A pivot of the AIF Fellowship experience is the interaction and exchange between the Host Organization, mentors and the fellows. The Fellows and development organizations are matched based on mutual need, interests and skills. The diversity in skills offered by the Fellows and the spectrum of issues, contexts and geographies in which the Host Organizations operate makes each year’s tapestry unique and richly layered.
The clarity, flexibility and support of the Hosts and Mentors plays a major role in shaping the Fellows experience. This process of building the fellowship projects and its contours begins early where the idea for the projects originated or the needs at the organization, followed by an application to be Hosts, interaction with the fellows prior to selection and then finally selecting and mentoring the fellow who is matched with them. My previous post drew from the experiences of this year’s Fellow cohort on staying motivated during the Fellowship and acclimatizing to a new work environment. This post will look at a few ways the Hosts can maximize the opportunity for hosting a Fellow.
Start with a clear project design for the Fellow: Thinking through the support your program needs and designing a project for the fellow is possibly the most important step in hosting an AIF Fellow. AIF encourages Host applicants to list clear goals, deliverables and sustainability plans. Think through both what you need and what you can offer to a skilled young person who will be part of your team. For instance, your organization may need support in strengthening communication around its work. While this is a common ask for many organizations it will be a good idea to spell out a few specifics.
A few questions to ask yourself are: What are some of the deliverables you see the Fellow produce by the end of the project (social media presence and strategy, donor communication, writing drafting publications, etc)? What kind of proficiency in language will this project require- e.g.- do they have to know the local language; can you offer sufficient support for translation? What kind of skills does the Fellow require – e.g. content writing, website development, photography, graphic design etc. How will the Fellow contribute to the overall vision of the organization? What will they learn- e.g. hands on experience of developing tools for communications research, a deeper understanding of donor requirements and communications, experience of working on health, education, livelihood etc. and who will take over the function or role once the fellow leaves (can existing teams be trained, will there be provision to hire skilled resources etc.).
The first two months are critical: While ten months is a significant amount of time, in the experience of most Fellows and Hosts, these months fly by very soon. The first two months are critical in shaping the Fellowship experience. Plan well for them. Use this time to introduce the Fellow to the organization and its various programs. Share information of structures, verticals, reporting and identify key resources within the organization that the Fellow will be working with to complete their fellowship project. Ask a team member to provide a structured orientation for the Fellow and take them along for field visits and meetings to help them get familiar with the context.
An important input in this period is helping your team understand the role of the Fellow. This would entail explaining to the team the projects the Fellow will be working on and the support required from the team members.
Co-design the project with the Fellow: When a Host Organization puts forward a project brief for the Fellowship, it is framed by the needs of the organization and by the experience it can offer. Once a Fellow comes on board there is an opportunity to revisit the initial vision and align it with other strengths and skills the Fellow might possess as well as their interests and needs for professional development. The Fellows’ proposal includes detailed methodology, timeline and an assessment of skills and resources available vs those to be acquired, challenges etc. Participating actively in outlining this proposal will help make the project more relevant in tune with your needs and provide you a framework for monitoring progress.
Develop a system of feedback and check ins: Each Fellow and Host/Mentor relationship is unique. While some Host Mentors may be traveling frequently, some projects may require that Fellows spend long periods away from the office. Irrespective of the nature of work, travel or the degree of routine interaction between the Mentors and Fellows, identify milestones or frequency for check-ins and feedback. These could be meetings, calls, email exchanges etc. which nudge both Fellow and Mentors to set aside time to take stock of the fellowship experience. Working in an environment so vastly different from their own can be a very challenging experience and these check-ins can play a role in helping the fellows navigate differences and perform their roles effectively.
Most of us have probably been the new person on a team at some point or the other. Probably more frequently in the early years of our career. Do you recall the motivations and anxieties? How much more pronounced are these when the cultural settings are so vastly removed from what one is familiar with? Most fellows look forward to the opportunity to understand development challenges, contribute to solutions and to have their ideas considered and skills utilised. Designing a project and facilitating an experience which provides opportunities to enhance learning alongside opportunities for contribution can help you craft a fruitful fellowship experience for your organisation while helping to foster sensitivities and leadership skills in young professionals.