My nine-month fellowship with Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA) has taught me much about international development, both its institutions and its individuals. Since my previous blog, in which I shared the impressive impact of savings groups in Tajikistan, I have learned a lot through my experience in the Washington, DC office and the perspective of a donor-liaison office.

Here I gained a bird’s eye view of the amazing work done by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in some of the most remote parts of the world, from Mozambique to the Kyrgyz Republic and from Pakistan to Egypt. The Aga Khan Foundation empowers people, improves access to finance, builds social enterprises, mitigates the risk of natural disasters, improves agriculture extension and development, and more. I saw how AKDN responds to development challenges with a range of tools: private-sector investment, grants, public-private partnerships, impact investing and the innovative Multi-Input Area Development (MIAD) approach, which combines social development with investments for greater sustainability.

I found the first three months of my fellowship a little bit difficult due to the language barrier and the transition to a new working environment. The last six months were interesting, and sped by. During my time working in the Programs Department, I learned so much directly and indirectly from my colleagues through different assignments – everything from analyzing country portfolios in microfinance and civil society, to engaging with field offices by Skype.

I mainly supported the team by tracking grants, writing opportunity summaries for those grants, collecting information for proposals, writing summaries and helping with compliance checklists. I wrote meeting minutes, worked on project briefs, and reviewed grants reports. I worked across different sectors: rural development, civil society, microfinance, and agriculture. Truly, an integrated approach!

I saw in my colleagues’ hard work their dedication to transforming people’s lives around the world. Their work also showed me that strong communications and writing skills are crucial. For proposal development, analytical writing skills are essential; communication skills are important for relationship management, sharing timely information and overall grants management.

The fellowship has also given me a rare opportunity through a discussion series to hear directly from AKDN experts and learn through their experiences. The AKDN’s Director of Quality of Life Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Support Unit, spoke on the Quality of Life Assessment within the Network; the Director of Programs, Aga Khan Foundation Canada talked about challenges and lessons in programs; and the Program Director for Rural Development in AKF’s Geneva headquarters shared his experiences with professional development activities.

A professional development course at the School of International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute equipped me with tools for monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and a theoretical framework. M&E skills are important for all development professionals, whether they do M&E directly or indirectly.

Personally, I benefited from opportunities to attend events in Washington, DC hosted by the NGO community, agencies, think tanks, and universities. I better understand that development is about building and supporting local institutions. Being in Washington, DC has been great because it is a hub for international development where a wide range of institutions work together to address global challenges. The fellowship has helped me grow as a person and as a grower of civil society.

By Muyassar Yormamdov, Professional Development Fellow at Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.