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Carissa Livan Ding, ’21

Carissa Livan Ding, ’21

The gifts of patience and attention

I closed my eyes in relief as I settled down onto my friend’s couch named “Chandler” (yes, Chandler from Friends). My dear friends and fellow Branner Hall Public Service Scholars joined me on the couch.

Moments like these were common in our dorm—ones in which we would dive into conversations about service, academics, and navigating the various ups and downs of college life. More often than not, the process of unpacking any of these topics would span multiple conversations. I realized that for all of these meaningful conversations to happen, we gifted each other something precious: our patience and attention.

An appreciation of these gifts was also central to my Cardinal Quarter fellowship experience with Emerson Collective, a social change organization that uses a broad range of tools including philanthropy, impact investing, and policy solutions to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

In a way, exercising patience and directing attention are ways to practice humility. At Emerson Collective, I worked with a team passionate about leveraging development as a powerful tool for good. However, because development has been used to exclude certain communities and the impacts of those exclusions still live on to this day, we needed to build trust with members of the communities with whom we were working.

This meant taking the time to learn about the history of redlining and to genuinely listen when community members shared their fears, needs, and ways in which they wanted to grow. While my team was intentional about having a robust stakeholder engagement process, we certainly made mistakes as we sought to increase community ownership over ongoing development projects. However, whenever we hit a hurdle, the willingness on both sides to continue engaging with each other despite how tough some conversations could be helped lay a foundation of trust in our relationship. Over time, I witnessed the change in perception of my team’s intentions among community members, reinforcing how powerful the gifts of patience and attention are.

Carissa Livan Ding, ’21, MS ’22, studied environmental systems engineering as an undergraduate and is now completing a coterm in sustainable design and construction. At Stanford, she was a Cardinal Quarter fellow at Emerson Collective, a founder of Malaysians at Stanford, an interviewer for the American Voices Project, a Branner public service scholar, a peer advisor for the civil and environmental engineering department, and a member of the Public Service Honor Society. Carissa is originally from Sarawak, Malaysia.
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