A little over one year ago to the day, I had my final Fellows interview with Dr. Mirza Jahani, the CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA) along with the Fellowship Coordinator. It was a nerve-racking 45-minutes, and my textbook answer to his real-life question seemed to satisfy for a few moments, until he asked me what I wanted to be in 10 years. (Cue lofty goals.)


Two months later, joining the AKF USA team was an honor that had felt unachievable for a foreign policy-focused, gender-training organizer such as myself. With a background in racial justice and a degree in Cognitive Science from the University of California, Berkeley, I had done the gamut of work as diverse as my experiences. From working for a Congressman in DC to consulting for national immigrant and women rights groups and even photographing events, I came to the development scene armed with many interests. What was ultimately serendipitous in September 2013 and for the rest of my term, however, was assisting the Program Officer managing AKF USA’s first World Bank grant – the Social Cohesion through Community-based Development Project.

Nine months later, on June 18, 2014, AKF USA convened key individuals in the conflict resolution, social cohesion, and community-driven development fields to review the progress on the Social Cohesion program. At the session, participants gave constructive input to identify drivers of conflict, drivers of pluralism, and best practices for community-driven development programs (see the Social Cohesion Program blog post).

I assisted in moderating the dialogue and ensuring we could both celebrate the victories and collect the necessary feedback to improve the project. Questions that were raised included: How were we ensuring youth representation without basic “mandated” checklist situations? Were we working beyond the “sex disaggregation” basics of gender programming? How can you separate the cohesion potential between the process of building a bridge versus the final product of a built bridge? (Bonus Question: When speaking about Gender, how many of us have gender? See below for the answer!)

Being part of the organizing team for this convening and the dynamic dialogue that ensued was absolutely thrilling and informative. Not only did I sit among key development professionals in the World Bank conference room, I was part of guiding the conversation as an NGO implementing partner that I respected deeply. I learned that concrete outcomes could be incorporated into the program design without compromising our values.

As a child of immigrant parents who were raised in Pakistan and Tanzania, this was an incredibly gratifying experience. The theme of values reoccurred throughout the session; it has been a reoccurring theme throughout my life, and has thankfully translated itself into my work. Amongst visions and long-term goals, the underlying machinery that does the work has been my inspiration at AKF USA. As I continue my fellowship in upcoming months at the AKF East Africa office in Nairobi, I hope to continue the Fellowship Program’s mission of finding and cultivating proactive, creative, and assertive leaders for a more reflective and efficient tomorrow.
The AKF USA Fellowship Program offers a unique two-year experience combining two consecutive placements: first at AKF USA and then with an overseas AKDN office. The first placement of 11 months isspent in Washington, D.C. with either the Programs, Impact Investing, or Communications team. For the second placement of 12 months, fellows will be matched up with an AKDN agency office in Asia or Africa where they will acquire first-hand knowledge on a range of global development issues and gain invaluable international experience working alongside professionals on program implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

By Fayzan Gowani, Program Fellow at the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.