Empowering Global Citizens
Nathan Darity describes The Global Switchboard’s work as “helping to steward the network of globally engaged individuals and organizations in Pittsburgh.”
Global engagement, of course, is a broad term. Darity and the Switchboard try to divide it into five themes: education; immigrant and refugee inclusion; sustainable development; cross cultural engagement; and innovation and entrepreneurship.
For people and groups working within these areas of interest, the Switchboard creates opportunities for community members to interact and to shape and share ideas. The Switchboard offers opportunities to connect both physically and digitally, through their co-working space in the Lower Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh and online through their Digital Hub. Community members have diverse interests and work: for example, Friends of Farmworkers provides legal services to migrant workers and communities, while Building New Hope operates two schools for underserved youth and provides marketing for a worker-owned coffee co-op in Nicaragua.
In addition to offering these spaces for collaboration, Darity notes that the Switchboard also plays the role of a catalyst. “Whether they’re in our space or have profiles online, or are simply invested in seeing Pittsburgh better connected with the world, we want to activate these parties to come together around key issues and move them forward,” says Darity.
He points out that he and his colleagues at the Switchboard are not authorities within any of the five global engagement themes that the organization champions. Rather, he says, they strive to be conveners. “We believe in supporting people who have a relevant stake and are experts in a particular area, whose lives and work are connected to these kinds of critical issues.” He adds that the Switchboard is committed to telling these people’s stories, whether it’s by publishing a profile of an individual on the Digital Hub or producing a video that documents how an organization used a recent grant.
To him, promoting collaboration between parties and working to include a wide, diverse group of voices are the job, he says, and they’re also means to an end.
Switchboard connections frequently add value to community members’ work. For example, Amizade, the founding organization of the Global Switchboard, sends people on cross-cultural service-learning trips to countries including Brazil, Ghana, and Tanzania. Their programs now rely on security briefings created by Armada Global, a risk management firm run by ex-CIA personnel and a fellow member of the Switchboard network. Other Switchboard members champion a variety of initiatives related to refugee resettlement, helping newcomers to Pittsburgh feel welcome and included in their new city at every step along the transition to their new home.
Ultimately, by facilitating connections like these, Darity hopes to increase awareness in Pittsburgh about what it means both to influence and be influenced by other parts of the world. “Investments in being a good global citizen and a good global neighbor are as important as investments in providing good cultural amenities to a region and good educational systems,” says Darity. Building community among Pittsburgh’s globally minded organizations, and connecting the city more intentionally to the global community, can make Pittsburgh a better place.