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En Route to Change: Reflections on my Fellowship Experience

Anoka Abeyrathne | November 5, 2014

20 Fellows. 17 Countries. One week in Peru.

I sit in the Paris airport, exhausted after more than 25 hours of flying—Lima to Miami to Paris. The weight of leaving Peru hits me and I blink back tears.

Memories flood my mind. From the day I got the letter saying that I was selected as a Laureate Global Fellow, to the somewhat daunting process of acquiring a visa, and finally, finding out that my luggage was lost when I arrived in Lima. As I look back, I can’t help but think that it was all worth it.

I had the chance to meet 28 amazing people, both Fellows and International Youth Foundation (IYF) staff and trainers. Throughout the week-long leadership training, I learned so much that I felt like I was starting over in my leadership journey; questioning what I thought I knew, and learning how much I had yet to discover.

Beginning from day one, we were given opportunities to get to know other Fellows on a personal level rather than on an achievement-based or organizational level. With IYF investing in us as individuals first, there was no pressure or competition within the group. We were instant comrades and quickly formed a special community.

They say some experiences change you forever.  For me, the Laureate Global Fellowship is one of them. From design thinking to program planning to personal growth, the sessions afforded us experiential learning opportunities—allowing us not only to be creative and innovative, but also to see how our learning applies to real life and how we can bring new concepts and tools back home to our teams.

The executive roundtable discussion that connected Fellows with Laureate’s Founder and CEO Doug Becker, Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas’ CEO Mariana Rodriguez, and IYF’s CEO Bill Reese was brilliant. I learned so much within that hour by asking questions and listening to these leaders’ candid reflections on personal struggles and achievements—most notably, learning when it’s time to move on from a project.

On the bus ride to Lima from the small town of Santa Clara, Peru, I was moved by the familiar sight of financial inequality. Coupled with spending a week with change makers from around the world, I had a renewed energy to do more not just for people in my country, but people everywhere.

As I strive to deepen and expand the impact of Growin’ Money, and continue my personal leadership journey, this was the perfect learning experience at the perfect time. I am honored to be part of this network of some of the most amazing people on Earth.

I leave Peru with a sad heart, and still more than 20 hours of flying before I arrive home in Colombo.  Still, I find comfort in the hope that we will meet again, for these people are nothing but extraordinary and crazy in all the right ways to change the world for the better.

Once you stretch your mind, you can never go back to what it used to be. This is a key lesson from my Laureate Global Fellowship experience.  Using what I have learned this week,  I will continue to stretch, always working to make myself and those around me better equipped to drive change in our complex, but shared world.

Anoka is the founder of Growin’ Money, a social enterprise based in Sri Lanka that promotes economic and environmental sustainability in Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia and Bangladesh by engaging local community members to replant mangroves—trees that naturally protect the environment—and  produce handicrafts and organic products from the trees for personal income generation and program sustainability. Grown’ Money is responsible for planting 12,000 Mangroves in South Asia and providing more than 5,000 families the opportunity to gain an income.

Learn more about YouthActionNet and the Laureate Global Fellows in the newly-released 2014 YouthActionNet report.