After much thought and scribbling on a piece of paper, I figured the best way to start reflecting on the most important lessons I have learnt is to go back and review my application essay for Atlas Corps Fellowship program. I looked into the first question asked in the application essay asking to write what we hope to learn from the Atlas Corps fellowship if given the chance. My motivations were mainly personal and professional which I believe cannot be separated for the most part. It was partly personal because I wanted to pause and reflect on my inner values and principles and put these values of mine to a test in a new environment. I learnt that moral values and principles such as integrity, honesty, humanity, equality, accountability, respect and tolerance are the foundations whereby the important institutions of any society, developed or underdeveloped are built. These values and more are embodied in almost all constitutions of every nation, in all human rights international documents, and in our people focused development approaches. I have come to realize that these same values are written and taught by almost all religious institutions. These values are timeless, universal and apply in any professional setting, in any culture and especially in leadership for a social cause. It was a revelation that I must show commitment to these values and be conscious to work at it. These are the values that make up character, an attraction to followers, to partners and partnership building and relationship building.
Further reviewing back my plans and goals for my professional life through this fellowship program, I summarize it into three areas; improving my leadership skills, enhancing my knowledge on creative programmatic approaches to addressing social problems and understanding the role of Information technology for development in non-profits.
Reflecting back on these goals, I reckon I have learned critical leadership skills; communication skills, the importance of developing an inquisitive mind and developing emotional intelligence. This year, I transitioned from the constant doing and implementing mode to slowing down and reflecting. My role at Global kids allowed me to transition into this mode, which opened up room for new learning to take place. From my work place and my interaction with people from other cultures, I learned to appreciate the culture of open communication, which plays an important role in getting work done with efficiency with little bureaucracy. This strengthens team spirit among coworkers, and builds trust. I also learned that informal learning can take place in many forms, and one way of learning is through inquiring, asking questions without any inhibition whether the questions sound intelligent or not. I realize the power of questions and questioning not only as way of gathering knowledge/information but also as a means to facilitating positive communications between individuals, groups and more. I made a significant observation on the importance of being aware on owns and team members strengthen and weaknesses. I think developing emotional intelligence is perhaps the most important leadership quality and perhaps the starting point to successful leadership and management. Leaders who are aware of theirs and their surroundings plus and minuses are able to make a good match between demand and supply.
The second goal I had in mind when applying to the Atlas Corps fellowship program was to learn the role of information technology in non-profits sector for quality delivery of programs and projects. I feel powerful knowing that my self-generated media through face book, twitter, blog and you tube can reach and influence decision makers beyond borders. I now can twit for causes of Ethiopian girls to stop early marriage, and draw the attention of policy makers and governments who have been party to signing important international conventions. I can twit on situations on Ethiopian girls education, and draw attention of donors to call for investing in girls’ education. I can write blogs on my own leadership experiences and share my stories with other aspiring young women such as myself around the world. It feels great to know that I can upload You tube videos on the web to show case the role of Ethiopian non profits to development to the rest of the world and at the same time change the negative images of Ethiopia which Western media has publicized to the rest of the world for so long. I have learned that social media in the non profit sector is playing an immense role in fund raising, networking, partnership building, public relations and advocacy for social cause. I plan to share these learning’s with my constituents in Ethiopia upon return back to my community.
Thirdly, I had a desire to learn creative programmatic approaches to addressing social problems. Being hosted in Global Kids that works on youth development issues not only sharpened my technical skills on monitoring and evaluation which I was tasked with but it also exposed me to creative youth programming approaches. I now have a different perspective on how to design programs on HIV/AIDS education for youth. I learned that non-profits in Ethiopia need to shift focus from programs that address the immediate needs of young people to further unleash their potential as innovators, future leaders, and ready them for the global stage. I am now a strong advocate that any youth focused program has to have some components on leadership development, civic engagement and global awareness.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to reflect upon my experiences with Fellows in the fellowship and living in the USA. Living in New York which is home to diverse nationalities, I learned to appreciate the values Global Kids teaches to its youth; tolerance, respect for diversity and accommodating different value systems. I often caught myself tolerating thoughts, ideas I wouldn’t have a year ago. Fellows in the fellowship program also gave me a peek into their countries and cultures without having to travel to over 30 countries. I can now say I have acquired the passport to global citizenship. New York gave me a taste of American experience; history, art, culture, entertainment and hospitality. New Yorkers showed me hospitality, generosity and helpfulness. I remember saying a prayer or two for a complete stranger who stopped for at least 5 minutes to help me find my way when I got lost which was often. I have caught myself blessing another who offered to help carry my heavy bag. All of these experiences compounded gave me a different glass to wear with which I view my surrounding and the world differently.