Awakin Calls are weekly conversations that share insights and inspiration from various corners of the ServiceSpace ecosystem.
Rayna Dineen -- Service Through Unlocking All Children's Capacity to Read, Dream, and Thrive
"For a child who has been struggling to read, discovering how to crack the code of reading is like learning to do a magic spell that suddenly opens the whole world to you. You are getting a passport to an entirely different future in which you can trust your ability to shape your life, and change your world." -- Rayna Dineen
A passionate educator, social innovator, and children's literacy advocate, Rayna Dineen has infused her humanitarian and professional passion for lifting up young children with a sense of service guided by a deep spiritual practice. At a time when two thirds of 4th graders in the United States are unable to read proficiently at grade level -- and with illiteracy a major pipeline for unemployment, incarceration, and homelessness -- Rayna Dineen holds a vision of a world in which all children are lovingly and effectively supported to become confident readers and emotionally literate citizens.
Rayna has dedicated the past 40 years of her life to researching and implementing the art and science of teaching children how to read and thrive. Experience has taught her that all children can learn, regardless of their personal and socio-economic background, the language they speak at home, and whether or not their parents read to them. So her primary focus has always been to support the kids who struggle the most.
She currently directs Reading Quest, a Santa Fe-based organization which provides free structured literacy tutoring and social emotional skills to hundreds of undersupported, struggling readers. Reading Quest employs a team of 24 reading specialists who tutor 450 low income students in reading every week. Rayna's creative approach to literacy, which she has finetuned over many years, draws on evidence-based scientific research about the critical importance of phonics, as well as of play, loving community, and a growth mindset. The effectiveness of Reading Quest's approach has been beautifully documented in two short videos: The Story of Reading Quest made by SONY and Breaking the Boundaries of Literacy made by Meow Wolf.
What inspired Rayna's passion for teaching children how to read? Several threads have run through her life since she was a child: a love of reading, learning, and teaching; a dedication to the path of seva, or selfless service; and a commitment to social justice and inclusion for those who are often left out.
In elementary school, she hosted classes in her family's basement for kids in her neighborhood. In high school, she started a club to help people with disabilities. During her college years, she started a dyslexic students organization, and worked at several schools and camps focused on supporting kids with special needs. Upon graduating, she worked at a residential school for troubled teenagers where she learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work with young people. She went on to get two Masters degrees from Teachers College at Columbia University, including one in Counseling Psychology.
It is at Columbia that Rayna met Brian, who was a doctoral student as well as a Transcendental Meditation practitioner and teacher. They bonded over their passion for education, and their mutual desire to live a life of service guided by a deep spiritual practice. Upon getting married, they gave all their belongings away, and embarked on an open-ended pilgrimage to sacred sites around the world, with the intention of meditating for world peace. After a year of traveling through Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Nepal, they arrived in India and were serendipitously introduced to Amma-ji, the hugging saint, who became one of their greatest inspirations on the path of selfless service, and the initial reason they moved to Santa Fe.
In 2000, Brian and Rayna founded the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences which they envisioned as a "sanctuary school." Rayna served as a teaching principal there for 13 years. She has also worked as an education consultant for EL Education, a transforma
Akil Palanisamy -- The Middle Way in Medicine and Healing: Where East Meets West, Ancestral Meets Novel
When Dr. Akil Palanisamy recounts his recovery from a debilitating illness during medical school, he says it began with two words: "bone broth." In hindsight, this may not sound so surprising, because Akil (or "Dr. Akil," as his patients know him) has been a doctor, author, and educator at the forefront of the food-as-medicine movement for the past 20 years. Dr. Akil has been described by leading integrative doctor Mark Hyman as "a unique triple threat in the field," combining expertise in functional medicine, Ayurveda, and the Paleo diet and ancestral lifestyles.
At the time that bone broth was given to him as a "prescription," however, Dr. Akil was a vegetarian. He had renounced meat a few years earlier "for ethical, environmental, and spiritual reasons" and had become an active member of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society while in medical school there, having completed his undergraduate work at Harvard. The Ayurvedic practitioner he had sought out for his ailment -- because conventional medicine and physical therapy did not help -- was well aware of this. But she saw it as a necessary means to nourish his depleted body and rebalance his excess "vata" (or "air" energy).
Dr. Akil was torn. What had started out as a repetitive stress injury to his wrist -- while writing his senior thesis in biochemistry at Harvard University -- had now escalated into chronic pain, severe fatigue, and a weight loss of 30 pounds (from his already lean baseline of 138). He had to take a prolonged leave of absence from medical school.
In his desperation, he turned to the story of the Buddha. After practicing an extreme form of asceticism that left the Buddha weak and near death, he was visited by a milkmaid who offered some milk. Despite the taboos, he accepted the offer and eventually regained his health. The Buddha would go on to teach about "The Middle Way," living by neither indulgence nor deprivation. Dr. Akil reached a similar turning point. He started with bone broth, which he could rationalize as being "animal bones that were to be discarded." Eventually, after more stalled periods of healing, he decided to experiment with eating meat again. "I could not fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor without a healthy body."
With a nutrient-dense diet that supported his individual constitution, Dr. Akil tried other alternative and complementary therapies, including a holistic chiropractor who practiced functional medicine -- or root-cause medicine. He would heal his gut, regain his weight, and eliminate the pain for a full recovery, allowing him to graduate from the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, then complete a residency program at Stanford Medical Center. He went on to receive a fellowship in integrative medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona, study Ayurveda in Southern India at the Arya Vaisya Chikitsalayam, and certify in mind-body medicine from the Georgetown University Center.
With this breadth and depth of knowledge, Dr. Akil has treated thousands of people living with chronic diseases and conducts clinical research studies. He serves as the Department Chair for Integrative Medicine at the Sutter Health Institute for Health and Healing (IHH) and as IHH Physician Director for Community Education. Dr. Akil has also served as a consultant with the Medical Board of California for many years.
A widely known speaker and educator, he is the author of two books, The Paleovedic Diet: A Complete Program to Burn Fat, Increase Energy, and Reverse Disease -- a customized Paleo diet that incorporates spices, specific fruits and vegetables, intermittent fasting, and an Ayurvedic lifestyle -- and most recently, The Tiger Protocol: An Integrative 5-Step Program to Treat and Heal Your Autoimmunity.
Dr. Akil lives in Sacramento, CA. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis, traveling, and spending time with his wife and daughter. Originally from India, he grew up in Singapore before immigrating to America
Thomas LeGrand -- The Politics of Being
No individual can truly thrive without looking inward. The same is true for societies. - Thomas LegrandAuthor and sustainable development leader Dr. Thomas LeGrand invites us to co-create a new development paradigm focused on "being" and human flourishing instead of a materialistic "having." Through his work as a social scientist, spiritual search, and 20 years of professional experience in microfinance and sustainability for the UN and other public and private sector entities, Thomas has come to believe that sustainability and paradigmatic systems change in and across sectors require activating the latent power of inner-transformation. "The inner pathway to change is so foreign to our cultural software, that its potential is left untapped," said Thomas. "And while culture has been referred to as the fourth pillar of sustainable development [...] we understand very little about creating conditions for bringing out the best in humans."
Currently, Thomas serves as the Lead Technical Advisor for the Conscious Food Systems Alliance convened by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Along with his wife and their two young daughters, he lives near Plum Village, the monastery of their teacher, late Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in the South West of France. He also regularly engages as a speaker and consultant on topics focused on spirituality and sustainability, and is an energy healing practitioner.
As a young adult, Thomas's "momentary glimpses of life's vast potentiality" remained overshadowed by looming default narratives of fear, insecurities, and loneliness. At the age of 23, he explicitly began a spiritual journey following his profound, serendipitous encounters with shamans of one of the most preserved indigenous people: the Huichols. In their teaching, "All paths are the same: they lead nowhere... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use..," Thomas found a new guiding compass for his life and his work.
He went on to complete his master's in international development in Paris, and returned to Mexico for nearly three years, working as a microfinance consultant while continuing to learn from shamans. While he appreciated the non-paternalistic way microfinance emphasized empowerment, he also learned that microfinance can be a "beautiful idea conceived for the greater good [that] could easily be transformed into an instrument of exploitation by corrupt minds and systems." Thomas' experience also shaped his understanding that economics can inherently work against environmental sustainability. His calling to serve Mother Earth led him to pursue a Ph.D. in Ecological Economics and a deeper way to pursue paradigmatic change. Parallel to these events, he embraced the wisdom of a wide range of traditions and practices, including meditation, energetic healing and Tai-chi-chuan.
Thomas's book, The Politics of Being, published in Dec 2021, synthesizes ten years of his dedicated research and contemplation on radically reframing our model of development to prioritize "being" and human flourishing over having (economic growth) and aligning our institutions "with our true reason for being here on Earth". Along with deep evolutionary insights at the intersection of science and spirituality, the book offers concrete action steps in various sectors of society.
Please join David Bullon and Aidyn Laurynz in conversation with this wisdom's seeker, social scientist, and sustainability practitioner.
Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman -- Authentic Living and Authentic Wealth : Re-evaluating Your Identity and Value
Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman are pioneers of impact investing in Australia. In 2007, the married couple founded "Small Giants", a rare 100% impact family office that invests in businesses driving positive impact for people and planet.
Sounds like a dream job? But this wasn't the dream they started with.
As a child, Danny wanted to be an astronaut. He enrolled in aerospace engineering as an imagined pathway to be Captain Jean Luc Picard of the next Starship Enterprise. But witnessing a devastating earthquake while travelling in India planted seeds for a different form of service. Straight out of college, he let go of a lucrative job opportunity and founded "Engineers Without Borders" in Australia, mobilizing thousands of engineers to make a difference via aid work and education in marginalized communities across the world.
Berry, on the other hand, was deeply drawn to storytelling. After studying acting in Australia, she moved to Los Angeles and began her career in Hollywood. After a short time, however, Berry's focuses shifted to using business and capital as a force for good, in a world that was desperate for radical change.
These changes in career and mindset coincided with Danny and Berry's meeting and marriage. For two decades since, they have lived and worked together, bringing their diverse gifts - their skills, wealth, and networks - into alignment with the simple and profound Gandhian principle: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
In 2007, wandering through Hong Kong airport, the couple stumbled upon Bo Burlingham's book Small Giants. A book about companies that chose to become great instead of big. Inspired, and with Bo's blessings, the couple started Small Giants with a new vision that business can and should be a force for good.
At a time when the term "impact investing" hadn't even been coined globally, they committed to moving 100% of their wealth to solely positive impact businesses - something that's extremely rare even today in the impact circles. Small Giants also went on to become Australia's first certified B-Corp.
"You guys are just weird hippies with money. This is not how business is done," somebody told them. Yet, not only did Small Giants flourish, but in 2013 they also launched Impact Investment Group (IIG) where many more investors joined the journey of aligning their wealth with their values. This led to more than $650 million worth of impact investments by 2020, and IIG consistently performed in the top quartile of all venture funds in Australia.
Come 2020, the pandemic and the lockdown, instead of shrinking in times of uncertainty, they've launched a new impact funds manager Sentient Impact Group, to further mainstream the idea of harnessing capital to benefit the living world.
Danny and Berry recognize that if we reallocate capital without changing ourselves, we just change the face of the problems. "From oil barons, we will move to having solar power barons." That's where they see the work of Small Giants Academy, a not-for-profit accelerator, education and media initiative, to help move hearts and minds towards more authentic life-giving choices within, and greater harmony without.
Additionally, they have founded over a dozen ethical, sustainable, and regenerative businesses in several sectors including agriculture, property development, and impact investing. Between them, they have received dozens of awards including a Medal of the Order of Australia, Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and UN's Shared Values Award.
Danny has a flair for combining adventure with values - he was part of a team that broke the record for racing a solar car across Australia from Darwin to Adelaide; guides impact safaris to places like Bhutan, Israel and Palestine; and loves jumping on the trampoline with his three kids. Berry was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Dumbo Feather Magazine (now a podcast), which has reached over 500,000 people. She has interviewed hundreds of the world's deepest thinke
Ali Mahlodji -- Life is a zigzag: Leaning Into Uncertainty
How does it feel to see yourself as an "error" in the system? When you try out over 40 jobs and you fit into none?
From system error to futurist, Ali Mahlodji discovered his sense of purpose in the midst of his life's difficulties. Having zigzagged his way from refugee to technology entrepreneur and CEO to global thought leader, he helps children and at-risk persons navigate the multiple paths to a sense of purpose in an uncertain world and often amid difficult circumstances. And he does so by drawing on his own inner and outer journey.
As a boy, Ali had no idea what kind of career he wanted when he grew up. He envisioned a Handbook of Life Stories that would feature people in a variety of jobs from all around the world and would be available for anyone to borrow from libraries. When he was 30, he launched that vision as a digital platform (whatchado.com) with a few friends - an opportunity made possible by enhanced technology, social media, and the internet. At the time of its launch, whatchado.com featured 17 stories. Today, it is Europe's largest video job orientation platform featuring nearly 8,000 stories and hundreds of company profiles, including partners in education and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
If you asked Ali whether his younger self knew that he would one day become an award-winning entrepreneur, he would likely say no. "Life itself starts and ends by chance, and in between we think we can make plans for the next 40 years which is crazy. Life is a zigzag...The most beautiful thing about life is its uncertainty," says Ali.
Ali was born in Tehran, Iran in 1981. His parents, both professionals in academia, took Ali and fled persecution in 1984. The family left Iran in the middle of the night and traveled to Turkey before making their way to Vienna, Austria. By the time Ali was 10 years old, he had lived in 13 different apartments. In Vienna, his mother cleaned for an architecture company while his father stocked groceries. When he was 13, Ali's parents divorced and he developed a stutter. He went on to drop out of school at 18, just before his exit exams. Ali remembers, "My father always told me to find out what I don't want to do, so the only way to do that was to try things out."
And so he did, exploring more than 40 jobs before returning to finish his education in his late twenties. Ali went on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Programming and joined the technology sector. After his father passed away, Ali felt called to do something that felt more meaningful, so he left his high paying job as a Global Systems Engineer and became a grammar school teacher until founding whatchado.com. Ali said, "A lot of young people don't have any idea of what to do in their future. It's so powerful when you have a chance to talk to someone about your experiences. We started this platform to show people if they want to have a job one day, don't think there's only one way to get there."
Passionate about helping prepare youth for the future, Ali dedicates 50% of his work to young people pro bono. In his TEDx Talk, Ali encourages young people to question the status quo, to be grateful so they do not end up acting in greed, and to believe in the future because "we need the energy to create the kind of world we want to live in." In his voluntary work, Ali also works with adult prisoners and youth at-risk of exclusion. The other half of his time he works with leaders and focuses on professional development.
Since launching whatchado.com, Ali has gone on to create start-ups such as futureRocka, ALIDO, and futureOne (which also has a podcast called futureOne HEROES). He is a best-selling author of multiple books including Und Was Machst Du So? (or, And What Are You Doing?), Next Level WORK, Ent-Decker Dein Wofur (or, Discover What You're Doing For), and Work Report. He has worked with various companies and organizations including Google, BMW, IBM, Siemens, Mastercard, Microsoft, Red Bull, and the United Nations. He h
Michael Nye -- Images and Voices on the Edge of Revelation
"Every person - every place is a map to somewhere else." - Michael Nye
Alejandro went hungry as a child and describes hunger as a "lion in your stomach that wants to be fed." Christine became a mother at 15 and expresses her hopes to "build a home across the street from my parents." Taylor reflects on her brother who lives with mental illness: "The great thing about him is he is always creative," and, "Unfair things that people shouldn't say are 'crazy' and 'are you retarded?'"
What these individuals have in common is that they are all subjects of the soft lens of photographer and audio documentarian Michael Nye, who has been traveling the world for 30 years to capture unique stories, images, and voices. "Each face invites you to listen," he writes. "Stories are often found resting on the edges of surprise and revelation. Everyone knows something important and valuable, a precious wisdom born from experience."
Michael's work focuses on remembering and holding on to voice and story and image and presence. One person at a time. "What is forgotten is lost." He can spend up to four days with a subject. He will then, for the purposes of his exhibits, distill everything down to one image accompanied by a five-minute sound clip. "It's a slowly revealing process, like unwinding a ball of string.... It's not about those people, but about humanity."
Wherever he travels, Michael carries an antique 8x10 camera and a voice recorder. He has been aptly described by National Public Radio as "part reporter and part anthropologist" too. His projects have taken him to Iraq during the first Gulf War, refugee camps in Palestine, as well as Siberia, China, Morocco, and Mexico. His documentaries, photography and audio exhibitions, "Children of Children -- Teenage Pregnancy," "Fine Line -- Mental Health/Mental Illness," and "About Hunger & Resilience" have traveled to more than 150 cities across the United States.
His newest exhibit is called "My Heart Is Not Blind -- About Blindness and Perception," based on seven years of listening to men and women who are blind and visually impaired. Michael explores how perception and adaptation are deeper than we can imagine, and much more mysterious. "How does anyone, blind or sighted understand the world outside themselves? These conversations focus on the deep and shifting pools of perception and the mystery of transformation. Our other senses, separate from sight, have their own wisdom." In 2019, he published a book by the same name, My Heart Is Not Blind - About Blindness & Perception, and in 2023, launched a podcast with 47 episodes devoted to the subject (Season 1). Season 2 of his podcast (forthcoming) will focus on Hunger & Resilience.
Michael has received numerous awards, including the Mid-America National Endowment for the Arts grant in photography and two Kronkosky Charitable Foundation grants. He has also received the San Antonio Arts & Letters Award and the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind. He has participated in two Arts America tours in the Middle East and Asia. His work has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered.
Michael is currently working on a series of essays/photographs relating to the nature and complexity of photography and aesthetics. Michael writes: "Photography is not just about Photographs, they are also about what is imagined or remembered inside and outside the borders of the photograph at that moment in time. Mood rearranges understanding. Care attaches weight and gravity. Experience wraps its arms around a moment. Perception rises like bread and is rarely limited to what is directly in front of us. Photographs specialize in time travel moving from now to then. The language of 'looking' goes deeper than surfaces."
Before full-time photography, Michael practiced law in the appeals court for ten years. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye.
Please join Pavi Mehta and Danusha Lameris in conversation
Leisurely and in-depth
A joy to hear unscripted conversations that are given time to breathe