Fellows from different cultures, religions and countries celebrating the Indian Holi Festival

Diversity and Inclusion

My experience so far as an Atlas Corps Fellow has been amazing. Being part of the class 34 cohort that consist of 2 Nigerians, 4 Russians, 1 South Sudanese, 1 Ugandan, 1 Senegalese, 1 Malawian 1 Indian and 3 Pakistanis has provided me with the opportunity to be friends with people of diverse cultures, perspectives and experiences about life. We are building great relationships that foster partnerships and collaborations that will add value to humanity. The beauty of our class lies in the strength of our diversity and our attitude of inclusion. 

During the Global Leadership Lab (GLL) in January 2019, Scott the CEO/Founder announced that the theme Atlas Corps will be running with is Diversity and Inclusion. Like every great leader, he shared a goal which he hoped will be lived and expressed by the fellows. And if there is any place that has the potential to celebrate diversity and inclusion, it is the community of Atlas Corps fellows. This is because this community is a very diverse community in all sense of the word. I believe that therein lies our strength. Our ability to create an environment that encourages inclusion is what makes our strength effective.

What is diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity constitutes the full classification of human demographic differences. It reflects the entire spectrum of the differences that exists among humans across the world. Considering how the world is evolving due to the emergence of new knowledge and increase in self-awareness, diversity is no longer a concept that is limited to race and gender. The spectrum of diversity now also include ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, generation, disability, personality types and thinking style. All of these contribute to weaving the culture, which a person expresses. 

Inclusion on the other hand is providing an environment with a culture that makes everyone feel respected, valued, accepted and encouraged to freely participate in the community. It is creating an environment that make people feel a sense of belonging and be their authentic selves. An inclusive environment is a place where the voices of everyone in a community can be encouraged, heard, valued and understood in order to meet their needs. People should feel safe and secure in such community.

For us in Atlas Corps, almost all the factors that constitutes diversity are represented in the fellow community. This is because of the convergence of over 90 fellows from across the different parts of the world. Every single person came with their own unique culture. We are a very multi-racial and multi-generational community, with multi-backgrounds as well. Therefore, the need to operate an inclusive environment is very important. And because the concept of inclusion is not a one-off thing, Atlas Corps is doing everything possible to create an environment of consistent inclusion.

This shows that Atlas Corps does not only promote diversity and inclusion, they celebrate both. There is no better way to celebrate diversity and inclusion order than by providing the platform for international social change leaders to come to the United States for 12-18months and serve with various host organizations across the country. 

As a public health practitioner and social change leader in Nigeria, I have had to work with people from my country and across the world. But the Atlas Corps fellowship has given me a much bigger platform to gain exposure to leaders from so many countries. Having to work in a host organization with hundreds of employees further broadened my exposure to people from different countries. The beauty about this experience is that it has helped me develop the capacity to operate in a very diverse community, learn to understand, respect and value people more. It has empowered my choice of living the culture of inclusion irrespective of who people are, where they come from, what they believe, or what they do. This has made me a better leader relationally and has further made me an integral contributor to the success of my organization. This is a major plus to my career life.

It is however important to note that the concept of inclusion is not an event but a journey. Therefore, we must as a community make the effort to consciously build a systemic approach to developing a culture of inclusion. This means that from the point of sending out calls for application, to conducting interviews, pairing fellows with host organizations, orientation, immersion and GLL, fellow check-ins and performance reviews, communications, etc., there must be systems in place to encourage diversity and inclusion. There must be policies that celebrate that, which I am sure Atlas Corps has and has been abiding by.

It is however required that as fellows, we need to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Systems and policies do not work without people implementing and living them out. As we interact with one another, attend events and meetings, let’s learn to respect and value our diversities. Let’s create an environment that encourages a sense of belonging for all. Let’s learn as leaders to always empathize with other fellows. 

There are however two possible barriers to diversity and inclusion. They are:   

Unconscious bias

Many people carry with them some level of biases, which they may have picked up because of their experiences, backgrounds, cultural/religious orientation or environment. These biases contribute to forming their values, beliefs and way of thinking. Until a person comes to a place of self-awareness so they can be conscious of what drives their decisions and the motives behind their actions, they may continue to relate with people from a position of unconscious bias, which will keep serving as a barrier to diversity and inclusion.

Wrong cooperate culture

When the cooperate culture of an organization is wrong, it will serve as a barrier to diversity and inclusion. Every organization such as Atlas Corps should ensure that their values are enshrined in the hearts of every staff, volunteer, intern, fellow, board member and every person who is a part of the community. This way it is easy to promote and celebrate a diverse and inclusive culture. 

We must learn at all levels to support diversity and inclusion both as individuals and as an organization by following the practices below:

  1. We should learn to be aware of our unconscious biases and consciously do away with them when relating with people.
  2. We should learn to live/work together with people who are different from us, learn to listen to and understand them.
  3. We should create events within our communities that would bring everyone together. Encourage positive interaction within the community.
  4. We should avoid creating clicks within our communities, it divides rather than celebrate our diversities and create an environment for inclusion.
  5. We must learn to consciously respect and value people in all ramification.
  6. We should acknowledge holidays of different cultures.
  7. We should always operate empathetic leadership.
  8. We should establish a sense of belonging for all.
  9. We should minimize and contain the spread of rumors and fear in our communities.
  10. We must offer consistent training on diversity and inclusion.
  11. We must learn to communicate clearly across board. Poor communication can lead to misinterpretation that can be a barrier to diversity and inclusion. 
  12. We must learn to be a listening community. We listen to Understand.
  13. Leaders across board must learn to model diversity and inclusion.
  14. We must set up systems that drives accountability.

The success of every great organization is tied to their organizational culture. Atlas Corps knows this and that is why they consistently communicate their core values such as, service to a cause greater than yourself, empathy, diversity and Inclusion, ubuntu, level 5 leadership, teamwork and global collaboration and excellence to us. This is because they know that by living it we create a culture that inspires diversity and inclusion. Therefore, it is in our hands to live these values and keep strengthening the culture. This is how people thrive. This is how organizations succeed. This is how we can encourage diversity and inclusion as a community.

Fellows of different cultures, religions and countries in the spirit of diversity and inclusion gathered together to celebrate the Jewish Passover
Class 34 consisting 2 Nigerians, 4 Russians, 1 South Sudanese, 1 Ugandan, 1 Senegalese, 1 Malawian 1 Indian and 3 Pakistanis represents a diverse community and has lived the inclusive culture.