Five years ago, Finance Director Michael Robinson decided it was time for something different. He was searching for an opportunity as multidimensional as he was: in addition to his decades of accounting expertise, he is also a talented photographer with a passion for the arts and global affairs. He took a leap of faith and quit his job in 2014, prioritizing his own personal and professional growth.
After a chance encounter at a conference led him to MovingWorlds, Michael began a journey that would change the trajectory of his career in ways he couldn’t have imagined at the time. Continue reading to learn how Michael made a difference by having the courage to do something different, and to see where he is now!
What inspired you to “take the leap” and go Experteering?
I had spent 30 years in the accounting field, and realized I wasn’t getting the personal satisfaction I wanted from my career. I quit my job and was trying to determine what I wanted to do next. I ended up learning about MovingWorlds while attending a Lean Start Up conference where I also met Mark, the Founder of MovingWorlds. I had thought about doing some work overseas, and happened to be in a room where Mark was speaking. After his presentation, we talked, and I was inspired by the concept of experteering. I visited the website, saw an opportunity that fit well with my education and healthcare background, and got in touch with the host organization representative. We talked about the biggest needs of the organization and the skills I had to offer, ultimately ending up with a project that involved both photography and some accounting work as well.
What did you do on your Experteering trip?
I experteered with the College of Integrative Medical Sciences (CIMS) in Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa. The social problem CIMS addressed is the severe shortage of physicians and other healthcare workers in Ghana: according to the World Bank, there are merely 2,200 physicians available to treat 22 million citizens. The majority of the sick and injured are left to seek help from one of 250,000 traditional herbal practitioners without formal training, regulation, or science-based knowledge. CIMS was a first-of-its-kind institution promoting a holistic and pluralistic form of healthcare through integration of western medicine and traditional African herbal medicine.
I experteered my skills as a photographer, which involved taking photographs and videos of the students to develop marketing materials to generate support for CIMS. I also talked with teachers to learn more about the needs from their perspectives. Since my background is accounting, I also reviewed some of their budget data to help with supporting documentation for potential grants and other fundraising efforts. I enjoyed doing that. I also enjoyed interacting with the hospital personnel and others who had graduated from CIMS. I was exposed to a lot of people in a lot of different situations – some not as fortunate as we are in the US. I learned about another culture and environment in addition to the primary reason for being there. It was an immersive learning experience.
Looking back 5 years later, how did this experience affect you and your career? Where is CIMS now?
After I returned from Ghana, I began working as an outsourced accountant and Finance Director. Most of my roles since then have been for smaller nonprofit organizations where I feel as if my work helps an organization that is helping others. The role that I have held the longest is as finance director at a private independent school.
Additionally, I co-founded a non-profit organization with Sala Sweet, the individual behind CIMS request for support on MovingWorlds. Our nonprofit is called Grow Foundation For Ghana, or GFFG. GFFG provides health care and educational opportunities for citizens of Ghana. I also began serving on the Winston-Salem Sister Cities Board after coming back from experteering. I didn’t know this when I originally went to Ghana to experteer, but Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Kumasi, Ghana are “sister cities” under a program established in the 1950s by President Eisenhower. Each year Sister Cities International solicits visual art and poetry. National and International student winners are announced and recognized during a Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) which is held in different cities for a week each summer. The YLS features student diplomacy simulations based on US State Department materials. I served as a YLS chaperone in 2016 and 2017.
In fact, a student from Kumasi won the Sister Cities International Young Artists Showcase and won $1,000 as a prize in 2016. GFFG solicited art for the contest. An artist / art professor named Bon, who I met while experteering, helped us identify schools with talented students who wanted to participate in showcasing their artistic abilities.
Realizing that Kumasi students have lots of artistic talent, GFFG produced student art calendars for several years. Last year, we conducted an art teacher workshop that focused on peace and art – specifically digital photography. Sala led the peace component and I led the digital photography component. So, I was able to return to Ghana for a second time last summer. Overall the response to the workshop was positive. I also was able to meet the young man who won the student art contest. I’m pleased to share that he has graduated from high school and is now working in animation. Plans are underway now for another Art Workshop to be held in November of 2019 in Ghana in conjunction with a local organization called Peace Jam, which I’m looking forward to being part of.
I was able to see how the art and diplomacy simulations / peace teaching work well together and positively impact both students and teachers. The school where I am Finance Director is a small independent school. I am a member of the administrative leadership team and have learned a lot about education. My work in Ghana, which started with my experteering project, has exposed me to global education. So now my career goal is to open a charter school that combines diplomacy, art, and uniting us as global citizens. I was a visiting fellow in Los Angeles in the spring with Unified School Launch Program which places year-long fellows at diverse-by-design schools among other things. After returning from that visit, I approached someone who serves with me on the Winston-Salem Sister Cities board. We are working with others on an advisory board to open a Global diplomacy and art charter school in High Point, another nearby city.
Unfortunately, Dr. Addae who founded CIMS had a stroke and has other health problems so CIMS no longer exists. However, I met a CIMS graduate during both of my trips to Ghana. This gentleman, Dr. Francis has opened a clinic that specializes in herbal medicine. He has continued some of the work that Dr. Addae began.
What advice do you have for people thinking about Experteering?
I would say be open to the environment where you are. Don’t bring your own beliefs or expectations but accept that people in different parts of the world do things differently than you might, but that’s fine. There’s not a right or wrong way to do things; traditions just vary from location to location. Enjoy yourself!
Anything else you want to add?
Experteering was a great experience for me, and I’m still looking for my second adventure!
We’re grateful to Michael for sharing his experience with us, and his story is an inspiring example of how one opportunity can lead to another if you have the courage to try something different. Are you looking for a more meaningful way to contribute your wealth of knowledge and experience? Join our social impact career acceleration program for by applying to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.