Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Extending Berkeley’s reach

By David Zilberman

On July 22, we celebrated the successful completion of the 16 th cohort of the Beahrs ELP. Our three-week annual program brings together up-and-coming leaders from around the world to provide training on environmental policy, resource management, conflict resolution, impact assessment, and overview of major topics like water and climate change. The ELP alumni network has more 600 members, including 39 this year. Our participants have always been outstanding.

This year, we had participants tackling hunger and drought in the Sahel, resource conservation of wildlife in Cameroon, the Himalayas, the Amazon and others, women’s empowerment and community development in Morocco and Uganda, eco-tourism development in the Philippines and Pakistan, water management in Nepal and Nicaragua and climate change globally. The participants include professors, program managers, think tank directors, university students, engineers, community development leaders, business analysts and consultants and founders of NGOs and other ventures. We are thankful to the World Wildlife Fund for supporting four of our participants.

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We aim to provide diverse perspectives, so while Miguel Altieri introduces agroecology, I talk about the biotechnology. We emphasize that environmental leadership occurs at the government, NGO, private sector and community levels. We introduce participants through interactive learning to marketing, supply chains and innovation processes. The course includes trips to Muir Woods, Monterey Bay, and Silicon Valley to see California’s environment, resource practices, and agriculture.

Every year we have special presentations. Doug Brinkley provided a comprehensive overview and many lessons from the history of the U.S. environmental movement. Jim Lugg, a fascinating scientist and inventor, inspired us with the story of his relentless effort to create packaged fresh salads. Our hope is that participants gain broader perspectives on major issues, both from the classes and mostly from interaction with one another, obtain some tools to operate in a complex and evolving world, and develop life-long friendships.

Throughout the course, the participants asked Dean Gilless, Dick Beahrs, Mio Owens and me whether we can have similar programs in their own country, or help them establish one. They feel that the content and spirit of the program should touch many more lives. This is a recurring theme each year. I always feel that the Berkeley campus stands out because of our combination of academic excellence, scale, accessibility and diversity. Berkeley has a lot to offer to the world, especially in the areas of sustainability and development. Our history including the Manhattan Project and the Free Speech Movement is an indicator of our diversity. We serve as one vessel to deliver access to Berkeley – its knowledge and its spirit. After 16 years, I realize that there is much more that we can do in outreach and engagement globally, benefitting both the campus and the world.

0726160006 Some participants ask me why doesn’t Berkeley, like other universities, have campuses overseas. This may not be a wise use of Berkeley’s resources and wouldn’t be able to transfer our uniqueness and quality. I see the merit in a vision that expands opportunities for leaders, scholars, and students to come to Berkeley. If we operate wisely, we will be able to obtain the resources and gain by making Berkeley a magnet to international teams to collaborate on major problems of our time.

However, the university has three missions: teaching, research, and outreach (extension). One of the most important areas is environmental leadership education. We have some accomplishments in this area, but we can do much more and sometimes we have to go where the need is. Already the College of Natural Resources established the International Executive Programs and, in addition to the Beahrs ELP , we have courses on supply chain , GIS , and economic tools for conservation . The business school and school of public policy have their own training to executives that includes classes to executives. We can continue to develop more courses and offer a menu that would allow life-long learning. Further, we can help our alumni to start their own programs and provide them with materials and instructors. We can also engage in various types of training that can be done overseas by ourselves or in partnership. Some of the training can be mixed with joint research efforts.


Building such programs requires commitments from campus and dedicated personnel. I co-founded the Beahrs ELP and started the MDP because it brings me joy and because I have a partial appointment as an Extension Specialist. For 30 years I was a professor, and I later assumed an Extension appointment for pragmatic reasons. But I realized that Extension is a very valuable mission of the university system and the challenge of educating professionals and providing life-long learning opportunities is as important as educating undergraduate and graduate students. We have a strong (yet underfunded) agricultural extension in California. But we are a global university and our mission is global. And we cannot address problems like climate change without global engagement, including extension. Most of our extension activities are directed towards California, which makes sense as we are a California university. But when the major environmental problems are climate change and preservation of biodiversity, and we develop unique knowledge and capabilities in this field, we can be much more effective if we help to train and collaborate with people on the ground.

Therefore, it would be appropriate to establish a few positions of extension specialists responsible to develop outreach programs on environmental and sustainable development issues globally. These specialists will complement programs like Center for Effective Global Action , contribute to programs like the Beahrs ELP, and develop initiatives of their own. The extension specialists would develop educational and other outreach programs internationally, conduct their own applied research working with faculty and students. The extension programs can eventually be self-financed through tuitions and grants. The challenge is financing the hiring of the specialists who will initiate the programs. I believe that this is an appropriate use of university money, but given the university’s current financial difficulties, this is an area where private gifts can make a big difference.

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