with volunteers and community leaders should positively impact the community in the leadership capacity, gender empowerment and civic engagement. The promotion of community awareness and organizational capacity in connection to good governance should positively impact the quality level of the natural and physical environment of the community.
The Hay Leadership Project aims at identifying value-based leadership practices in the manner of St. Vincent de Paul. I conducted the original research that lead to the development of a comprehensive leadership model based on four orientations: mission, service, people and tasks. The Project is now offering professional leadership development certificates, courses and coaching services based on the model. The Vincentian Leadership Assessments at the self, 360, organizational and cross-cultural levels offer opportunities to evaluate leadership performances along these integrated value-based models.