How can I leave this world a better, more equal place than how I found it? This question comes to my mind quite often, and despite how daunting it might seem, thanks to the AFSEE Fellowship and the values we cultivated throughout the active fellowship year and afterwards, it now feels wrong to not think about it and not act, writes Anjali Sarker.
It has been four years since I graduated from the AFSEE programme and became a Senior Fellow. Our last fellowship meeting was quite an emotional experience; we didn’t want the fellowship to end and wondered, what’s next? However, that ending marked a new beginning - a much longer journey as a Senior Fellow. While the Senior Fellowship experience looks different for each individual, I wanted to share a few highlights from my own journey.
Becoming part of an even bigger, more global family
One of the best parts of the active fellowship year was the strong sense of community among the AFSEE Fellows. We helped each other in many ways, both professionally and personally. When I became a Senior Fellow in 2019, I not only joined the AFSEE Senior Fellows community but also the broader Atlantic Fellows community, consisting of Fellows from all seven Atlantic Fellows programmes. When Fellows graduate from one of the programmes, they will get a chance to meet all the other Fellows graduating that year at a Fellows Convening hosted by the Atlantic Institute. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to wait until 2022 for our convening. As a result, our full integration into the global community of Atlantic Fellows was later than expected.
Nevertheless, when we finally met a few hundred fellows from the other programmes, I truly felt the power of this community and realised how special it is to be a part of this global family. I had been looking forward to reconnecting with my cohort, but what I couldn’t imagine was how wonderful it would feel to sit next to “strangers” and immediately be able to connect. After all, all of us are working to build a better world. Since then, I have been part of multiple cross-programme collaborative projects and have enjoyed connecting with fellows from other programmes through the Atlantic Community Cafe. Even the various WhatsApp groups for Fellows, that I am part of, offer a continuous source of inspiration, hope, and solidarity.
Embracing differences and seeing the world through a new lens
The AFSEE Fellowship welcomes changemakers from a wide range of backgrounds. We don’t just look different and come from different countries - our beliefs and opinions vary greatly. During the short span of the programme, sometimes it was hard to make sense of things, especially those that did not conform to our understanding and lived experiences of inequalities. Still, the whole year was a practice in deep listening and trusting each other, which continued long after the programme. Rather than criticising and cancelling opinions that do not match mine, I learned to approach differences with curiosity and openness, even when it means sitting with discomfort.
Moreover, in the initial days of the fellowship, my instinct was to evaluate all the information through the lens of my area of interest and professional expertise - financial inclusion. However, being exposed to a wide range of social, economic, and political issues; listening to numerous stories of activism supporting causes that I didn’t even know existed; and above all, just connecting with this exceptional group of Fellows has helped me to widen my horizon in a way that goes beyond professional interests and personal ambitions. Conversations with my peers opened my heart and made me feel for the people they work for, even if I have no connection to that community or the issue at hand.
Living in a world that is broken into too many parts comes with many dangers, one of which is closing our eyes to injustices that do not affect us and our own communities. However, being an Atlantic Fellow means I am always connected to the cause of equity, either directly or indirectly. It means that I look at the world through the lens of justice and feel the pain even if it isn’t mine. The Senior Fellowship part of the experience means that the programme never ends for a Fellow; the quest for justice and equity stays in our lives in different forms.
I would go as far as saying that this opportunity to carry the values of this fellowship beyond the active fellowship year truly shifts mindsets if we allow it to do so. For every aspiring changemaker who wants to build a more equal world and is ready to commit to this mission, this is a unique opportunity that should not be missed.
Applications for the 2024-25 fellowship are open from 12 October 2023 until 11 January 2024. Learn more about the AFSEE Senior Fellowship experience here.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Programme Director, The Oxford Character Project
Anjali Sarker is an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity and a social innovation expert and development practitioner with ten years of experience in leading projects that empower the underprivileged population, with a special focus on youth and women. She is currently the Programme Director at the Oxford Character Project, an interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Oxford dedicated to the cultivation of character and responsible leadership.