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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Atlas Corps Class 14 Graduation Speech

December 15th 2014.
Scott Beale presenting  the graduand certificate to me
Good Evening Fellow-Fellows, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Courage, someone once said; is what it takes to stand up and speak…but it is also what it takes to seat down and listen… and so I want to thank all of you for demonstrating your courage and by letting a stranger (to some of you)- address you this fine evening!

I am indeed very humbled, thrilled and excited because today marks the near end of a beautiful journey that has been my Atlas Corps Fellowship Experience! When Younas Chowdry (the best Atlas Corps Training Manager, I should add) informed me of this fine task that my fellow fellows had nominate me for, I wondered what exactly I would say on behalf of and to a group of individuals who have often been described as the best of the world's rising leaders.

In my quest to find adequate inspiration for this speech, I asked each fellow to describe in a word or two what their fellowship experience has meant to them. Some of the words I heard included; transformative, awesome, stimulating, bittersweet, inspiring, insightful, motivating and a period of intense awareness and self-reflection.[1]

I remember quite vividly the first day I heard about the Atlas Corps Fellowship Program. Believe it or not, I received an email from a then unknown correspondent, Scott Beale -The Founder himself; in early February of 2013.The subject of the email was ‘ Do you know talented non-profit leaders.’ The gist of the email went something along these lines;

“Dear Catherine, We founded Atlas Corps on the principal that talent is equally distributed around the world but opportunity is not; help us find talented and passionate professionals for our next class of leaders.”

Now I don’t know what the normal and standard response to that should be (especially when it is a stranger asking you for a favour) but I must admit I was very sceptical. My email account had just recently been hacked into and as an avid blogger I often receive such requests to share opportunities on my blog and unfortunately some of them are not always legitimate! After doing some research and basic form of screening on this organisation (that is the lawyer in me by the way) I finally posted an article on my blog on February 25th 2013 titled ‘Apply to be an Atlas Corps Fellow’ and sent the link to Scott[2]. I never really belaboured on how he had gotten my email address but the more I spent time reading about other fellows and the benefits and responsibilities of being part of this fellowship, the more I was intrigued!

There are several factors I can think of that made me apply for this fellowship. Three of the most compelling reasons are that:

One -I also wanted an opportunity to learn best practices from a network of young extraordinary fellows from around the world on how to make effective and meaningful change to the world’s global problems.

Two- I was at a crossroad with my legal career and was keen to figure out what exactly I wanted to use my legal background in.

Three- I wanted an opportunity to learn from an outstanding organisation on how to develop and run my informal mentorship program for teenage girls in Kenya better.

It therefore made logical sense to travel 9,126 Miles from Kenya to take up a post as a grant manager serving at the Nike Foundation supporting the Girl Effect Movement. It would be a great injustice given the limited time I have to share all that I have learnt in my role managing a portfolio of grants, running and helping manage a request for proposal process, scoring and vetting concept notes as well as capturing, distilling and inspiring learning to scale initiatives for adolescent girls living in poverty. But what I wish to share with you tonight is that some of the most fundamental skills I have learnt on girl engagement and on how to make meaningful programs that target the most vulnerable girl, I could not have possibly learnt in a classroom anywhere! Serving at a Foundation has also exposed me to a broader spectrum of various and diverse organisations, programs, and initiatives that work from policy to advocacy to communication and even on research work!

And of course serving at the Nike Campus also revived my dormant genetic ability to run. I go back home having not won a Gold medal or broken yet another marathon best time but I must admit the influence of the swoosh was hard to ignore!

I wish I could tell you that all fellows, including myself had an amazing time everyday filled with rainbows and butterflies! I wish I could say that we were never frustrated, stressed, home-sick or sleep deprived sometimes! But some days we were! But we weathered the storm because we each knew what our own personal motivation for getting to the finish line meant to us and we knew that hard work is never easy and we were ready to put in the effort and the hours! I am particularly grateful for the genuine friendship among our class and the support fellows have given each other from forming our own whatsapp group, to calling and checking up on each other occasionally! I am even more grateful that I had Smiti Gahrotra a fellow from India not only share the Nike experience with me but was also my flatmate, greatest critic and cheerleader alike!

To my dear fellows, we did it! We survived the culture shock, we endured the Global Leadership Immersion Labs, we sat and passed the Project Management Certification, we braved the snowpocalyps, we made friends and we learnt. My wish for each of you is that you keep knowing, growing and going! Even as I say goodbye I am deeply encouraged that I have a network and pillar of support from as far as the beautiful Bogota in Columbia to the buzzing city of Kampala in Uganda and even in the scenic Seoul in South Korea. Tonight, we come together for our last hurrah! It may be the end of our stay here but it is just the beginning of another great chapter…

I want to end my last thought by thanking the entire Atlas Corps staff, all our partners and host organizations for taking a chance on us! We came here ambitious and bright but we leave better off not with all the answers to solve the world’s most pressing problems but we leave here with the tools and a network of amazing fellows and alumni who together will be the biggest step to changing the world!

Congratulations Class of 2014!  We did it!

To our guest and partners, I encourage you to hear other fellows’ stories before you leave tonight!

Thank You.

[1]Rehema- Transformative
Trish & Younas - Awesome
Karuna- Stimulating
Smiti- Inspiring
Victoria- Bitter Sweet
Karam- Self-Reflection
Monica- Motivation
Munya- Insightful
Kate- Awareness

[2] http://empowereddivas.blogspot.com/2013/02/apply-to-become-atlas-corps-fellow.html

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