What does it mean to be an IMAGO fellow? For me it meant human proximity, care for people, co-creation and the kind of leadership that I hope to practice one day. It was inspiration, adaptation and personal stories that boost admiration. Going out of my comfort zone, moving from data to people and looking through other people’s eyes and experiences. It was also determination, clear objectives and feet on the ground.

The experience during this summer was one of a kind in many aspects, COVID included, but I think this internship kept me grounded in something that mattered beyond myself. I was working on the project MOVE with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. This five-year project seeks to promote sustainable growth and women’s empowerment in women-owned collective enterprises. I learned a lot from this project, but I’ll focus on the main learnings I take with myself after these months, or at least those that I hope will stay longer.

The people. The IMAGO team was so different from any other team that I have been part of. I finally understood the meaning of “horizontal” structure in an organization and of recognizing everybody’s effort. Thursday meetings with the women of SEWA were a source of inspiration and an example of strength and perseverance. The guidance during group meetings, while bringing voices from all “levels”, was powerful because people in the room knew their opinions would be taken into consideration. People working in accordance with their values and ethics increased motivation and was the glue that brought such diverse teams and perspectives together.

I even had the opportunity of conducting one-on-one interviews with two women from SEWA about their stories and leadership roles. These conversations were so enriching, but I will mention just two takeaways. From Mittalben, I keep the phrase of “creating your own identity”. Even if you have extraordinary role models, it is key to remember who you are and what are your main values and act accordingly. From Nityaben, I take her definition of women’s empowerment of “people realizing that they have a choice and the ability of taking it”. These two women had impressive stories and backgrounds, but most of all they have the willingness to act for good and for others instead of for themselves.

The way of working. The first workshop with SEWA was devoted to learning about the women’s backgrounds, their role in SEWA and their hopes for the project. Moreover, a section was especially designed to brainstorm on group norms, which included assuming best intentions, respect and having a learning mindset. This process of sharing knowledge and perspectives was the first step of a co-creation process that would take place in every workshop, where women in different positions inside SEWA would give very specific feedback on what was presented, and IMAGO would adapt for the next meeting. This iterative approach, where feedback is a central piece, represents for me the real meaning of “client oriented”. One tool that we learned when designing a questionnaire for the need assessment was the “Flame framework”, which put the identity and values of an organization at the core of the scaling up process. This framework provided the cohesion that was needed for organizations to grow without losing sight of their mission in the process.

The time and space. COVID didn’t allow us to witness SEWA’s work in the ground, which I’m sure would have been quite an experience. Time was a different one according to where we were located in the world, for some it was close to breakfast time and for others it was almost dinner time. Space was the Zoom platform, but this was also a window to everybody’s house and daily experiences, to their world, noises and surroundings. Somehow, Zoom allowed us to experience a bit of Gujarat, DC, Asuncion, Piura and Copenhagen. Building a community through Zoom was expected to be quite challenging, but it was reached smoothly as the sense of community grew little by little every week.

Overall, I take this summer with gratitude for the exploration that it allowed me to do, of myself, of the world and of different ways of reaching development outcomes that I didn’t know before and that have the potential of bringing more voices to the table, those voices that we are trying to advocate for.

Written by Jossie Fahsbender

Summer Fellow 2020
MPA-ID HKS Candidate