An interview with Angela Schopke (Dance & ESIA BA ’14) about Global Dance Initiative: Transforming conflict to constructive dialogue through dance
May 18, 2014
Q. What does “social entrepreneurship” mean to you?
A. Social entrepreneurship is taking a dream about how to address a social issue and finding a practical way to make that dream a reality.
Q. If you met a peer not sure about making the move from dreaming big to stepping into the arena of action, what would you say to them?
A. Dream big. Life is challenging. Paying bills is challenging. Work is challenging. Relationships are challenging. But, all of that doesn’t mean you can’t dream big. Maybe all that means today is writing down one sentence about your dream. Maybe that means writing a full business plan for how to make the dream become reality. You’ll find the time to make your dream happen when the time is right for you. Important to remember between now and when that dream does become reality, is to keep it in sight and to keep your alive.
Q. What issue are you addressing with Global Dance Initiative?
A. This year in Afghanistan, the US is withdrawing military support, international investors are leaving, the Taliban are temporarily out of power, the Soviets are long gone, and the British are even longer gone. For the first time after decades of occupied conflict, Afghanistan will find itself in a time of relative independence and peace. Now the question Afghans around the world are asking is, “What does it mean to be Afghan?”
For many years Afghan identity has been defined in relation to conflict. As Afghanistan seeks to transition from a period of conflict to peace, the notion of an Afghan identity is changing. Afghans are beginning to define themselves increasingly in relation to each other in an environment of deep internal economic and political instability, and the renewal of civil conflict looms as a real possibility. For the Afghan diaspora that fled the country, a path for reconnection and re-identification with their homeland is uncharted.
Q. How does your initiative actually set out to address the issue of Afghan identity and peace?
A. Perceiving the social, political, and economic ramifications of this period of uncertainty among the international Afghan community, Global Dance Initiative uses the culturally rich topic and medium of dance to give a “safe dialogue space” to Afghans. Our mission is to use dance to facilitate the rebuilding of a positive, stable Afghan identity and contribute to a long-term vision of peace in Afghanistan.
Why dance? Dance provides a relatively neutral entry point into otherwise very difficult discussions of ethnic, religious and gender issues. It can provide a space for Afghans at home and abroad to engage in constructive dialogue, and can also expand to engage non-Afghans passionate about social issues, cultural preservation, Central Asia, and the arts.
We will curate an online platform to which anyone can submit information about dance in Afghanistan, contributing to a collective, openly accessible ethnography of dance in Afghanistan. Our curation will include checking contributions for accuracy and providing light editing as well as translation services into English/German/Dari/Pashto. This section of our platform will also host a collection of sensitively moderated forums relating to dance on topics that bridge it with otherwise singularly contentious issues like gender, ethnicity, and religion. Our facilitation will craft a safe environment for discussing difficult identity-related topics.
Q. The theory of change behind your initiative sounds like a fine-tuned, time-tested one. Do you have any mentors who have blazed the trail and inspired you?
A. There have been so many people that have inspired me, mentored me, helped me, or worked with me. One person–though not the only–that stands out particularly strongly is Navy Captain Edward Zellem, who wrote Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs and founded and directs his own initiative called Afghan Sayings. Captain Zellem has provided tremendous social media strategy advice, and continues to inspire me with the great success he has experienced in making a safe dialogue space for Afghans and non-Afghans to communicate about important issues through the international language of proverbs. He has been a transformative mentor to which I am profoundly grateful.
Q. You became a CGI U Commitment Maker and were a semi-finalist in the GWupstart Prize Track of the GW Business Plan Competition. How did those experiences inform your efforts?
A. CGI U and the Business Plan Competition made a tremendous difference to how I see my venture. The Business Plan Competition helped me to both to strategize and understand the detailed steps that I would need to take to realize my venture. CGI U helped me to situate my idea in relation to others and most importantly to hone my venture through speaking to others about it, hearing about other approaches to common obstacles to realizing ventures, and creating a network of supportive entrepreneurs.
Q. How does your work on the Global Dance Initiative feed into your path as a professional?
A. During the couple months before graduating from GW just two weeks ago, I thought a lot about this question. I have two answers to it. The first, I realized that my greatest asset in terms of employability is a commitment to thinking creatively to solve real issues and to seeing that solution through with pragmatic steps. That is a skill that I have developed through pursuing my venture’s goals. The second, I think that pursuing my venture has and will continue to shape who I am and how I think about the world in the longterm. Both of these things are vital to realizing the professional goals I have for my lifetime.
Q. What’s next for Global Dance Initiative?
A. Make it happen! It feels a little like I imagine jumping off of a ledge might feel the moment before it happens–exhilarating, nervous, and a little reckless.