Back in Uganda, my daughter, Yolanda – who will be three in September – always looked forward to the time when I returned home from work every evening. Flashing her enchanting smile, she welcomed me with a big hug. But that was never the only thing she looked forward to. As soon as I kicked off my shoes, she would immediately put them on and walk around the living room chuckling away, much to my delight. This story is neither about shoes nor my daughter; but I write about both because they are my favorite subjects.
It has been only two weeks since I left Uganda for the United States to participate in the prestigious Atlas Corps Fellowship and yet Yolanda has quickly found a new pair of her favorite shoes – her dad’s. I do not want to sound jealous of her new shoes or overly nostalgic but the truth is Yolanda now has a new pair of shoes. Do I miss her!
I had worked for a couple of years, become good at my work but still felt something was missing in my career – a global perspective. If the decision to leave Yolanda was a difficult one to make, it was terrifying to leave my ‘comfort zone’ – the world I was used to, where I knew my way round and was an ‘expert’ in my field – to start a new life of learning and unlearning. The desire to see the world through a different lens was my biggest motivation for applying to join the Fellowship.
As an Atlas Corps Fellow, I have in just two weeks received much more than a global perspective. I now have a family of more than 500 diverse people from over 83 different countries across the world. True to the mission, Atlas Corps indeed creates a global network of change makers.
As Atlas Corps Founder and CEO, Scott Beale succinctly observes on the reason behind the establishment of the organization, “talent is equally distributed around the world- opportunity is not.” Atlas Corps has handed me this opportunity to not just learn the American culture but to interact and learn from people from different backgrounds all over the world. What makes Atlas Corps unique is that as fellows we are not just learning but contributing to organizations and creating impact in social issues that we are passionate about.
The first two weeks have been intense, with relevant training to equip us with skills necessary for us to excel at our host organizations, build our leadership capacity and share knowledge. However emphasis has been put on getting to know each other and building relationships.
In this time, we have been: oriented into the program; listened to amazing speakers; had a noteworthy global leadership lab focusing on communication and marketing; toured some important monuments in DC; visited the White House; watched a baseball game; taken many pictures (which is a real activity at Atlas Corps!); and yes had many meals together.
It is amazing how Atlas Corps staff, fellows, volunteers and friends interact with ease and such enthusiasm, a clear demonstration that it is all about building lasting connections. Listening to inspiring guest speakers who are glad to share their experience because of their connection with Atlas Corps staff and fellows has been the highlight of my first two weeks.
These two weeks have opened my eyes to a whole new world of connections – and business cards. I am now connected to people and organizations, and I have an opportunity to see the nonprofit sector from a different perceptive – exposure which not even ten years’ of working experience could have given me. Notably, I can now approach people effortlessly, something I wish I had learned to do much earlier in my career.
This is indeed for me an opportunity of a life time. I now have a network of fellows and alumni that share similar beliefs and values that I can always count on. And like Yolanda, I am ready to step into my newest pair of shoes and take the walk to be the best I can be.