How would you feel on the 10th anniversary of a program where you have been to and have successfully completed? What the feeling would be like to recall some of the best experiences that you have had and the things that you have learnt?
Today is a very exciting day for me as it is the 10th anniversary of Atlas Service Corps. I am sharing here some of the best things I learned while being a Fellow (from Sep 2015 to Sep 2016) and serving in the United States of America for a year.
It is a bonus for my readers as I write about this for the first time. I got the opportunity to share this with my class and the Atlas Corps staff during the closing retreat as this capstone project of mine was selected (along with two other fellow Fellows’ projects) by Atlas Corps to be presented. Thanks to Atlas Corps for selecting it and thanks to Andrew Tangas – the Atlas Corps Fellow from Australia for taking all the amazing pictures.
Lesson 10: This is just the beginning, not the end.
Being an Agent of Change is a continuous journey. I now feel so privileged to be part of the Atlas Corps alumni network. I feel privileged because being in the alumni network will give me life-long opportunities to learn and make changes to people’s lives. And once you start to do good with the support of all the amazing people around you, trust me there is no stopping because it makes you feel so good!
Lesson 9: Learning starts at the end of your comfort zone!
My fear of failure was overcome during the 1-year long professional fellowship. In the past I would focus on the process of my tasks or the initiatives and would try to stick to the methods which would work. This would happen quite unconsciously as I knew that those methods were already proven. Now I know why it is important to focus on the impact and how going out of my comfort zone will help me take new and innovative routes to do more amount of good for the community back home in Bangladesh.
Lesson 8: Collaborative Problem Solving Skills
The “Knowledge and Skills about Solving the Problem” and the “Empathy for your Stakeholders” are two different things. We need the technical knowledge and skills but we would also need to have an open channel of communication with your stakeholders to solve the problem. We must try to see the problems and the potential solutions from others’ perspectives. “Change your perspective, change the world.” – I can totally relate to the slogan of Atlas Corps here.
Lesson 7: Empathy
Making mistakes is just part of the journey and there is no need to be harsh on yourself. As you empathize on others, you should empathize on yourself in the same way. When I was conducting a small workshop for CorpsAfrica I had a great time learning about it as these leaders are serving at the remote regions of Africa to make changes in their lives. It was an interesting discussion about Design Thinking and how to apply it to understand the needs of the community and give space to oneself to come up with better solutions with time and effort.
Lesson 6: Adjustment and Adaptability are pre-requisites for success.
Working to develop the soft skills of the various groups such as university students, political leaders, professionals from development fields, and educators in Bangladesh was a learning for me that soft skills are essential. I got the essence of it even more by learning the soft skills “hands-on”, when I had to adapt to things and methods that were so different from those I did back at home, including culture, food, working style and what not! Staying in the US and serving at a US-based organization was a fantastic opportunity to learn and inculcating the skills of adaptability and adjustment.
Lesson 5: Recognizing my Learning Styles
We might at times look at the amazing learning capabilities of other individuals around us and wonder why we are not so good at it. It can also happen to other people – they might feel discouraged that they are not as good as we are. The thing here is that we all have different learning styles, and the environment and people around us can help us in many ways. Some learn through observing, some through reading, some by interacting with others, and many other ways. Once you know which ones you are best at, you will be able to learn more efficiently. I was blessed by the amazing methodology that Atlas Corps applies to help its Fellows learn. Apart from learning by serving at a US-based host organization, I was also able to learn a lot from the Global Leadership Labs which were conducted by organizations like Deloitte. I also had a lot of interactions with leaders and Returned Peace Corps volunteers who helped me to learn about leadership!
Lesson 4: Hands-on learning is the most effective way of learning.
As I served at an organization based in the United States, I got the opportunity to learn through experiential learning. Sometimes there would be methods that I knew about and applied them in the new context to see how they work. At other times I would have to find out totally new ways and learn absolutely new ways of doing things. There were many aspects of fund-raising, partnership management, coordination, communications strategies, etc. which I got to learn for the first time by ‘doing’. Hence learning non-profit management in the US hands-on can be one of the most important things of a young person’s life as he gets Global Perspective of the most pressing issues of his society.
Lesson 3: Soft Skills are important
As I work for the empowerment of youth groups that include Civil Society Organizations’ and Non-Profits’ volunteers and leaders, Political Leaders, and Educators, I could relate very well to the needs of knowing about Soft Skills while serving at a non-profit in the US. I found it to be a great opportunity to learn about Prioritizing and Decision-Making Skills, Critical Thinking, Cultural Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, etc. Do take good care of your Soft Skills – they are essential regardless of your academic achievements!
Lesson 2: Networking is Key
In today’s world networking, both in online and offline forms, is key. Not only did I learn about its importance but I also learned how to do it at many different occasions and with different people. I appreciate the opportunities given to me by Atlas Corps to attend so many internal and external events and to volunteer at different programs. I remember discussing and learning about networking skills in one of the sessions at George Washington University. I have shared my experience here.
Lesson 1: Talent is universally distributed but opportunity is not.
We should not underestimate the power of youth. Appreciation of talent can take an individual a long way. When I was managing the interns of Social Impact 360 I could very easily see the diverse talents that they have got. It was fun to work with the young people. Atlas Corps brought us – the young people from all over the world to give us the opportunity to explore our skills and support host organizations in the US. In this video clip the Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State Andy Rabens discusses 5 ways technology and demographic changes are empowering young people.
Bonus Lesson: Be True to Yourself (Could not leave out this point!)
At the end of the day, be sure about what you are doing. Make sure that you are doing at least something even if it is small. Re-evaluate yourself and try to find out how you can serve better. Remember, even the smallest contribution matters in when it comes to development.