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Thursday, December 4, 2014

A reflection of important lessons learned during my fellowship.

St. Augustine is famous for saying that ‘the World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.’ His sentiments have proved true time and time again especially as I reflect back on an individual level on what has been 12 months of my Atlas Corps fellowship experience. 

As a young African lass having grown up in a close knit nuclear and extended family, the first experience that genuinely perturbed me was the cultural difference and traditions that are practiced in America. With noted hindsight, I must admit that it has been quite refreshing and liberating to for instance have the autonomy to make decisions and choices on my own. I have also learned that I am surprisingly more appreciative of my own culture, value and identity, and own beliefs systems having experienced a change of what has been my norm for so long. I am more aware now that neither ideology is wrong or better but rather that culture is varied and societies are free to embrace different concepts and facets that they deem resonate well with them. This experience has also taught me that I am my country’s own self-appointed ambassador and that I owe it to myself and to the richness of information sharing to share what being a Kenyan really means as well as to give insights to our rich heritage, food, culture, traditions, history and of course our athletes! I couldn’t have thought of a more appropriate place to be other than on the Nike Campus to share all this, where I served as a Grant Manager supporting the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect Movement.

On a gender advocate point of view, I had the unfortunate realization that gender based violence and abuses especially those against women and girls in particular are rampant the world over with varied degrees recorded across both developing and developed worlds. I learned that it is crucial for actors in this space not to ignore how crucial gender dimensions are in the dynamics of power and abuses. For effective and sustainable programs, I learnt that it is essential to intervene with a comprehensive approach that gives voice and room to rights, values and the respect for the integrity of all human beings especially during the impressionable stage of adolescence in girls especially. I also learned how the Girl Declaration, a tool created by the Nike Foundation with over 500 girls living in poverty, aims to address poverty before it starts! The tool buttresses the assertion that a distant official need not write the best tools and policies that will effect and catalyze a movement but rather that for real change for girls, girls must be at the center of the movement!

From a grant manager perspective, I learned what it takes to write a good and successful proposal and how to conduct and score a request for proposal process. I honed my reporting and communication skills as well as my presentation and research skills, which were vital during the planning, design and implementation of grant programs and during scouting for new potential areas of investment.
Coming from a legal background where the skills of trade necessarily dictate speed of speech, I was made aware during one of my grantee meetings that I have the tendency to speak very quickly. This was obviously one of the biggest self-realizations and a rather difficult trait to change. I subsequently enrolled in a local toastmasters club to improve my communication and public speaking skills to ensure that grantees and others are able to comprehend what I am saying as well as work on shifting my mind set that not every audience is a court of law! I must say that I took Susan Cain, author of ‘The Quiet’ advice very seriously and embarked on a personal year of speaking dangerously and it has been indeed a humbling, rewarding and insightful experience. I am continuously learning to be aware of the needs and particularities of my audiences and in adapting to them immediately.
Sporty Speakers-Toast Masters Club!
As with most experiences, I was also reminded that they will be hard times and other than get stuck in the rat race, I should enjoy the process, the journey as well as the destination. I re-learnt that failure is not necessarily a bad thing but rather, that it is feedback that I am doing something wrong and through this process is where I learn the most! It is through this fellowship that I truly learned who I am and what my limits and expectations are and most importantly how to articulate them without feeling and thinking that I am being vain or shy or even conceited or proud! I learned that sharing my expectations and hearing the same from colleagues especially, helps manage my expectations and therefore results into more productivity and a less anxious relationship dynamic.

Lastly, I learned that to change my perspective and my world, I need a network of like minded individuals from all corners of the world and I am truly excited that the Atlas Corps fellows and alumni community provides me with this platform and solidarity unit to clamor more support and greater impact for girls and women’s’ rights everywhere!

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