By Katie B. Hennessey

With over 25 years of military service, Todd Speer and Mark Alvarez have gathered research on extreme poverty across the globe. The former Army Officers, and current doctoral candidates in UIW’s Dreeben School of Education, conducted humanitarian efforts initiated by the Department of Defense, (DoD) tracking poverty’s impact on human trafficking and migration.

“We knew through our past work in other countries around the world that there’s a missing piece we can really help provide and make a difference in the world,” Speer, CEO said.

Global Aid Consultants at work in Guatemala

Global Aid Consultants at work in Guatemala.

That missing piece, was an organization that would serve as a link between government agencies, host country organizations and civilians in high-risk countries. So, Speer and Alvarez came together to found Global Aid Consultants, a non-profit that supports government projects in developing countries across three continents, a service dependent on effective cross-cultural communication and coordination with global policy-makers. Increasing educational opportunities and access to health care by sustaining schools and clinics, Global Aid plans to transform communities in need. This task is supported by theories, methods and ethics established in the duo’s education.

“Becoming more empathetically connected people,” is a pathway to deepening research methods, according to Dreeben School of Education professor and methodologist, Dr. Alfredo Ortiz.

Speer and Alvarez began the directed studies doctorate program, International Education and Entrepreneurship, (IEE) in 2016, employing altruistic research methods by launching the international charity organization.

Dreeben PhD students, Mark Alvarez, (left) Jaime Gonzalez, Linda Gjergji and Eryanne Taft work together on systemization assignment in Qualitative Methods and Analysis interdisciplinary class.

Dreeben Ph.D. students, Mark Alvarez, (left) Jaime Gonzalez, Linda Gjergji and Eryanne Taft work together on systemization assignment in Qualitative Methods and Analysis interdisciplinary class.

“This is a platform,” Alvarez commented on the action-oriented IEE program. “It allows us to create deeper reflections, and with these deeper reflections, it structures our attitudes, especially with social entrepreneurship.”

In the interdisciplinary Ph.D. course, Qualitative Methods and Analysis, Ortiz theorizes “the way we engage with people either generates knowledge, or it doesn’t.” Throughout the course, each student led a research-focused activity and feedback was given on the activities ability to evoke internal knowledge. This data helped Speer and Alvarez realize the power of human connection in understanding the needs of the population they are serving.

The IEE track at the Dreeben School of Education has a strong emphasis on social entrepreneurship. The idea is for students to learn to effect change in a culturally sensitive way. In this case, the researcher does not see them self as a hierarchy, or the answer to another culture’s needs. Instead, they are an active communicator in a cross-cultural context, partnering to create sustainable solutions to existing problems.

Observations in the field, opened Speer and Alvarez’ eyes to an international problem they would eventually partner in a solution. The veterans found when DoD Humanitarian Projects built schools in remote, impoverished locations, obstacles like funding, rules and regulations kept the U.S. government from providing needed infrastructure to ensure sustainability of the school. These schools would end up as government storage facilities, community centers or were left abandoned.

Speer takes a seat inside a classroom in Guatemala.

Speer takes a seat inside a classroom in their new project site in Guatemala.

“We want to make sure it is used for its intended purpose, as a school,” Speer said.

Their latest project, in a remote area of Guatemala, will provide over 160 new desks and other vital infrastructure to a newly constructed four-room school.

“One of the key ingredients of school and education, is that you have a good environment, an environment that’s adequate for teaching,” according to Speer.

In partnership with third co-founder and business-policy professional, Kelly Guerrero, the consultants respond to the DoD and Department of State’s selected country and project of emphasis, based on a humanitarian necessity.

Global Aid visited Guatemala’s project site in December of 2018 to conduct a needs assessment. This involved cross-cultural communication with the Guatemala Ministry of Education to synchronize operations. From there, Global Aid spent the next couple of months facilitating the sharing of resources between local and foreign partners, ensuring educational infrastructure, supplies and resources were provided.

Eager students ready to learn.

Eager students ready to learn.

The Speer and Alvarez will return to Guatemala this summer to check on the new school, and the delivery of the school desks. They will continue to follow up for a yearly reassessment.

Since their start in 2016, the organization is involved in projects across five countries. Global Aid’s facilitation has provided medical training in remote areas of Belize, needed infrastructure in a refugee camp in Thailand and the provision of classroom desks, chalkboards, school infrastructure in Tanzania, Belize, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“Bringing social entrepreneurship into the classroom and putting that in the mindset early, I believe is a pathway for addressing social issues abroad,” Alvarez said.