The early steps taken to get the fellows’ placement off the ground are critical to the overall success of the fellowship and the fellows’ experience.
Starting Out on the Right Foot
Douglas Scarboro, Executive Director, Office of Talent and Human Capital, City of Memphis (SC2 Fellowship Local Project Manager)
Joshua Elling, Executive Director, Jefferson East Inc. (DRFP Fellowship Host)
Guy Williams, President and CEO, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (Detroit Revitalization Fellow Host)
Joe Schilling, Moderator
While acknowledging the similarities and differences in program design and operations, three local fellowship hosts reflected on their experiences in selecting fellows, orienting them to the organization (and in some cases to the city itself), developing their work plan, and coaching them through the early phases of their fellowship.
During the session, Scarboro, Elling and Williams advised how future hosts and fellows can develop a strong understanding of themselves and their roles. The three panelists’ experiences taught them that it was critical to ensure the relationship was not solely aimed at skill-building and leadership development, but actual empowerment of the fellows. Empowerment indicates a greater level of trust and confidence between the fellow and the hosts. All three panelists reflected that empowerment does not happen overnight; it is the by product of a good relationship between the fellow and host.
In a discussion after the panel, participants shared their own experiences as in response to three primary questions:
1) what worked for getting the fellows situated in organizations, in the community, and with their supervisor and work responsibilities?
2) What is important to consider when matching a fellow and a local host organization, supervisor and work tasks?
3) What resources and strategies are important for supporting local host organizations and supervisors?
Below we highlight the common themes, different strategies, and important relationships for setting a firm foundation for fellows and local host organizations.
The Power of the Match. Selecting the right person for the right place at the right time is the common key ingredient to the fellows’ placement. Although finding such a fit is more art than science, the local hosts identified a set of characteristics to look for in fellows who feel comfortable on their own, with sufficient drive, problem-solving skills, and the maturity to know when to seek guidance and help. At the same time the fellowship programs must “do their homework” to identify organizations that not only need the capacity and expertise the fellows can provide but also have the commitment to guide and coach the fellows. “Fellows are not interns,” was a common refrain during the symposium.
Douglas Scarboro remarked that “having the Mayor’s sign-off on the fellows as part of the broader SC2 initiative gave the placements and the fellows’ credibility and accountability. Having an urban fellow can help a city government break out of its customary patterns and status quo (the “Oh, I did not know it was usually done that way” effect).
Setting Aside Time. Local hosts and project managers are typically busy, serving in mid- to high-level positions of authority. Meeting regularly with their fellow is critical, especially early in the fellowship, to offer guidance and to troubleshoot along the way. Fellowship supervisors, often from organizations with limited capacity, must be able to make the time and commitment to support the fellows throughout the entire fellowship.
Nurturing the Relationship. The relationship between fellows and their hosts evolves and can deepen as they seek the right balance of autonomy and initiatives. Fellows bring a set of fresh eyes to old problems, but they can also open the eyes of their local project manager and host organizations.
“The eye opener may have been my openness to her ideas and the cross pollination she helped create with other organizations. Our fellow has become an excellent emissary for our organization.” — Guy Williams, Executive Director, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice
Joshua Elling offered an anecdote to illustrate the frustrations one Detroit fellow experienced,in encountering the ctual workings of a city government:
“After attending her first meeting on plans to reduce lanes on a major road in response to high pedestrian fatalities, our fellow said ‘It’s going to happen!’ and I cautioned, ‘We’ll see.’ After 8 months of head butting, the city awarded the contract. The lesson here is fellows, often coming from a national perspective, have to understand the way of doing (or not doing) things in Detroit. As I’m sure that is the case for other cities as well.”
“Honesty is a critical element of having a good relationship – make sure the fellows can tell you what they really need/want….and at the same time we have to always be cognizant of the actual level of the fellow’s experience.” — Joshua Elling
Supporting the Local Hosts/Project Managers.
Capacity is “a mile wide and inch deep” in Detroit, says Joshua Elling. With the many organizations that lack capacity, the role of philanthropy becomes more crucial. Detroit’s foundations have coordinated and stepped in to take an actve role in healing the city.
Pragmatic projects that address pressing needs can offer a strong focal point for supporting local organizations that host fellows. In Detroit, streetscape and non-automobile infrastructure have been important, specific, and tangible issues through which to gain momentum for urban fellowship activity.