CALIFORNIA GIRLS STATE ALUMNAE SPOTLIGHT
Our Non-Profit Network
Tell me about your role at Atlas Corps and what it entails. For example, what is your typical week like?
Atlas Corps is an international leadership development organization that brings the world's best emerging social change leaders to the U.S. for 12- to 18-month professional Fellowships. While in the U.S., the Fellows are placed with Host Organizations. The fellows develop into leaders through projects that strengthen their Host Organizations; this partnership promotes innovation through a global exchange of best practices.
As a Partnerships Associate, I recruit and liaise with mission-driven organizations interested in hosting our international Fellows. During any given week, I'm on the phone with civil society executives and corporate HR teams from the Bay Area to the Big Apple. I attend conferences and events at places, such as the Norwegian Embassy, the United States Institute of Peace, and the State Department, to meet with like-minded individuals who value diverse perspectives and global inclusivity. I am a primary agent encouraging a productive Fellowship experience, so I'll often conduct in-person site visits with current and prospective Host Organizations to ensure that Fellows are meeting their expectations and vice versa.
The best weeks are when all of our currently serving Fellows, representing 80+ countries and issue areas, convene three times a year at our office in DC, and I get to hear firsthand about the tremendous opportunities and growth they’ve experienced since beginning their Fellowship. That is the most rewarding part!
Tell me about the path you took to your current position.
I've always been passionate about global human development and sustainable community empowerment. I'm a people person, so whenever I have the opportunity to support individuals and organizations trying to do good in the world by building the capacity of others—whether at a global nonprofit in Cape Town, South Africa or a jail cell in Alexandria, Virginia—I'll do it. When this role at Atlas Corps became available during my final months serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it was a no-brainer. Some of my most formative experiences occurred when I had the opportunity to wholly immerse myself in a new culture or community. It has been a privilege and an honor to facilitate those same opportunities for other young leaders from around the world and to sit in an office that regularly hosts so many different cultures and languages.
What's the coolest thing you have been able to do in your career so far?
The thing I’m most proud of is that at 26, I’ve had the opportunity to live in 4 countries and work in 10. Throughout all of these travels, I've been able to meet and interact with an incredibly diverse breadth of people who are all passionate, in very unique ways, about community empowerment. From the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA to the former US Ambassador to South Africa, from a bow tie entrepreneur in Maseru to a model in Milan, from a male inmate in a GED class to a young girl on a cement playground—I've had the pleasure of engaging with people of so many diverse sectors, ages, religions, ethnicities, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses who aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone to engage in cross-cultural communication in the hopes of making this world a better place.
Now looking back to connect the dots, what have been some of the most formative decisions you’ve made?
The best thing I did to launch my career in international development was join the Peace Corps! I initially applied to the Peace Corps to immerse myself into a new country and culture, travel internationally, and to further my social justice work on a grassroots, global scale. I got SO, SO much more out of it than just that.
I committed 27 months to serve as a School and Community Resources Project Volunteer in South Africa, living in a rural village, where no one spoke English, and where the very essence of daily life was so radically different from anything I had ever experienced before. Yes, it was hard living without running water. Yes, it was hard learning a new language. Yes, it was hard being the only person in my community who was not Black South African. And it was hard not having the typical comforts of home and it was hard building a library from scratch and it was hard teaching English every single day to groups of middle school students whose only exposure to the English language was when I spoke it to them.
But those 27 months pushed me personally and professionally in ways that staying comfortable in the United States never could, and I learned so much from my South African counterparts, colleagues, and students who challenged my own biases and perceptions of success. It was through a third year extension of my Peace Corps service that I was able to move to Cape Town where I worked for Grassroot Soccer to facilitate adolescent health trainings with people and organizations across six African countries and liaise with individuals from over another 40. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I would travel to places like Malawi, Ghana, and Cameroon and work alongside community-based partner organizations all committed to sustainable community empowerment and ending the global struggle against HIV/AIDS. The Peace Corps solidified my passion for intercultural dialogue and sustainable community empowerment. I feel more prepared now than ever before to continue liaising directly with marginalized communities to help them access the necessary resources to achieve their goals.
What educational and professional preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?
While you're in college, it’s imperative to leverage internships during both your semesters and summers to infuse real-life examples with the theories you’re learning in the classroom. Don’t settle for your only professional experience to be at your job. Apply to Fellowships, join professional societies, do community service, and continue to push yourself to accept and try out for roles that extend beyond your 9-5. I'd also recommend creating opportunities for yourself to spend time living overseas. You can’t be an international development professional if you don’t understand what it means to live full-time outside of the United States.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in this field?
To be an international development professional, you need grit, resilience, and empathy. You have to be willing and prepared for things to move at very different paces than you expect them to, and you have to go with the flow when innovative spontaneity from your colleagues and professional counterparts seems atypical but could be the key to a successful project. These skills are best built through experiencing and overcoming adversity, and the best way to do that is to get out of your comfort zone. Take that job opportunity in a new country where you don’t yet speak the language. Accept an invitation to an event where you don’t yet know anyone. Join groups of like-minded people who gather to discuss topics you want to learn more about even though you don’t feel quite like an expert on the subject matter. These are all things that have contributed to my success in this field, and I would encourage others to have an open mind and take advantage of similar opportunities.
How has California Girls State and/or its alumnae community positively impacted your life and career?
California Girls State was one of the first times in my life where I realized I had the power to lead my peers. When I first arrived, I was fascinated by all of the interesting people and perspectives surrounding me from across the state. In my city, I introduced fun games and activities that I later realized had helped to build strong bonds among all of the girls. When I ran (unsuccessfully) for a party position, the loss allowed me to step back and reevaluate what I wanted my legacy at CGS to be. I ended up auditioning to be the MC of the Talent Show, and got it! It was the perfect opportunity for me because it enabled me to engage my peers, to lead a crowd of 300+ people, and to hold the entire audience’s attention in the palm of my hand.
I have since gone on to facilitate trainings all over the world with groups as disparate as US Diplomats and INGO personnel and young adolescents. Being the MC of the Talent Show at California Girls State helped boost my confidence and interest in being a facilitator.