Top 10 Benefits of a Global Professional Fellowship

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

Are you where you want to be in your life and career? If not, you may be looking for ways to take your professional and personal development to the next level. There are plenty of options out there for developing specific skills, like free online courses, traditional degree programs, and certification courses. But for real transformational change, experiential learning can do more for you than another degree.

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As McKinsey explains, “Successful transformations demand new capabilities. To build them, experiential learning leverages the intimate link between knowledge and experience.” The report goes on to explain that “Experiential learning integrates shared contextual exploration with reflective thought processes—a dynamic combination that amplifies individual and group comprehension. It has been shown to be the most effective method of adult learning, as evidenced in our research and the research and experience of many scholars and educators.”

Global Professional Fellowships, like the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship, offer the unique combination of curriculum-based learning, hands-on experience, peer-to-peer sharing and reflecting, and individualized support to apply what you’ve learned to change the course of your life and career. 

Based on our research and interviews with alumni, here are the top 10 benefits of professional fellowships, with a focus on the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.

1. Taking on a stretch experience will develop your professional skills and leadership ability 

According to Gallup, “working on stretch assignments and out-of-expertise projects … result in learning, growth and/or increased capacity to effectively lead.” As a Global Fellow, you’ll have the opportunity to take the skills you already have and apply them in new, different contexts. This ‘stretch’ outside of your comfort zone or previous industry of expertise is proven to develop not only your professional skills, but also your leadership ability.

Here’s what Global Fellow Victoria had to say about her stretch experience launching a cleantech business competition in Colombia: “Coming from a large corporation, I was used to working internally to get things done, but this role required a shift to an outwardly oriented approach. Operating in a different cultural context within the entrepreneurship space to build external connections was absolutely a stretch experience, and I was very nervous before our first pitch to a big bank just two days after I arrived in Bogota. But, it turned out to be very successful, and having a few wins behind me and continuing to repeat the process built my confidence. Eventually, I had done the pitch so many times it felt like second nature! We met with so many different agencies and organizations, and I came to really enjoy gaining access to the inner workings of these different institutions, and realized that what matters most is person-to-person connection.”

Volunteer Victoria with Climate 
Launchpad colleagues
Victoria (third from left) with Climate Launchpad colleagues

Alumna Catherine echoed the benefits of a stretch experience for skill development. She took some time away from eBay to volunteer her skills to empower women in Kenya, and shared that: “During my project, I improved upon several new technologies that improved my skills in front-end development. Before this project, my full-time work focused on backend technologies like big data executions. After I helped build the Flone Initiative website, I think I have more confidence to use my front-end tech skills to make me better at work. I’m also planning to use these skills to keep supporting other nonprofits who need similar tech support.”

2. You’ll gain the hands-on experience you need to reposition your career direction

You’re probably familiar with the experience double-bind: you can’t break into a new industry without experience, but you can’t get experience if you can’t get a job. Volunteering is a valuable way to work around this experience double-bind, and according to a LinkedIn survey, “41 percent of the professionals surveyed stated that when they are evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience. Twenty percent of the hiring managers surveyed agree they have made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s volunteer work experience.”

As alumnus Darren shared about his experience supporting a business accelerator in Tanzania with his IT skills, “I met a lot of amazing people and was able to forge some real genuine relationships in a different part of the world. I’m trying to break into the social impact space, so having this work experience on my resume gives me hands-on experience to draw on in an application or interview. It’s a great way to get around the ‘you can’t get experience without having experience already’ problem, and MovingWorlds has lots of resources for job seekers as well in terms of content, job boards, and the support of the experteer community.”

Volunteer Darren mentoring social entrepreneurs in Tanzania
Darren (center) mentoring social entrepreneurs in Tanzania

3. You’ll gain the confidence you need to make your dream career a reality

Are self-limiting beliefs preventing you from taking action to make your dream career a reality? When we surveyed our network of career coaches about common career change mistakes, Designing Your Life coach Clare Morrison had this to say: “There are two common mistakes I see with clients: (1) analysis paralysis and (2) inertia due to feelings of unworthiness or overwhelm. The Designing Your Life design thinking mindset is predicated on finding the smallest thing you can do to get the ball rolling. Doing it. And then reflecting on it. Refining it. Doing it again. Creating momentum.”

For alumna Heather, being accepted into the Fellowship was the first step in taking action toward what she knew she was capable of. She reflected that, “I was honestly shocked when I was accepted into the MWI fellowship. I thought there must’ve been a mistake. At the kickoff, I was so uncertain of what skills I could contribute. In the past, I’ve definitely left opportunities on the table because I wasn’t confident enough to speak up or put myself out there. After completing the Fellowship, I feel lightyears away from the person I was before. Plopping down in a country I’ve never been to before, with a Gates Foundation grant winner, and actually being able to add real value just blew the lid off of my self-limiting beliefs and boosted my confidence far beyond what it’s been for years.” (Editor’s note, Heather was an all-star Fellow and produced some great articles about her personal transformation. You can check out her story on Career Contessa here.)

Coschool founder with volunteer Heather
Heather with the Founder of Coschool, her host organization in Colombia

4. You’ll stand out as a candidate for jobs and promotions

If you’re looking to stand out as a candidate for a job or promotion, volunteering your skills abroad can set you apart from the competition. According to Forbes, acquiring skills or knowledge as a volunteer and then putting them to use may demonstrate higher levels of capacity, potentially making the volunteer more attractive to and productive for employers. A study from the Corporation for National & Community Services backs up this claim, finding that volunteering is associated with a 27% higher odds of employment. 

This was the main motivation behind Global Fellow Holly’s decision to apply to the Global Fellowship. She shared, “I wanted to jump-start a career transition that would bring me closer to making a lasting impact within my profession. My field is urban planning, which is a public interest type of role, but I felt too far removed from the wide-reaching impact this sector can make — I had strayed off into this world bogged down by bureaucracy and regulatory red tape. Looking for options, I had two specific professional development goals in mind: the first was to get back to more innovative work that directly created positive impact, and the second was to transition my area of focus from local projects in the San Francisco Bay Area to international projects abroad. MovingWorlds immediately appealed to me because it gave me the opportunity to further pursue career opportunities, while also giving me the chance to go on an Experteering trip abroad to put my skills to action in another setting.”

She did put her skills into action in a very different setting — Medellin, Colombia, one of the most innovative cities in the world from an urban planning perspective. In her post-trip reflection, she shared, “I would say the highlight of the whole experience has been re-framing how I see myself in my career. I gained so much confidence in myself by taking the leap and realizing that international urban planning was no longer just something I dreamed of doing, it was now who I am. To be able to start embodying that, and see myself in those terms, has opened up a world of new possibilities.”

5. You’ll develop cross-cultural competency and awareness

In today’s increasingly globalized world, cross-cultural competency and awareness are skills you need to succeed. According to a study in the Journal of Studies in International Education, “at any moment in time, exposure to various cultures is the best predictor of intercultural communication skills.” However, “the experience of being abroad in and of itself is not enough — students must interact in the culture to receive the gain of increased intercultural communication skills.” Skills-based volunteering abroad, in partnership with a grassroots organization, offers a truly immersive learning experience with cross-cultural interaction at its core. Global Fellows have the opportunity to experience different cultures as locals do, rather than as tourists. 

As alumna Catherine shared, “Experteering inspired me to challenge the assumptions I had about the world and about myself. When I went to Kenya, I realized how different the complex reality was from what I had thought before or the impressions I had seen on TV. It was eye-opening to learn from the local women about the social problems related to infrastructure and safety. Now that I’m home, I am happy to be still working with [my host organization] virtually. It is fulfilling because I feel I really can make an impact with my technical skills to help them optimize their website so that more people and organizations can be aware of the issues with public safety in Kenya and work together to solve them. Learning how the co-founder approached solving this problem helped me understand how to communicate with people who stand on the opposite side of an issue and still get things accomplished. Combined with the MovingWorlds training on cross-cultural communication and design-thinking before my trip, this experience inspired me to approach problem-solving and cross-cultural cultural collaboration in a new way.”

Volunteer Catherine with Flone Initiative founder and colleagues
Catherine (bottom right) with Flone Initiative Founder and colleagues

6. You’ll develop an international professional network 

Developing your professional network is an important step that any job-seeker needs to take to set themselves up for success. There are numerous benefits to networking, and Global Fellows are able to leverage the MovingWorlds Global Community of partner organizations and alumni to learn about new career opportunities, gain access to potential mentors, and learn directly from industry leaders. 

Reflecting on his experience volunteering his project management skills in rural Cambodia to make the global apparel industry more sustainable, alumnus Daniel shared, “I’ve been able to add social enterprise business development to my resume and have made some good friends and business acquaintances in Cambodia. Between my local contacts and the access to the MovingWorlds experteer community, I feel that this experience really enhanced my global network and opened new doors career-wise.” 

7. You’ll belong to a cohort of professionals to exchange ideas with and learn from peer-to-peer 

According to research from Colorado State University, “Being a member of a learning community means engaging in reciprocal learning activities, soaking in new ideas and sharing perspectives and experiences to make meaning of the information. Learning happens through discussion, reflection, collaborative teamwork, and most importantly, taking initiative and responsibility to listen, question, and think critically within the community of fellow learners.”

While the majority of the Global Fellowship is virtual, the curriculum is built around interactive discussion, guided reflection, and collaboration. You’ll set goals together at the in-person kickoff, keep each other accountable throughout as you collaborate on assignments and apply what you’re learning in the field, and share those learnings in your final capstone presentation. The bonds you develop with this tight-knit community of fellow learners will last long after the Fellowship is over.

Global Fellow Sam had this to say about how his cohort helped him reach his goals: “Being part of a like-minded group of professionals on the same journey towards more impact was invaluable. My background was at a typical donor-funded NGO, and the Fellowship helped me realize that there are other ways to generate sustainable social impact; I gained exposure to different social impact models, an understanding of how different types of organizations are structured, and about other industries and backgrounds directly.

The cohort was also really helpful in terms of pointing me towards tools, resources, and further reading to help me develop the indicator framework for my project with HOCMAI. Even once we were in our individual placements around the world, the cohort encouraged and supported each other through weekly catch ups to troubleshoot issues in-the-field and share progress. In terms of my future career trajectory, the cohort has been a great sounding board for finding my direction, validating purpose statements, and testing hypotheses.”

Volunteer Sam with HOCMAI Education team
Sam (back row, third from right) with the HOCMAI Education team

8. You’ll strengthen your sense of self and clarify your purpose

We all want to feel like the work we do means something. Not only does it make us feel good, but according to FastCompany, “increasing a sense of meaningfulness at work is one of the most potent–and underutilized–ways to increase productivity, engagement, and performance.” If you find yourself wrestling with bigger questions about the impact and direction of your career, clarifying your purpose and values can help you approach change based on your internal compass, rather than external factors like other people’s expectations. 

A well-designed Fellowship experience will help you get to know yourself better through a combination of self-assessment and reflection exercises and in-the-field experiences stretching beyond your comfort zone. A study in Harvard Business Review examined the relationship between international experiences and increased “self-concept clarity,” the extent to which someone’s understanding of himself or herself is “clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable”. The researchers found “evidence that people’s self-discerning reflections—musings on whether parts of their identity truly define who they are or merely reflect their cultural upbringing—are a critical ingredient in the relationship between living abroad and self-concept clarity.”

Having a solid foundation in your understanding of who you are leads to better career decisions, job performance, and psychological well-being. Alumni Andreia illustrates this in her capstone reflection, reporting that as a result of experteering, “I grew in self-reliance and self-regulation. I especially grew in self-authorship. I am the author and the authority of my own life now more than ever before. I don’t expect to be ‘normal’ anymore. I am ok with being an outlier. I like being with the innovators and early adopters in models of personal and professional life. I was inspired and encouraged by the numerous examples of the people I met who chose to live and work like this: having the courage to believe in their own perspective of the world although it may not be supported by current ‘reality’ or existing paradigms. I hope moving forward that my role in the professional world will be more to bring in the new, so I can expect from myself to inspire people to change rather than to expect to fit in.

I was in a midlife crisis trying to fit into models that were not mine. Now I am in a midlife creation, where I am designing gradually and realistically my life according to my own models. I am boldly going where no other previous version of me has gone before just because I am allowing myself to believe it is possible, because I have the tools and resources I can use and because I am inspired and accompanied by other people. And because I like it. Living like this is so exciting.”

Andreia visiting the middle of the world in Ecuador
Andreia taking advantage of her free time to visit the ‘Middle of the World’ in Ecuador

9. You can ‘test-drive’ new career paths to see if they are right for you – before taking the leap

We surveyed career coaches for their best piece of advice for changing careers, and a clear theme throughout was the importance of ‘prototyping’ before you leap. As coach Deborah Richardson suggested, “Take your ideas for a walk! Think like a designer and create several options or ‘prototypes’ and then try them out. The design-thinking process is a team sport. There are several ways you can ideate and expand on your ideas if you work collaboratively. Often the best ideas are the ones that are a combination of two or more seemingly unrelated thoughts – when combined, you have something very unique and innovative. This is often how solutions to wicked problems are discovered. When you apply this same methodology to your life and life’s work it can yield an exhilarating journey (the prototype part) and epic experiences.”

For alumna Leanne, the Global Fellowship was a perfect arena to test some of the ideas and assumptions she had about where to take her career next. She shared, “I was at a point in my career where I was ready to explore beyond my comfort zone. It can be difficult to figure out on your own how to navigate that transition, and MWI offered the professional development training, hands-on experience, mentorship, and community support I was looking for to take that leap. My goal in joining MWI was to learn more about the social impact industry, gain hands-on experience volunteering my skills abroad, and to ‘test out’ a new career opportunity to clarify my future direction… As a result of participating in MWI, I gained new skills while exploring my passion for trying new things and taking on new challenges. The biggest change I see in myself is the ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I have updated my resume and LinkedIn to reflect the many aspects of what I have learned about myself through the fellowship, and what I will do next. This self-reflection, plus the networking and educational opportunities afforded to me by this program, have given me the clarity I was seeking.”

Volunteer Leanne posing with WEduShare students in Cambodia
Leanne (center) bonding with WEduShare students in Cambodia

10. You’ll realize that one person (you!) really CAN make a difference

It’s easy to feel like you, as one person, can’t make a difference. The world has so many seemingly intractable problems, and it’s hard to know where to start. Volunteering your skills through a professional fellowship, rather than participating in voluntourism, is proven to create lasting change in most sustainable, ethical, and impactful way. In creating change, you’ll be changed as well — realizing just how capable you are of contributing to a better world.

Alumna Agnes experteered her data analysis skills with a renewable energy social enterprise in Peru. She found that, “The biggest takeaway was the sense of possibility that WindAid inspired in me. The personal impact was so significant, that after my Experteering trip I decided to switch my career path from the corporate sector to the social sector, and also relocated back to my home country. I’d been away from my home country for years, but after this experience, I am confident and inspired that I can really make a difference in building a more equitable and sustainable society.”

Volunteer Agnes with WindAid colleagues in Yahuarmarca
Agnes (back row, fourth from left) with WindAid colleagues in the community of Yahuarmarca

If you’re ready to invest in your own personal and professional development – and make the world a better place in the process — apply to our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship! Learn more about the fellowship curriculum, mentors, alumni, and upcoming cohorts here