My YALI Fellowship experience – 2019 YALI MWF [3rd Part]
In a variety of ways, the YALI MWF (Young African Leaders Initiative) remains one of the best experiences in my life. I would like to share in greater detail the positive learning gained and the skills I still need to improve.
The other fellows during the Young African Leaders Initiative
In terms of positive experience, the other fellows and the leaders we met all inspired me. Boldness could sum up everything. Malagasy people tend to be shy. We rarely ask questions and challenge the status quo. The other fellows on the contrary had completely different attitudes.
Our cohort loved debating and asking questions. The lecturers sometimes had a hard time following the agenda. I thought American people value directedness and would speak up if something bothers them. On the contrary, they left us debating endlessly to a point that we ended up doing nothing but discussing irrelevant topics during the whole session. My point is, we basically aspire to learn the best practices in the US and implement them into our organizations and businesses. But sometimes, we were sidetracked. In the end, we created a rule where each fellow would limit his/her questions and give more time for others to ask theirs.
My positive learning
Coming from an island and rather thoughtful and introverted, I must say the other fellows’ communication and networking skills amazed me. My biggest takeaway is the way my friends and fellows developed their ideas and their critical thinking. We had lawyers, writers, journalists. Hearing them debating was unique. In a previous article, I talked about how self-conscious I was at the beginning. Slowly but surely, I learned from my environment and didn’t hesitate neither asking questions nor debating. Of course, I come from a French speaking country and interacting with English native speakers was memorable. I really struggled at some point. In the end, I just thought: “I will just focus on the process and the results will come, sooner or later”. So I felt the fear and did it anyway.
I brought that boldness back to Madagascar
Compared to my other country mates, I love to stand out and ask questions, even before to the YALI experience. I applied that mindset even more since I came back from the fellowship. I brought that boldness back to Madagascar. We had a discussion panel about entrepreneurship in Madagascar the other day. We then held a Q&A session but nobody dared raising his hand first. I felt uncomfortable but tried to ask a question. In the end, we build more confidence by consciously taking a decision.
Finally, the other fellows’ projects also motivated me! We were all involved in different causes such as education, sex education, gender based violence, blood donation …etc.
The leaders I met during the YALI MWF
Among the essay questions, one particularly attracted my attention: “What do you think is the most important quality in a leader?”. I wrote: “What came directly into my mind is integrity”. It was such an honor to observe leaders practicing what they preach, respecting their words; in short: “demonstrating integrity”. They were all so generous! I met a great deal of people who were always willing to help. Great leaders understand why people follow because they are good listeners. I actively asked the greatest value to have in a leader. Most leaders replied: “be a good listener”.
“Go change your community, go change the world and ask how I can help,” encouraged Bill Stanczykiewicz. Within two days, I’ve never been that inspired. Not only did he apply good listening skills by quoting what we say, he also made us feel important by asking how we pronounce our names, by allowing us to speak without interruption and just so much more.
I realized that it’s a thing to read books about leadership but it’s completely another thing to observe people of experience exercising it. It’s not about what he said but more what he is. At the end of week 3, our mentor asked the cohort what the best class was, unanimously, we all voted Bill Stan’s.
During the summit, the plenary session, the motivational speeches and the ignite talks all encouraged us in achieving our best possible selves.
What I loved in the US and try now to implement is time management. The YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) experience unveiled a brand new reality. A good time management stems from planning everything in advance, following that schedule and of course respecting time.
The abundance mindset
I used to think about nothing but scarcity. I thought everything was limited. For years, I tried to find the cheapest thing I could afford. Living below my means remained my default way of thinking. For instance, I would look at the cheapest phone, check the second-hand market or consider everything as too expensive. I rarely allowed myself to buy clothes over 30$, I never went to a Starbucks coffee. At that time, I didn’t even have a job and contented myself to receive 15$ per week from my parents. But what if we could increase our means? That idea -of having more- never crossed my mind until I read T Harv Eker. He observes we can actually think “both” rather than “either/or”.
Starting to question my beliefs and reality, I shifted slowly from scarcity to abundance. On my right wrist, I even tattooed the word “abundance”. I realized we can truly live in abundance. The travel to the US reminded me how abundance was the standard there. If I used to worry about a poorly-made and fragile chair, the sturdy materials I met everywhere showed to me we live in the first economic power in the world. “Why can’t we have this type of quality in Madagascar?” I would ask many times.
In a previous article, I wrote about how wasting food broke my heart but it was normal there to throw the leftovers. When given the materials, the printed copies were all in color! I lived so many years in one the poorest countries in the world and would always look for “how to save money”, or how to manage resources to a point where I consider everything as scarce.
Had I not been chosen for the YALI MWF, never would I experience such amount of abundance. This is why I will always feel so grateful and spur everyone on applying either to the YALI RLC or the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
Rooms for improvement after the YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) experience
According to my Clifton Strengths assessment test, woo and communication come only at the 24th and 25th position (over 34 potential strengths). “Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you” (Source: Gallup). During the YALI MWF, the networking event challenges us to meet new people and break the ice to make a connection with them. I realized how uncomfortable it was to me. The struggle with the language barrier was real. I sometimes lacked the skills to say something valuable, I feared I would lose face. Now, I realize I wouldn’t have died if only I took more risks. On average, out of 10 networking opportunities, maybe 3-4 were successful. Still, I didn’t follow-up right after meeting them.
I felt I avoided any situation where I’d have to speak in English and become intimate with someone. Why did I care too much about what they would think of me? I feared to bore them because of the banal topic I’d talk about.
Aware of my poor networking skills (which I need to improve overtime), we had several occasions to go out between fellows. I consciously pushed myself to attend most of them. It was an opportunity to have informal networking too.
As Zig Ziglar highlighted: “We don’t have to be great to start, but we have to start to be great”, so let’s work on this! Thank you YALI! 🙂