The Global Sustainability Fellows Program

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Unique Features

The GSF Program distinguishes itself through its unique theoretical framework—a hallmark of all Sustainability Laboratory initiatives—and by providing an opportunity to implement this framework in a real-world context.

The Lab’s Signature Approach

The GSF Program curriculum is rooted in The Sustainability Laboratory’s “Signature Approach,” the unique conceptual framework that guides all Lab activities. This framework, developed by Lab founder Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, was inspired by the work of innovative thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller, Russell Ackoff, and Stafford Beer. The approach combines three key elements:

  • A rigorous definition of sustainability and a derived set of five core sustainability principles, which provide an essential road map to developing model sustainability practices.
  •  A perspective on evolution and a theory of change, which together, provide a potent blueprint for addressing complexity and managing significant change processes.
  • A whole system approach and a system-oriented design strategy, which provide a comprehensive methodology for addressing significant global issues, guiding project planning and facilitating development processes.

Putting Theory Into Practice

During the program, fellows study with leading experts in the fields of systems thinking and cybernetics, conservation, sustainability and sustainable development. This foundation guides fellows in their work to create a comprehensive sustainable development plan with a challenged local community. The latter is more than an academic exercise: The long-term goal for this GSF pilot cohort is to refine and realize the plan with the participation of community members, students, EARTH faculty and The Lab. The Center for Sustainability in the Tropics (CST), established jointly by The Lab and EARTH University, will ultimately orchestrate the implementation process, with an opportunity for GSF participants to stay involved once they have completed the program.

Pilot Session A | Pilot Session B

The first pilot session of the program was delivered over two summer sessions at EARTH University in Costa Rica, during July of 2014 and August of 2015.

Pilot Session, Summer A:

Held from July 6th – July 23rd, 2014

The GSF Pilot, Summer A Session took place over two and a half weeks in July of 2014, at the EARTH University campuses in Costa Rica. Twenty students from 15 countries on five continents, representing a range of disciplines including System Dynamics, Ecology, Education, Health, Business, Architecture, Urban Planning and more, participated in the program.

Global Sustainability Fellows Program – Summer 2014

Following a welcome and orientation session, fellows were placed with a local family for a one-night/two-day Homestay. This experience exposed fellows to the challenges faced by local people in the areas of health, nutrition, education, public services, and infrastructure, and later provided invaluable context for fellows’ fieldwork experience.

Following the homestay, fellows were led through five days of rigorous Theoretical Modules aimed at imparting core concepts of sustainable development in a systems-thinking context. During this segment, students also worked and presented in groups around relevant topics.

As part of the Eco-Literacy/Eco- Leadership segment, students spent two days visiting sites of ecological importance and local businesses that have been successfully exhibiting environmentally sensitive economic progress. Activities were aimed at enhancing fellows’ sensitivity to ecological issues, while facilitating broader discussion on what effective, responsible leadership looks like in the context of sustainable development.

Thus began the weeklong design workshop. During the Fieldwork experience, fellows spent several days becoming acquainted with the community of Martina Bustos, applying the lessons from the theoretical modules to form hypotheses about the best strategies to addressing community challenges. Fellows were provided with the tools, skills, and resources necessary to collect data and analyze the community as a complex, holistic system. Fellows also led community workshops to further conversation and increase cooperation between fellows and community stakeholders.

Fellows then spent several days synthesizing lessons and experiences from previous weeks, the background of team member disciplines, and the needs and aspirations of the community, into a useful Presentation and Workshop with the community. At the end of the planning and design sessions, teams presented their hypotheses in a plenary session for faculty, peers, and community members. The fellows succeeded in creating a supportive and critical space for discussion of the project work, and identifying plans that could be implemented with the community in coming years. This segment presented a rare and valuable opportunity to turn theory into applied practice in a short period of time.

Pilot Session, Summer B:

Held from August 14th – August 31st, 2015

BSessionLast year’s session served as an introduction to core theoretical concepts and the community of Martina Bustos. Students were exposed to concepts and experiences that many had never encountered before. In August 2015, interested members from the Summer A Session cohort were invited back to Costa Rica to work with the community in developing and delivering a comprehensive sustainable development plan, thereby deepening the practice component that they began last summer.

The Martina Bustos community, which has a large population of Nicaraguan migrants, is plagued by numerous challenges, including poor infrastructure, lack of land rights/titles, lack of opportunities for skill development and employment, and weak community organization. Over two weeks, the fellows engaged the community in building a common vision, mapping critical issues, and identifying leverage points for “transition.” Under the mentorship of program faculty, and with the benefit of substantial fieldwork and growing community ties, fellows synthesized the data of regional and community diagnostics and the aforementioned in-depth dialogue sessions into a comprehensive long-term initiative entitled “Project Transition,” which was presented to the greater community on the final day of the program. This will serve as the groundwork for a development project with the community that will be implemented through a partnership between The Lab, EARTH University, past fellows, community leaders, local NGOs and local and national government.

Faculty & Staff

Michael Ben-Eli
Founder, The Sustainability Laboratory

Dr. Michael Ben-Eli is founder of The Sustainability Laboratory, the organization that is spearheading development of the GSF Program.

As an international management consultant, Michael pioneered applications of Systems Thinking and Cybernetics in management and organization. Over the years, he worked on synthesizing strategy issues in many parts of the world and in diverse institutional settings, ranging from small high technology firms to multinational enterprises, manufacturing companies, financial institutions, health care and educational organizations, government agencies, NGOs, and international multilateral organizations.

In recent years, he has focused primarily on issues related to sustainability and sustainable development. He is author of the widely acclaimed five core sustainability principles, and has been working to help inspire leaders in business, government, community, and youth accelerate a peaceful transition to a sustainable future.

Dr. Ben Eli graduated from the Architectural Association in London and later received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Cybernetics at Brunel University, where he studied under Gordon Pask. He was a close associate of R. Buckminster Fuller, with whom he collaborated on research involving advanced structural systems, and issues related to the management of technology and world resources for the advantage of all.

Irene Alvarado Van der Laat
GSF Faculty, 2015

Irene Alvarado Van der Laat graduated as an agriculture engineer from the University of Costa Rica. She received an MBA in Business Administration with a focus in Agro-Marketing from the Technological Institute Costa Rica and a Ph.D. from the Universidad Latina in Economical and Entrepreneurial Sciences.Irene became part of the EARTH University team in 1992, where she worked as an Academic Program Administrator and then as the Director of Marketing for EARTH University’s Products Program. In 2000, she became a full-time faculty member in the University’s Entrepreneurial Projects Program, where she is now a director and lead coordinator.

In 2001, she founded the Young Entrepreneurs Club, and shortly thereafter was selected to represent Costa Rica at the US Department of State’s Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Program. She is the recipient of the Best Investigation Prize at the VII International Entrepreneur Congress in El Salvador (2004), the Galpin Fellowship from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut (2010), and the highest prize from the Literati Network Awards for Excellence for her investigation on entrepreneurship (2011).

Today, Professor Alvarado focuses her time researching environmental economics projects, sustainable value chains of agricultural products, and the promotion of entrepreneurship habits and disciplines to create a more just society.

Bernard Amadei
GSF Faculty, 2014 - 2015

Dr. Bernard Amadei is Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He received his Ph.D. in 1982 from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Amadei holds the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering and served as Faculty Director of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities from 2009-2012. He is also the Founding President of Engineers Without Borders – USA, and the co-founder of the Engineers Without Borders International Network. Among other distinctions, Dr. Amadei is the 2007 co-recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment; the recipient of the 2008 ENR Award of Excellence; an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering; and an elected Senior Knight-Ashoka Fellow. He holds three honorary doctoral degrees.

Mohamed Nofal
GSF Faculty, 2015

Mohamed Nofal has over 20 years of experience in the fields of Civil, Environmental and Geotechnical Engineering. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering as well as a Master’s degree in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He also received a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is currently pursuing an MBA from the University of Colorado.

Mr. Nofal has worked for several A&E consulting firms on several high profile engineering projects. He is presently working with RES-Americas, an industry and world leader in renewable energy. His responsibilities include providing technical guidance and management to wind farm and solar plant projects, tower foundation design, project site grading, drainage issues, and hydrologic and hydraulic analyses. Mr. Nofal is also responsible for providing innovative solutions to complex field problems, with a focus on safety, innovation, constructability and cost-effectiveness.

Mr. Nofal is interested in promoting economic development through environmental awareness and sustainable design in the areas of water resource management and energy efficiency. He lives in Broomfield, Colorado with his wife and children.

Antony Castro
GSF Assistant Faculty, 2015

Antony Castro graduated from EARTH University in 2014 with a degree in Agronomic Sciences. During his studies, he traveled to the Peruvian Amazon for an internship at the Villa Carmen Biological Research Station, where he worked on the establishment of a rustic entomopathogenic laboratory and a root health diagnostic for local banana plantations. There, he also learned a technique for the production of soldier flies, whose wastes can be used for nutrient-rich compost or converted into animal feed. As a senior at EARTH University, Antony won a contest sponsored by the Development International Bank for his work with soldier fly production, which he brought to EARTH’s organic farm He now continues refining this technique in a post-graduate project at the University. As a graduating senior, Antony also won The Sustainability Prize from The Sustainability Laboratory for his graduation project: a portfolio of interventions for retrofitting his family home for sustainability. Part of this project involved the growth and sale of hydroponic lettuce from his family home, an enterprise he plans to expand with the investment of the prize money. Antony, a native Costa Rican from the area, will be preparing the groundwork with the Martina Bustos community before the arrival of GSF fellows in Costa Rica.

Michael Ben-Eli
Founder, The Sustainability Laboratory

Dr. Michael Ben-Eli is founder of The Sustainability Laboratory, the organization that is spearheading development of the GSF Program.

As an international management consultant, Michael pioneered applications of Systems Thinking and Cybernetics in management and organization. Over the years, he worked on synthesizing strategy issues in many parts of the world and in diverse institutional settings, ranging from small high technology firms to multinational enterprises, manufacturing companies, financial institutions, health care and educational organizations, government agencies, NGOs, and international multilateral organizations.

In recent years, he has focused primarily on issues related to sustainability and sustainable development. He is author of the widely acclaimed five core sustainability principles, and has been working to help inspire leaders in business, government, community, and youth accelerate a peaceful transition to a sustainable future.

Dr. Ben Eli graduated from the Architectural Association in London and later received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Cybernetics at Brunel University, where he studied under Gordon Pask. He was a close associate of R. Buckminster Fuller, with whom he collaborated on research involving advanced structural systems, and issues related to the management of technology and world resources for the advantage of all.

Bernard Amadei
GSF Faculty, 2014 - 2015

Dr. Bernard Amadei is Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He received his Ph.D. in 1982 from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Amadei holds the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering and served as Faculty Director of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities from 2009-2012. He is also the Founding President of Engineers Without Borders – USA, and the co-founder of the Engineers Without Borders International Network. Among other distinctions, Dr. Amadei is the 2007 co-recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment; the recipient of the 2008 ENR Award of Excellence; an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering; and an elected Senior Knight-Ashoka Fellow. He holds three honorary doctoral degrees.

Dr. Markus Schwaninger
GSF Faculty, 2014

Dr. Markus Schwaninger is Professor of Management at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. His research is focused on the management of complex dynamic systems. His methodological emphasis is on Organization Cybernetics and System Dynamics. Research projects to date have been related to organization intelligence, model-based management, the design, transformation and learning of organizations, and to systemic issues of sustainability. Schwaninger is also a director of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics.

Dr. B. K. Singh
GSF Faculty, 2014

Dr. B. K. Singh is Professor of Soil Science at EARTH University. He obtained his M.Sc. in agro-chemistry from PFU, Moscow, and his Ph.D. from the Department of Soil and Water Science at The University of Florida, Gainesville. He has been working for EARTH University in Costa Rica since 1990. During this period, he has held different positions: Professor of Soil Science, EARTH University, 1990 – Present; Associate Professor in the Soil and Water Science Department at The University of Florida, 2005 – Present; and Project Coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Project (SANREM), 1994-1999. He was principal investigator of the US Department of Energy (DOE)-funded EARTH University Foundation Biofuel Project, a multinational project on structure- based drug design for Chaga’s Disease, as well as the Lemelson Foundation-supported Hub and Spoke model to promote invention, innovation and entrepreneurship at academic institutions and rural communities. Professor Singh has been providing training and conducting international workshops in soil and plant nutrition for the past 20 years. He has developed, registered, and established an entrepreneurial base for over 20 products to improve soil and plant health, water treatment, and public sanitation. Dr. Singh is co-founder of Green Roots Consultants, a consulting firm dedicated to providing local solutions to global challenges in agriculture production, natural resource management, and human capacity enhancement. He has advised over 50 research theses in soil fertility, plant nutrition, and environmental health.

Dr. Ana Laura Dengo
GSF Assistant Faculty, 2014

Dr. Ana Laura Dengo, nutritionist, obtained her B.S. from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), and her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech. Ana Laura received the Pan-American Nutrition, Food Science and Technology Award (Young scientist category, USA region) in 2010 for her dissertation work focusing on obesity and arterial stiffness. She worked from 2010-2013 with the INCAP Comprehensive Center for the Prevention of Chronic Diseases as the project coordinator for a community-based intervention to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Dengo has been linked with UCR since 2010 in various projects. She was associated with the School of Nutrition and the Central American Population Center, and continues to collaborate with the National Center for Science and Food Technology (CITA), the National Institute for Health Research (INISA), and the Department of Exercise Science at UCR. Dr. Dengo started working at EARTH University in April 2013 as a research assistant for a joint project between EARTH and the American University of Beirut titled “Feasibility study for a Global Master’s Program in Health and Sustainable Development.”

Lee Frankel-Goldwater
GSF Assistant Faculty, 2014 - 2015

Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social-good project developer, as well as a recent graduate of NYU’s Environmental Conservation Education Master’s program. Lee has also studied in Israel at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently, he is leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation, and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a Sustainability Laboratory program seeking to design a new, innovative international sustainability graduate program. Lee can also be found developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, working on mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in harmony with the Earth.

Jholenny Córdoba
GSF Assistant Faculty, 2014 - 2015

Jholenny Córdoba Chaves completed her undergraduate studies in Economics and Social Planning at the National University of Costa Rica, and her M.Sc. in Social Development at Universidad Libre de Costa Rica. For the last six years, Jholenny has coordinated the academic program at EARTH University’s La Flor campus. She has ample experience working with rural, marginalized, and border communities in association with various institutions that focus on training, environmental protection, and youth development, including the National Learning Institute (INA), the Ministry of the Environment, World Vision, and Fondo de Canje de Deuda Costa Rica-Canada.

Goals & Outcomes

Alumni Network

IMG_0087 copyThe Lab is in the process of creating an online platform for GSF alumni to connect to each other and to other distinguished members of the Lab network, including scientists, academics, social entrepreneurs, and others, to share opportunities for collaboration and employment, news, research, and other relevant content. As the GSF becomes a respected brand in sustainability education, graduates of the program will form the foundation of an interdisciplinary network, where a common language and framework serve as the basis for game-changing sustainability innovations and initiatives worldwide.

Fieldwork Communities

DSCF0602-1 (dragged) copyThe Lab has recently created The Center for Sustainability in the Tropics (CST) in partnership with EARTH University. Under the management of the CST, we anticipate that a refined version of fellows’ final Strategic Sustainable Development Plan will be implemented within the Martina Bustos community, with opportunities for former fellows to continue their involvement with the implementation process in varying capacities. As the program grows, we believe that communities where fieldwork is based will continue to benefit from student work, and will serve as a real-world testament to the efficacy of the GSF approach.