It has been over six months since class 6 Fellows started service in the United States and Columbia. There have been exciting as well as challenging times. Experiences tend to vary from awesome, indifferent, making do with prevailing situation to challenging. For most fellows, exhibiting mental toughness has been a way of life throughout the fellowship period and compelled to stick to such attitude to the end. Fellows have also shown leadership capability through highlighting issues and challenges to the fellowship and working closely with Atlas Corps management for redress. Such actions recently led to the creation of fellow committees with a high expectation to promote information sharing, strengthen professional development initiatives and enhancement of overall fellow experiences.
Surely, the arrangements thus far do not address all the challenges faced or seek to do so but it is to be viewed as useful attempts. If utilized effectively, the steps taken could have the propensity to contribute immensely to the improvement of the fellowship.
Besides the challenges faced by fellows, Atlas Corps itself is constrained with resources that limits the ability to deliver fully to the expectations of fellows. However, concerns have been raised as to the pitch in marketing the fellowship program that raises fellow expectation above what can be delivered.
Moreover, two issues have engaged my mind for some time for which I intend sharing with readers,
Fellows or interns—I think the title and description seems not well understood, fellows and host organizations alike. This creates tension and unnecessary time wasting on the drafting of terms of reference (in case there are any) and training plans. Aside the description there is also the issue of activities assigned to some fellows that seems to be likened to that of an intern. This leads to my next issue.
Volunteer or work placement—my own challenge has arisen from conversation with some fellows who have raised issues with the fact that they are working long hours even though they receive stipends and are tagged as volunteers but in their own estimation they are working and filling a gap for their host organizations in a cost effective manner. However, I have asked myself several times whether volunteering for an organization does not also imply working long hours at certain times and helping address challenges faced by host organizations. In such a situation, my understanding at volunteering also entails making useful input with one’s skills to build capacity, address challenges, and above all create opportunities by making use of the resources available within such organizations no matter how difficult.
However, there is also a challenge of motivation especially when fellows get into a crunch times.In that sense, there are issues that Atlas Corps as an organization need to address as a matter of urgency;
Consistency in the payment date for stipend to ensure coherent financial planning for fellows
Continuous and enhancement of information sharing among fellows and the organization,
Improvement in professional development and training
Helping fellows answer the question of how they can contribute meaningfully to the non-profit sector in their countries.
I do not claim to know about the challenges faced but I think with the little that I know the issues highlighted above could help in addressing them and strengthen the fellowship.