Mutual gains as Creative and Atlas Corps join forces for global development
By Karen Ives
August 18, 2016
On June 23, Luther Jeke published his final blog post as an Atlas Corps Fellow at Creative Associates International, finishing up an 18-month stay in Washington, D.C., before heading back to his home country of Liberia
“Before I came to Creative,” writes Jeke, “I was just a typical young Tech4Dev enthusiast, inward-looking and unaware of the scale of the impact that technology can create globally… But joining Creative was a game changer.”
During Jeke’s 18 months in the program, he developed apps, attended workshops and even traveled to Nigeria to conduct training on the CreativeMapper. In fact, he worked so closely with Creative’s team that even Creative staff members occasionally forgot that he was actually an Atlas Corps Fellow.
Every year, rising leaders in social change from around the world compete for Atlas Corps Fellowships and a chance to bring their unique skills to and learn from social change organizations in the United States.
While participants are able to advance their knowledge and job training, the organizations they work with get the benefit of the skilled professionals with connections and invaluable experiences on the ground in their countries. Fellows also receive stipends through the program to cover living expenses.
Creative has hosted six Atlas Corps Fellows during the past two years.
“With these kind of international fellowships, there’s always the debate around who stands to gain more – the fellow or the hosts,” says Sean Carroll, Director of the Creative Development Lab, which has hosted three fellows. “Well, we can’t do a good job on international development without a variety of international perspectives and know-how, so I’d say Creative has definitely benefited. I hope and believe the Atlas Corps fellows have too.”
Exchanging ideas, innovation and experiences
The Atlas Corps Fellows at Creative bring diverse educational, regional and technical expertise.
Jeke had come to Creative from an innovation lab called iLab Liberia, which serves as an incubation center to train government employees, private citizens and employees of international institutions who want to use information and communications technology to be more effective.
Eyitayo Ogunmola, who is from Lagos, Nigeria, arrived from a workforce development and venture creation organization he started in 2012, which focuses on developing the capacities of the young people for the labor market and helping them start new businesses.
“It’s amazing the social business model the company has built and how it uses for profit structure to achieve social goods. I joined Creative Associates because I considered it an opportunity to improve my social entrepreneurship capacity, learn from global and industry leaders and ultimately be a part of the global movement for change. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Now at Creative, Ogunmola, is part of the business development team, exploring new opportunities for the organization’s Development Lab and other teams.
“It’s been very interesting because I’ve been learning business development at the bigger scale, at the high level,” explains Ogunmola.
One of the newest Atlas Corps Fellows at Creative, Khurram Kazi from Pakistan, has an impressive resume of work experience, including his recent position with the Peace and Development Program of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where he implemented projects in southern Kyrgyzstan.
“Not all Atlas Corps fellows are lucky enough to be placed with host organizations that are relevant to their academic qualifications and past experiences,” says Kazi. “Creative is the best fit for me as the countering violent extremism work not only relates to my past work on peacebuilding with UNICEF, UNDP and Search for Common Ground but it also relates to my academic expertise in Peace and Conflict Studies.”
The current and past Fellows have each been placed in divisions and programs where their unique talents and perspectives add to the work Creative does around the world.
Gaining experience and taking lessons home
While their impressive backgrounds contribute to Creative’s mission of positive change, the Fellows also benefit personally and professionally from the program.
For Khurram Kazi, one of Creative’s newest Fellows who is supporting the team focusing on countering violent extremism, this opportunity gives him broader insight, beyond a particular country or issue.
At Creative “we are not only concentrated on one particular country, we are implementing programs in various countries and different regions…. And each and every region has its own challenges and success stories,” he explains.
When he wraps up his fellowship next year, Kazi predicts he will be heading home with new ideas and best practices
“I’ll be going back with a lot of knowledge, with a lot of experience, and also with the satisfaction that I have given this small contribution to [countering violent extremism] efforts,” he says.
For Ogunmola, this experience is enhancing his expertise as an entrepreneur.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience for me because I consider myself an entrepreneur. And the only way you can… get more opportunities is if you know where those opportunities are. Being with Creative has really given me an opportunity to… learn business development at that level.”
For Jeke, the change is profound: as a young person from a country that experienced 14 years of civil war, he sees a lot of his own experience in the work Creative is doing. The ability to exchange ideas with people from across the world, to learn about their experiences, and the ability to share his own has been “a life changing experience.”
The fellowship, he says, is an opportunity “to get a bunch of experiences and then take those experiences home … to help other young people in my country to be better at what they do.”