‘Thank you for believing in young leaders’

First Maguire Fellows reflect on unique learning experiences

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Maguire Fellows at workMaguire Fellow Priyanka Subramaniam (center) works with colleagues in Ghana during her international work placement.

Claudia Martinez Lopez, a 2016 recipient of Ipas’s Maguire Fellowship, has a simple message for all donors who supported the program—as well as the mentors, colleagues and new-found friends who guided the fellows during their international work placements earlier this year: “Thank you for believing in young leaders.”

The Maguire Fellowship for Young Leaders, an international leadership development program for young professionals in the field of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), named its first four fellows in early 2016:  Ipas staff from India, Sierra Leone, the United States and Mexico. The fellows participated in a series of tailored leadership development courses, and each also completed a work placement in another Ipas country program. Having now returned from their experiences abroad, the fellows report feeling a deepened commitment to the movement for women’s access to safe, legal abortion.

“An experience like this really changes your outlook on your work and life, and the shift of perspective is so rewarding,” says Priyanka Subramaniam of India, who completed her work placement with Ipas Ghana. “The fellowship challenged our boundaries and encouraged us to grow, whether it was something as big as developing our leadership and interpersonal skills, or as simple as jumping into a whole new cuisine.” Read her account of new experiences: “From Delhi to Accra: Bride prices, dowries and a woman’s sense of freedom.”

Learning and new perspectives

The fellows say their international work placements provided them with unparalleled learning opportunities and skills development, meaningful new relationships, and helpful new perspectives on women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

Claudia Martinez Lopez, a health systems advisor with Ipas Mexico, completed her work placement in Ipas’s central office in the United States. She says a workshop to improve her public speaking and media relations skills helped her realize how crucial those skills are to being an effective advocate for women’s health and rights.

“It reconfirmed my commitment to women,” she says. “Plus, now I know you can find good people and new friends in any country no matter where you are.” Read her moving personal story: “Why I’m an advocate for safe abortion.”

Brittany Moore, a health systems associate in Ipas’s central office in the United States, did her work placement with Ipas Development Foundation in India. During her time there, she was surprised to find that talking about her work in abortion access and rights was not nearly as stigmatizing, risky or fraught as it can be in the United States.

“It took a long time to feel comfortable freely telling people what I do, but when I did it was very liberating—I didn’t know I felt stifled at home not being able to talk about my work until I had this experience.” Read her insights on this: “Abortion: A topic I didn’t have to avoid in India.”

In a recent presentation on the fellowship’s many professional and personal benefits, the fellows offered a special thank you to the fellowship’s namesake, Liz Maguire, who served as Ipas’s president and CEO from 1999 until 2015.

“The four of us felt so privileged to be the first cohort of fellows,” Subramaniam said. “Liz has been such a great mentor and pillar of support, and we really appreciate the time she took to talk with us all.”

Maguire says she is pleased with the success of the fellowship’s inaugural year. She encouraged the fellows to keep sharing the lessons they learned and to continue following their passion and expanding their positive impact on the world in this critical area of women’s health and rights.

Indeed, mentorship experiences is something Ipas aims to improve upon further for the next cohort of fellows, as this year’s fellows found that mentors—some formally arranged but mostly informal—were a key source of learning and professional development. The Maguire Fellowship is an ongoing donor-supported initiative, and Ipas will announce the next cohort of fellows in January 2017.

Read all about the 2016 Maguire Fellows and their many experiences and observations in the field on Ipas’s blog YouthAct!, which highlights youth voices on SRHR.