Hub Stories: The Change-Making Power of Talk

[Name]: George Scharffenberger

[Organization]: UC Berkeley

[Area of Expertise]: International Development

George Scharffenberger is a talker in the finest sense of the word; his talk is the kind that changes the world. He is a practitioner of international development with a career spanning four decades and as many countries including Senegal, Madagascar, The Gambia, Morocco, India, Mongolia and the UK. I’m writing this article on a desk at Hub Berkeley next to a copy of Building Communities From the Inside Out, an ancient Taoist answer to which hangs on a wall in George’s office:

“Go to the people. Learn from them, love them. Start with what they know, build on what they have. And in the end they will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’”

His talk empowers disadvantaged communities by helping them find and project their own voices on their journeys toward better futures. He worked in Madagascar for an American non-profit assisting communities living near newly-created national parks. The goal was to help them find ways to improve livelihoods that also accommodated national and international objectives to preserve Madagascar’s rich but rapidly disappearing biodiversity.

“The contribution we made to what others were doing was to sugggest alternatives to the paternalistic ‘We are the outsiders. What can we offer you to do what we want?’ approach. Instead we were asking ‘What do you want for yourselves and your community?’ ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘And what are the ways you might reach your aspirations that might be less destructive on the environment?’”

George locates his personal contribution to the dynamic field of international development in an ability to ask that kind of fundamental question of those he considers the real “agents” of development: “My role, at its best, has been as an effective background facilitator helping other people to work through issues and seize their opportunities.”

His talk has impact even while removed from the field of practice in his current work at UC Berkeley. George works under the Vice Chancellor for Research and has what he describes as an unconventional position: “I’m cheerleader, connector and broker. My objective is to increase the quantity and impact of issue-focused international development-related research and programs on campus.” UC Berkeley has an incredible richness in research and education directly relevant to solving problems of underdevelopment around the world, but its largeness often makes it difficult for people to connect:

“There is an opportunity to increase impact by connecting the dots, introducing people across campus to each other and then to practitioners out on the front lines.”

George links people, enlivening the networks they are a part of but are too busy to connect to and use. Equally rewarding, he serves as a link between the realms of theory and practice, believing in the mutual benefit that can derive from a more effective dialogue: “so that the research agenda is better informed by real world issues and the chances are increased that what comes out of university research will actually be useful and used.”

George’s talk builds networks, one of which is our very own. Boasting membership since before day one, he played the role of key connector between the first Hub Berkeley Staff and colleagues on the UC Berkeley campus. For the first couple of years, he also facilitated discussion amongst the international development sub-community within the Hub to help deepen those connections.

“The start of the Hub came at a perfect time for me because one of the things I was trying to do was expand opportunities for the university to connect with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and especially social entrepreneurs off campus. I made a number of introductions of key people on campus—at Haas and the Information School and other places—to the Hub.”

George’s work captures the essence of intrapreneurship. He discovers promising new connections and takes the initiative to establish them with heartfelt a “Hello.” On the definition of entrepreneurship, he ponders: “It’s a willingness to step back and look…and then the ability to really see. There’s a lot going on whether in academia or business or NGO’s, and it’s very easy to get too narrowly focused. The ability to step back, to see, and then the determination to do something about what you see, is ultimately what makes an entrepreneur.” Whether in a remote community meeting, on the UC campus or here at the Hub, George excels in taking a metaphorical step back, seizing opportunities and weaving stronger, more effective networks. He is a living example of how one man’s talk can help others make change happen in the world.

Until next time!

Jasen, Your Hub Stories Writer

Jasen Talise is an intern writer for the Hub Bay Area. He is a fourth year studying Rhetoric and Theater at the University of California, Berkeley. His interests range from existentialist philosophy, competitive hip hop dance, to the culinary arts. This past year, he was a contributing writer for Issues: The Berkeley Medical Journal.

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