Sunday, February 15, 2015

Back to First Principles: What Ass-umptions can mean to wobbly economic thinking

Statement of Purpose

The Evolution of a Thesis Idea



Interests and Motivations

My first professional job after graduating with a BA, cum laude, in International Studies and Economics, was with the National Academy of Sciences as a Research Assistant supporting a study on Family Violence Intervention Programs.

The report was commissioned by the US Congress to help inform policy on the most effective intervention programs, relating largely to populations living in poverty;

As it happens, sometimes dysfunction in families is the cause of poverty in children coming from more affluent families.

Current and trending research is showing the deleterious effects of family violence, dysfunction and/or traumatic episodes on the physical development of the brain.  This leads to the labeling of some traumatized children and adults as “learning disabled.”

The Public Education Policy response has been to widely implement Individual Education Programs (IEP- -ideally to address and support an individual child’s most effective learning mechanisms as prescribed by law).   Students identified as learning disabled are relegated to “Special Education” Classes.  


Relating Professional to Personal Experiences

I have experienced poverty and homelessness, and have been previously diagnosed with a severe mental illness caused by various traumas in my life.  I am overcoming my diagnosis, and realizing that one person’s disability can also be perceived as that very same person’s opportunity to learn from and transform that disability into an asset and opportunity.   I have overcome my limiting and debilitating diagnosis and prognosis through various holistic wellness, coping, and self-healing practices such as sharing my recovery journey.  In this process I have learned a great deal about the causes and implications of living with a severe behavioral health challenge.

These experiences led to my personal observations of government policies relating to the poor, business and banking practices in poor neighborhoods and the market choices of individuals who live in poor neighborhoods.  Not surprisingly, most of the individuals living in poor neighborhoods identify as living with one type of behavioral health challenge or another.


Accepting the Unexpected

The book, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, describes the author’s success in financial markets as a result of recognizing the importance of surprises embodied in metaphors.  His experiences inspired a revelation of how stories in case studies can lead to innovations in economic philosophy, principles and practice and the importance of planning for the unexpected in financial markets.  His approach helped me realize and gain insight into my particular career trajectory.


Sharing Stories of Hope: How a Healing Pathway Can Inspire Market Innovations

As I began to heal from and recover through my perceived travails in Philadelphia, I was invited by officials in the City Department of Behavioral Health and disAbilities Services to share my recovery journey with public audiences. Storytelling, in this context, involves peers and family members sharing stories of triumph through travails, with the self as the central and main protagonist.  

In my preparation to become a Storytelling Facilitator, I discovered that research is beginning to show that sharing these stories in mutually supporting peer groups actually heals the traumatized brain, thus creating an environment that allows the healing brain to learn, and for the individual to motivate him/herself to achieve their envisioned goals by re-igniting their own hopes for themselves.  I can testify to the phenomenal power of such individuals and their ability to manifest their hopes and expectations of themselves, once they have participated in Storytelling Training and are linked with resources to help them further their goals.


Finding Employment Against All Odds

Based on the power of my recovery story to inspire and motivate myself and others, I was offered a position with DBHIDS as a Recovery Initiatives Specialist on the Strategic Planning Unit, under Commissioner Arthur C. Evans, PhD with Dr. Ijeoma Achara-Abrams as my supervisor.  In this capacity, I helped implement what was then termed the transformation to Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care.  This new approach to behavioral health treatment was intended to support individuals in our recovery journeys.

In my position as a Recovery Initiatives Specialist with the Strategic Planning Unit at DBHIDS: 

I applied the principles of policy I had learned at UCSC and throughout my career to inform the creation of the new ideal Vision and Mission Statements for and with DBHIDS.  As part of the Recovery Advisory Committee (RAC), I learned the best methods to help groups brainstorm and innovate in policy design.

I was privileged to co-author White Papers, Blueprints and other Strategic Planning Documents as well as chapters in books.  Conference workshop presentations, where I shared the most effective behavioral health practices in story format, were frequent in the early days of the new direction in Systems Transformation. 

Based on my ability to communicate effectively and share ideas clearly, my supervisors tasked me with providing trainings designed to propagate and fortify the new transformational policies in the behavioral health field.
In this capacity, I observed the inner workings of city government in the implementation of these new ideal strategic plans, and how they affect relationships with agencies providing mental health and addictions treatment services.  

My input as part of an advisory committee was instrumental in helping one particular provider agency (Horizon House, Inc.) in winning a grant to implement these innovative policies at the treatment level and led to the creation of a newly conceptualized and more successful Day Program.


Learning how to learn

I was schooled on the Basic Principles of Adult Learning in my experience as the Recovery Training Specialist at the Behavioral Health Training and Education Network -BHTEN- the training arm for DBHIDS, that provides CEUs and certification courses for behavioral health professionals and recovering individuals alike.

I facilitated and designed courses for people who have largely not finished formal standardized programs due to being labeled as learning disabled.
I was able to apply the techniques of a psychological method called Motivational Interviewing and my training in the trauma-informed Sanctuary Model for Organizations (by Dr. Sandra Bloom) to reach and help motivate individuals who have spent most of their lives in institutions of some kind, often having been medicated most of their lives for exhibiting behaviors outside the norm.



The Potential Long Term Economic Benefits of Forgiveness as Practice

My experiences in healing through my personal traumas, chiefly through storytelling and the forgiveness it inspires in me, reminded me of a book by Axelrod, on the Evolution of Cooperation, that we studied in the graduate Economics program at University of Maryland College Park.  At the time, the description of forgiveness as one of its main and winning logical strategies had a deep impact on my belief system.

 Though I failed my exams at College Park, UC Santa Cruz generously forgave that failure and helped me turn what I perceived as a negative academic experience into a deeply intellectual and human platform for what I wish to accomplish at the doctoral level.

 Upon further examination of my own personal behavior as it relates to corporations and other types of businesses, I noticed that practices that incorporate forgiveness earned my undying gratitude and loyalty.  
PNC was the only bank that would allow me to open an account without a permanent address when I was first homeless.  As a result, I think long and hard before considering switching financial institutions.

LegalShield (a benefit offered through my employment at DBHIDS) allowed me to continue an individual membership with full coverage, even though there had been a time and payment lapse between my separation from my  employer, through what is called their Forgiveness Program.  I am now dedicated to budgeting monthly in order to continue receiving their services.


Most Memorable Moments in Academia: A recursive look backwards

As an undergraduate student at American University, I was honored to participate in a graduate class called the Philosophy of Economics with Prof. Jon Wisman.  Concurrently, I was also deeply influenced by the book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.  As a result, over the course of my lifetime, so far, I have come to believe in and practice my personal philosophy as follows: 
What I notice and appreciate grows
I can choose to perceive adversity as a burden or as an opportunity to learn and grow through forgiveness.  The decision is mine.  I can recognize repeating patterns and the best strategies to apply what I have learned should similar situations arise again.


The Genesis of a Thesis Topic: 

A pilgrim’s progress in manifesting my destiny


Ironically, ex-mental patients often referred to themselves as “consumers” of treatment when they began to organize for civil and human rights movements which eventually led to the Recovery/Transformation of Behavioral Health Systems to recognize and support us as individuals with full potential and unique learning trajectories.

The more we share our stories of recovery; the more empowered we become; the more we innovate based on what we have learned by working through our varied adversities; the more likely we are to become entrepreneurs in offering our hard-earned knowledge to help others in similar circumstances.  I initiated such a process by first suggesting the idea of becoming Storytelling Facilitator-Entrepreneurs to a group here in Philadelphia.  The resulting organization, Ur Storytellers, went on to win the prize for Best Business Plan by the Shark Tank for NonProfits: Philadelphia Edition Contest.

The advocacy movement is growing in parallel the development and practice of the principles of Positive Psychology which is a more supportive approach to helping individuals in their recovery journeys.

 My aim is to explore and challenge the assumption in many economic theories that markets are composed of identical consumers and to hopefully examine ways to create economic policy that is based on the realistic assumption that individuals evolve and learn uniquely and therefore respond uniquely in changing economic climates.

My intention is to write a thesis that will incorporate what I have learned so far about behavior and choices in markets, using the lessons learned in evolutionary games of cooperation as my chosen framework.  I am excited to pursue further, in-depth research to identify how economic policy based on current positive psychology principles and practice can be written and implemented to further support the growing population that is currently labeled “disabled” and the potential for future growth in ways that we have not yet imagined.  

I greatly appreciate the chance to present this approach to individuals who I believe have extraordinary insight and graciousness. 

My best wishes to you all.
Sincerely and in humble gratitude,
Seble-Mariam Abate Menkir
smenkir@gmail.com
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