July 29, 2020

Dina Buchbinder MC/MPA 2016 smiling in a headshotWhat’s it like, during the pandemic, to lead a nonprofit that is heavily focused on in-person experiences? How can the mission of such an organization be achieved virtually?

These are just two of the questions that Dina Buchbinder MC/MPA 2016 had to confront last March as the scope of the virus’s spread became clear. Buchbinder had founded the nonprofit Education for Sharing (E4S or, in Spanish, Educación para Compartir) 13 years ago; she received the Kennedy School’s Emerging Global Leader Award in 2018 in recognition of her work to build better global citizens through play. But she never thought a pandemic would disrupt her organization’s operation.

“All our operations were in person,” says Buchbinder, who was forced to reduce her global staff significantly and institute pay cuts in the face of the novel coronavirus. “We had to shift to be of service online, to help families navigate this complex time. We are focused on preserving mental health and an environment at home that allows parents to infuse a sense of harmony, play, and connection in a meaningful way, so we can come back stronger and more united and ready to address the next challenge.”

She refocused her remaining team members on virtual activities that families could participate in at home. Team members of course had to use just the resources they had at home; they also included their families in the videos.  “With the team that was left, we had to reinvent the way we approach creating global citizens through play. It’s very different to do this on the digital side.  Not that it’s good or bad, but it’s a different animal. We didn’t want to go and start producing content just to produce content—there is so much already out there, it’s overwhelming. We wanted to genuinely be of service and fill a real gap.”

A man and a young child interact on a computer screen.

During the pandemic, E4s is working on several projects, including one that helps teachers learn how to teach digitally. “We realized there’s a huge gap for teachers to migrate to online classes, and that the majority of teachers in the world don’t know how to do this. We are taking this opportunity to train teachers digitally—and adopt E4S’s methodology while we’re at it. The other thing is that we are creating a back-to-school catalog of games with the Mexican education minister. How do you bring the safety and health protocols to a place where they’re a game?” she asks. “These games are meaningful, help people collaborate and coordinate, and to make people feel valuable and important.”  One of the games involves a version of freeze tag, where children can learn how they can protect themselves and others through hand washing.

E4S has also started a campaign using the hashtag #AlsoAtHome (#TambiénEnCasa in Spanish). “It’s one of the initiatives we’re doing for free to support families and teachers,” she says of the videos that E4S has shared on its Facebook page so that everyone in the family can participate in fun and educational activities. E4S also invited children, parents, and teachers to virtual forums to share their experiences and feelings and to connect with each other.

Before COVID-19, E4S worked in person with 1.3 million children, teachers, and parents. Through the campaign’s #AlsoAtHome campaign, the organization reached more than 2.7 million children, teachers, and parents, showing that virtual engagement can increase access to programming.

E4S is also leveraging existing partnerships with several corporations, including AT&T México and LEGO Foundation, to promote the responsible use of technologies as well as social and emotional wellbeing. The organization is working on complementary textbooks for fifth and sixth graders that will be distributed across Mexico to raise awareness about the greatest challenges confronting our globe, in line with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

A woman and a child do exercises on yoga mats on a computer screen.

The idea is to form global change agents from home. “Through online activities with children, with the help of video tutorials and tools, we are supplying a framework for social and emotional skills,” says Buchbinder. E4S also launched its global advisory board, comprising 32 people from every continent representing a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, cultures and languages. Says Buchbinder, “We think this is an urgent change to bring E4S to every corner of the world. It’s times like this that speak about the urgency to nurture global hearts.”

Buchbinder’s infectious enthusiasm has not been diminished by the challenging circumstances. “This moment teaches about the interconnection that exists between humans, and that what happens here matters there. What we do, wherever we are, affects every corner of the world. So if we want to take care of us, we need to take care of the other. This is something that we are more committed to than ever before.”