Learning to fail: adventures of a Junior Fellow in Ghana
“How was it??”
In the three weeks since the end of my EWB Junior Fellowship and return to Canada, people have been curious about my time abroad. When asked “How was your time in Ghana? It must have been great, right?”,my go-to response has been “It was educational.” It’s the best way to sum up four months of character development, emotional labour and a bit of fun.
For my placement I was paired with Voto Mobile (now Viamo), a tech social enterprise that works toward giving a voice to people in underserved areas. They do this through surveys and hotlines that are administered via SMS and voice call. Each survey or hotline contains pertinent information that can be used to tailor products for a specific area, distribute educational information, or collect feedback. For instance, if you’re a farmer you might opt in on a hotline that educates you on agricultural best practices, or maternal care if you’re an expectant mother. It was this mission (giving others a voice and bridging the knowledge gap) that drew me to Voto.
Learning to ask questions
My work with Voto helped me to see a new side of development. Voto, like all of EWB’s ventures, takes an alternative approach to development in which our stakeholders (i.e. venture clients, locals calling in to access a hotline) are at the heart of the matter. If the stakeholder isn’t satisfied or if our product has failed to serve them, then we’ve failed in our mission.
My Junior Fellowship mission was fulfilling but it was also difficult and filled with failure. In particular, I faced a sense of inadequacy in myself. For much of my fellowship I struggled to ask questions. I struggled to engage with my work because I didn’t want to accidentally delete something on the platform or miss a key step that could disrupt the whole system. So, instead of asking questions or asking for help, I kept to myself. My mind turned further inward and I lost opportunities to connect with those around me more intimately.
By August, I finally felt comfortable enough to dive into my work. I began asking questions and (most importantly) reaching out for support. Once I did this the world changed entirely. I was more engaged at the office, I felt more connected with my managers and colleagues, and I felt happier with myself.
The challenge of this experience has been an exceptional learning opportunity. I feel like I learned more because I didn’t excel naturally or immediately in my role. Working abroad helped me to see myself in a new light; I see the ways in which I struggle and the ways in which I need to ask for help. More than anything, my placement has given me the opportunity to fail immensely and recover to an even better place. Not many internships offer that, but through EWB I was able to be the worst of myself and the best of myself within a four month window.
I am grateful to my managers at Voto for their patience, warmth and consideration and for helping me see my whole self this summer. Their guidance made it so that my work at the office could leave a positive impression. The EWB country coordinator in Ghana also lent a listening ear, in which I poured all of my insecurities. Her thoughtfulness and support brought me out of my isolation.
My fellowship opened my eyes to my potential and the potential that I have in the world of development and systems change. I had the incredible opportunity to work at the forefront of an organization that I admire, and thus a chance to leave a lasting impression. EWB and their ventures truly encompass a vision of development in which investment in local business, local success and local entrepreneurs is a priority. The EWB approach strives to uphold and progress the integrity of the local infrastructure. I worked to embody EWB and a role in development that is active, focused and tireless.
Upon my return to Canada, I donned the cap of Returned Junior Fellow, and must embark on the arduous journey of finding my successor. This is a challenging task, but I wouldn’t change it for the world! I can’t wait to find the next person who gets to embark on the journey I just completed. This year, I am taking on the role of Co-Vice President External for my university’s EWB Chapter. I will engage with the Kelowna community to spread EWB’s message and fulfill our mission to challenge the engineering profession, maintain sustainable development and engage with Indigenous groups (a new focus for EWB). Engaging with Indigenous groups is a goal that I hold close to my heart, and I hope that I can use my new position to connect, learn and be an ally.
This Junior Fellow’s Journey is now complete, but the learning doesn’t stop here. I’ll continue to reflect on and learn from my placement as I strive to become a system’s change leader.