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“Unsung Hero” Recognized by Dalai Lama Teaches PUC Course

James Shim and Cambria Wheeler, March 18, 2014
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Susan Dix Lyons is familiar with social innovation. The founder and Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit Clinica Verde is active every day in making the world a better place. Lyons and her organization improve the lives of families living in poverty through clinical care and nutrition and health education at a sustainably designed health clinic in Boaco, Nicaragua that serves 14,000 patients per year. During the winter quarter of 2014, Dix Lyons drew on her experience with Clinica Verde as well as her earlier work as a journalist and editor to teach a Pacific Union College course on Media and Social Innovation.

 “I wanted to give the students an opportunity to see how rich with possibility their lives are,” Lyons shared, “and how important it is that they become ‘doers’ in society. People who not only imagine how the world can be better, but who have the confidence and resolve to participate in the solutions.”

Lyons herself is one such ‘doer,’ and has been recognized for the work she leads at Clinica Verde. At an event held in San Francisco on February 26, she was honored as an Unsung Hero of Compassion for aiding others without expectation of reward. The event was hosted by the organization Wisdom in Action and was attended by over 700 people. At the celebration Lyons and her fellow honorees were acknowledged by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, the 1989 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for their selfless acts of compassion.

“There were 50 of us from around the world who were recognized by the Dalai Lama, and I discovered we all had something in common: we didn't believe we deserved the honor,” said Lyons. “Each of us has the privilege of leading lives in which we serve others and seek to improve the world. We're blessed by the purpose we were designed to fulfill.”

As operating CEO of Clinica Verde, Lyons took time out of her busy schedule to teach PUC students twice a week about diverse approaches to communicating social change movements and the people who lead them. Social change is “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals,” Lyons explained.

Over the course of the quarter, Lyons gave students insight into problems facing underserved populations, while also providing information about work of social entrepreneurs, business leaders who look for a positive return to society. Lyons also invited working journalists and social innovators to the class once a week as guest lecturers to inspire, teach, and engage students in the latest developments in the growing social innovation sector. 

Media and Social Innovation was a course offered by PUC’s department of communication, and Lyons drew on her experience as a journalist when assigning students to write a weekly feature story on the guest lecturers. “I have definitely enhanced my skills as a writer and journalist because of this class,” said senior communication major Suwanna Vatananan. “Writing is such an essential asset to have in the workplace, and I feel more polished in my abilities as a writer.”

Vatananan and her classmates were honored to be taught by such a dedicated social innovator. “Professor Lyons definitely deserves it,” Vatananan said of the Unsung Hero of Compassion recognition. “It blows my mind how well she is able to manage everything and still do an amazing job as a professor.”

“I started this class with a wide-open view of the possibilities,” said Lyons. “Admittedly, it was an experiment of sorts: could I facilitate an experience for students where they're introduced to real-life change-makers while using principles of Design Thinking to encourage innovation in the students as well?” As the course concluded after ten weeks, Lyons’ students now have the inspiration, the knowledge, and the tools to follow her example and become innovators enacting true social change.

Learn more about Susan Dix Lyons and Clinica Verde by visiting the organization’s website. You can support Clinica Verde by participating in PUC’s Napa Valley Off-Road Triathlon a fun challenge being held on campus on April 27 that benefits this incredibly worthy cause.