Speaker: Otto Scharmer, Sanjay Sarma & Dacher Keltner

Re-Imagining Higher Education

Please join us for a conversation with some of the most innovative voices in American higher education. How might we use this crisis and disruption in university life as an opportunity to re-imagine and transform our systems of higher education and knowledge diffusion? How might we better prepare students and communities to navigate a world of ever-increasing complexity and planetary distress with wisdom, skill, mindfulness, well-being, and creativity? With so many universities re-thinking their educational models in these unique times, is there an opportunity for offering new models of world-class, cost-effective learning to support deeper wisdom, innovation and conscious transformation? Some of the leading voices involved in transforming higher education will be in conversation about the unique challenges and opportunities of these times.

Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer in the MIT Management Sloan School and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. He introduced the concept of presencing”—learning from the emerging future—in his bestselling books Theory U and Presence (the latter co-authored with P. Senge et al). He is coauthor of Leading from the Emerging Future, which outlines eight acupuncture points for transforming our social, economic, ecological and political systems. His most recent book, The Essentials of Theory U, summarizes the core principles and applications of awareness-based systems change. In 2015, Otto co-founded the MITx u.lab, a massive open online course (MOOC) for leading profound change, which has since activated a global eco-system of transformational change involving more than 160,000 users from 185 countries. In March 2020, Otto and his colleagues at the Presencing Institute launched GAIA (Global Activation of Intention and Action), a free, online, deep learning journey, geared toward profound personal, societal, and planetary renewal.

Sanjay Sarma serves on the board of edX, the not-for-profit company founded by MIT and Harvard to create and promulgate an open-source platform for the distribution of free online education worldwide. He is the Vice President for Open Learning at MIT, which includes the Office of Digital Learning, the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab. Sanjay is also a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, and a successful innovator and entrepreneur who developed many of the key technologies behind the EPC suite of RFID standards now used worldwide. Leveraging innovation and ideas, Sanjay co-chaired MIT’s Taskforce on the Future of Education in 2012, and subsequently was charged with implementing the recommendations around digital learning in his current senior position at MIT.

Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center. Dacher is the host of the Greater Good Science Center’s award-winning podcast, The Science of Happiness and is a co-instructor of the massively popular online course of the same name via edX that has over 300,000 enrollments. He is also the best-selling author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence and Born to Be Good, and a co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct. With his extensive research focusing on the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, awe, love, beauty, power, social class, and inequality, he was a scientific consultant on Pixar’s film Inside Out. For several years he has worked with Facebook and Google engineers and designers on projects relating to altruism and emotion.

The conversation will be moderated by Preeta Bansal and Nipun Mehta.

Preeta Bansal has been a Lecturer at the MIT Media Lab, drawing on network science, physics and biology, and the role of new technologies, in re-imagining and piloting new social designs and architectures that amplify small shifts in behavior and consciousness to support the emergence of new political, social, and economic frameworks. After a long career scaling the heights of external and institutional power as a constitutional lawyer, she has spent much of the last decade deeply plumbing depths of being for the source of internal power. Her prior roles include serving as a General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor in the Obama White House, Solicitor General of the State of New York, partner and practice chair at a leading corporate law firm in New York City, global general counsel in London for one of the world’s largest banks, a US diplomat and Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and law clerk to US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She advised on the drafting of the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Her lifelong passion for service, which for the first half of her life took the form of public service, is now finding expression in ServiceSpace, an ecosystem in which she is a global anchor and volunteer.

Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace, a global community at the intersection of technology, volunteerism and gift-economy. Most recently, ServiceSpace's pandemic response has showcased the unique beauty of its global ecosystem. Nipun has catalyzed a global social movement of community builders grounded in their localities and rooted in practices for cultivating love, nonviolence, selfless service, and compassion. The ecosystem has reached millions, attracted thousands of volunteers, and mushroomed into numerous community-based service projects as well as inspiring content portals. ServiceSpace harnesses the collective power of networks and our deeper interconnectedness to create a distributed social movement founded on small, local individual acts of kindness, generosity and service that ignite shifts in individual and collective consciousness. Nipun was honored as an "unsung hero of compassion" by the Dalai Lama, not long before former U.S. President Obama appointed him to a council for addressing poverty and inequality in the US. Yet the core of what strikes anyone who meets him is the way his life is an attempt to bring smiles in the world and silence in his heart: “I want to live simply, love purely, and give fearlessly. That's me.”

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