In 2015, our 25th cohort of fellows returned from their eight months abroad. 25 years of transforming lives, one young Canadian at a time, an article celebrating a long history of successful fellowships, was published in The Ismaili that summer. We invite you to read it.
25 years of transforming lives, one young Canadian at a time
From the high mountain valleys of Pakistan to the beaches of Mozambique, hundreds of communities around the world have been touched by young Canadians – thanks to one extraordinary program founded more than 25 years ago.
Since 1989, almost 500 young Canadian professionals have participated in the International Youth Fellowship. Run by Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), the program places young Canadians with organizations in the developing world.
Fellows contribute their skills and knowledge to their host organization for eight months, and expand their horizons through hands-on work – and life – experience in the developing world.
“Being able to be an AKFC fellow, and go and live and work overseas, was incredibly important for me and it helped to inform… the values and the way of working in our business,” said Tracey Clark, president and CEO of Bridgehead, a fair trade coffee company. She was placed in Bangladesh in 1992.
“There are a lot of myths about what other cultures are like and people in other cultures, and one of the great things about being able to live and work in Bangladesh was that those myths sort of fell away.”
Fellows work with AKFC’s partner organizations across Asia and Africa in a variety of fields, such as health, education, microfinance, market development, communications, and journalism.
AKFC was founded in 1980 to mobilize support within Canada for the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and strengthen the AKDN’s relationships with Canada’s government, institutions, civil society, and individuals. The International Youth Fellowship is one of AKFC’s oldest programs, and plays a central role in fulfilling this mandate.
The Government of Canada and corporate partners such as the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal make the fellowship program possible through their ongoing financial support.
While fellows enter the program with a background in development, their experiences are diverse – from marketing to finance to health care. To ensure all of the fellows have a solid grounding in development theory and practice, they spend a month in Ottawa together for an intensive seminar featuring development experts from around the world.
“The training program was about much more than what we learned and the tremendous resources we gained,” said Salima Jaffer, who was placed in Uganda in 2009 and now works with War Child Canada. “It is really about the time you spend with the people on the program – these relationships last many years later.”
The International Youth Fellowship program was founded in 1989 to fill a gap for young Canadians who wanted to launch a career in international development.
“Because they didn’t have field exposure, they couldn’t get a job,” said founding AKFC CEO Nazeer Ladhani, who established the program. “They were caught in a vicious circle: No job, no experience; no experience, no job.”
In an independent evaluation of the program completed in 2009, 80 percent of surveyed alumni said the program improved their career prospects in international development.
Alexei Bezborodov was placed in Kenya in 2011, working with Honey Care, a social enterprise that helps farmers increase their incomes by producing honey. When his AKFC fellowship ended, he was hired full-time – and managed the fellows who joined the company in following cycles of the program.
“Fellows have brought a high level of critical thinking and motivation to our team and we've been able to assign them to critical projects with the confidence that they can deliver good results,” said Bezborodov.
The experience fellows gain is transferable beyond the realm of international development – even alumni who pursue different career paths understand the value of their overseas experiences.
“The fellowship completely altered my path – inspiring me as to the potential for financial tools to serve as a force for good,” said Derek Gent, who was placed in Bangladesh in 1996 and is now the executive director of the Vancity credit union’s community foundation. “It is an incredible privilege and an important investment by AKFC and their partners.”