By: Hannah Clifford, IMAGO Summer Fellow 2021

Uncertainty is a feeling I, like many others, have felt in abundance over the last 18 months amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a feeling (notably coupled with excitement) that was very much present when I began my summer fellowship. I did not know what to expect. I knew I was interested in IMAGO’s approach and commitment to challenging classic development thinking. And, I knew I was excited about the projects I would be working on. But, I was unsure of how the fellowship would operate and what the working environment would be like as we would all be participating remotely.

Now, 12 weeks later, any feelings of uncertainty have long disappeared and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from the IMAGO team this summer. In reflecting back, three key aspects have the experience particularly enriching.

‘The IMAGO Way.’ Having interested me from the beginning, I was keen to learn more about IMAGO’s approach as we got started. I think it is really important to challenge classic development thinking and narratives and to recognize that top-down approaches are often cumbersome and frequently do not reach those at the bottom of the pyramid, nor are they able to support local organizations who are already providing effective solutions to local challenges. IMAGO’s support, recognition, and valuing of the inborn potential of grassroots organizations and social enterprises to scale impact and find solutions to some of today’s most difficult problems, challenges this. In all of the projects I supported this summer, whether they were internal or external, the process of deep listening, feedback, and openness to new ideas and ways of knowing was extremely refreshing and invigorating to be a part of.

The work. As the fellowships were remote this summer, I was able to support a number of different projects and clients rather than focusing on just one (as was, to my understanding, the case when fellowships were in person). This allowed me to work on a variety of initiatives including – a Feminine Leadership Coaching Circle and Dialogue Series; Diversity Equity and Inclusion Workshops; IMAGO’s Scaling Up Course; and a series of cases studies called ‘Trial and Error’ which seek to reframe failures, adaptations and learning in development and social enterprise spaces as necessary to success. In each instance, I learned so much from IMAGO clients, project advisors, and the participants who attended the planned events. I was glad I was able to have a variety of projects to engage with, as it made the challenges of working from home slightly easier with the ability to change up what you were working on each day.

The people. In addition to learning from the external stakeholders in the projects I engaged with, I learned so much from the IMAGO team themselves. From day one, a supportive, inquisitive and warm environment radiated through our Zoom screens. For example, in addition to our project and client work, fellows were able to work on a knowledge project this summer. My topic was stakeholder capitalism and gender. Admittedly, I was a little nervous to dive into the topic. I do not have a robust background in economics, nor have I ever written on the topic of stakeholder capitalism before. But, the IMAGO team was extremely supportive throughout the writing process and encouraged me to embrace the challenge.

So, while feelings of uncertainty may endure as the pandemic continues, I now have only feelings of excitement, appreciation, and gratitude for my time at IMAGO. I am certain the lessons I have learned this summer will stay with me in the years to come.

Hannah Clifford

Columbia University | SIPA


IMAGO Summer Fellow 2021