If you are reading this post, I want you to know that it will not be addressing strategy, analysis, or projections. It’s more about a life experience that I am delighted to share. So, have a seat, bring your favorite drink, and enjoy the flight…
Seventeen months ago, I flew to the United States taking part in the Atlas Corps Program, serving as a Fellow with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and being dedicated to Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative. This experience was so interesting and rich in many dimensions, taking into consideration all the areas that I had to discover, work on, be engaged in, but also all the changes, challenges and the unforeseen.
It’s not an easy exercise to summarize this experience in a blog post, or even words. However, I did my best to aggregate the different dimensions of this journey, not only on a professional level, but also personal and human.
Silicon Valley or Impact Seeds
As many of my peers in developing countries (Computer Science and Information System Engineers), we all dream of visiting or living in Silicon Valley, the land that seeds and grows most of the successful and impactful ventures in the world. Living in Silicon Valley was a great opportunity to understand the history and the culture, embrace part of it and also bring a piece of my heritage as well.
One of the key learnings from here is that Silicon Valley has so many secret sauces that lead to multiple success stories, but it also needs some local spices to succeed elsewhere in the world. A deep look into its journey, and you figure out that so many historical events and circumstances were the inputs to its success.
Social Innovation and Impact
I am grateful that my turning point in 2015 from the corporate world to the social innovation field drove my journey to serve with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and be in daily interactions with social agents and leaders from all around the world.
The world is changing, the global issues as well. Social innovation remains a great solution if well adopted and shaped to lead to a tangible impact. I do believe that social innovation and a simplified theory of change should be taught even in elementary schools. Doing so, we can build a new generation of social leaders and agents, aware and active.
Women’s Economic Empowerment and a He for She
During my fellowship, I had the opportunities to collaborate with some incredible women, support some amazing women entrepreneurs, and meet true role models of women in many leadership roles and positions.
One of the main reasons that made me onboard in this program and especially working on Women’s Economic Empowerment is I do believe that advocating for women’s rights and women’s empowerment is not necessarily giving more to women or just led by women. It is about being just and equal by giving access to the same opportunities, resources, and leadership positions to all genders, while building a common ground and safe spaces for everyone, whether you are a woman or man.
As part of my mission, I had to gather and analyze quantitative and qualitative data, while interviewing women-led and men-led social enterprises. I will never forget a woman entrepreneur who shared with me during an interview: “When it comes to women’s economic empowerment, it’s the other who should be empowered.” It happened to me very often that I was the only man in the room (or Zoom) in many meetings and events, and I do believe that an effort should be made to engage more men and raise more awareness.
At the end of the day, It’s not women vs. men. It’s women and men for ALL, because the benefits, proved by numbers, are for all!
California and the United Diversity
Being born and raised in a very sunny and beautiful country called Morocco, I am used to beautiful weather, stunning hiking trails, and long beaches, and I need “solar energy” as a human. On the other hand, California is such a diverse state that you can definitely meet all nationalities, ethnicities, and races. I do believe that the power of the United States is in its diversity, and the Founding Fathers of the United States of America well reflected it in the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
Now that said, the Black Lives Matter movement and many others show that a lot more work is still needed, and social justice should leave the strategy slides to be reflected on leadership positions, board members, access to opportunities and resources, and for sure not only in the US.
I have a deep feeling that it’s not my last visit or stay in California and the USA, and I still have a lot to learn and maybe to bring added value and contribute to an upcoming project or initiative.
Travel and Discover
The USA is such a diverse and multicultural country that makes you travel the world in the same city or county. That’s why I want to embrace the American culture and to understand what it means to be an American — its values, rights, obligations, mindset… My fellowship wasn’t only about professional experiences but certainly a human and humanitarian one. I had the opportunity to travel to many cities and states, meeting different people from all social and economic backgrounds and had many amazing discussions in some moments and places that I never expected.
As I am writing these lines I have visited eight states, and I’m pretty sure by the time you read this the list will be filled with more … more meetings, more experiences, more stories, more understanding.
Connect and Interact
In many ways, connecting the dots is how I usually define what I do in my life. Throughout the fellowship journey, I had the opportunity to bring to the table different perspectives given my background and roots, while I was at a meeting, interacting, and connecting with different stakeholders either as fellow, a participant, a moderator, or a representative: Atlas Corps Global Leadership Lab, Starting bloc 2020, SOCAP 2020 and 2021, Miller Center In-Residence 2021… and many others.
Those connections and interactions helped me to have a better understanding of social issues and global challenges from different perspectives, but also, on how to be a social agent and a better performer. I consider Social Innovation and Impact an art that we perform with passion — on what’s next, especially for my country Morocco and my continent Africa.
Mission and Purpose
When I started my fellowship, I shared my intention that I want to enhance my skills in strategic partnerships and strategic planning. At that time, I didn’t see any ongoing programs where I could be engaged. But life had a better plan for me. I had the opportunity to meet, discuss, and receive amazing advice from Thane Kreiner, an incredible leader who is the former Executive Director of Miller Center. In the same way, my fellowship coincided with a transition period and the onboarding of another amazing leader Brigit Helms, Miller Center’s new Executive Director. (If you are still reading this post, you definitely understand that I am an advocate for more women in leadership for many reasons.)
Two main take-aways from this phase: First, led by the new Executive Director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship engaged in a very interesting strategic planning process to build the new five-year strategy, codenamed Athena. Combining my theoretical learning about strategic planning and serving as a fellow during this process was a great opportunity to assimilate and enhance my skills, while learning from this exercise as a case study.
Second, the HBDI assessment, used to evaluate individual thinking preferences, is one of the exercises that supported shaping the Athena strategy. For me, it was “a just in time reminder” that if six years ago I jumped for the corporate world to start a new journey in the social innovation field, it was certainly to be more aligned with my “yellow mind”, my mission and purpose and to do what I am more passionate about. Technology and data are great enablers that built my career baseline, but human empowerment, social innovation and impact are what give it meaning.
2020 was a turning point for many individuals and organizations on many levels, forcing organizations to pivot and individuals to be resilient. An outsider looking into this fellowship experience could assume that COVID-19 was a break to thrive. I would say that it was simply the opposite in my perspective. It was a great introspection period that helped me have a better understanding of what really matters professionally and personally, better absorb what really works or not, especially what could lead to tangible impact.
Last but certainly not least, I am so grateful to Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Atlas Corps, the US Department of State, and the US Embassy in Morocco, for the opportunity to serve, learn and grow as an emerging global leader. And I am looking forward to what’s next.
I have no idea what is going to be my next chapter. What I am sure about is I am ready to make it again to the Next Level!