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Atlas Corps & CAL: Something Radically New

What happens when two value-driven organizations work together towards common goals? New, uncommon possibilities. This is exactly what started brewing when the Center for Asia Leadership Initiatives (CALI) and Atlas Corps sealed an official partnership in 2017. “Atlas Corps had a desire to work with us and expand their model. We are always ready to partner with leading value-driven international organizations who are making an impact in communities across the world in strategic partnerships or collaborations that contribute to advancing each other’s missions,” said CALI Director for International Affairs John Lim.

CALI partnered with Atlas Corps in a major way by becoming a host organization for Atlas Corps Fellows. A non-profit organization in the U.S., Atlas Corps “aims to facilitate communication among international leaders in the international non-profit sector.” Fellows who join the Atlas Corps are experienced professionals who lend their professional expertise to organizations and companies for 12 to 18 months.

Since 2006, Atlas Corps has vetted and sent out some 600 fellows from 89 different countries. Hundreds of Fellows serve their host-organizations with their know-how and experience in the areas of communication, capacity-building, social entrepreneurship, and human rights advocacy, among others. Having previously had Fellows based only in the U.S., Atlas Corps fielded its first international Fellow, Selma Bardakci of Turkey, to CALI’s regional headquarters in Malaysia in October 2017.

Notably, Bardakci organized the Turkish leg of CAL’s Eurasia Leadership Trek (ELT) in June 2018. “During the Turkey Trek, we were able to meet with decision makers and try to understand the ongoing issues in the Eurasia region through the lens of Turkey,” shared Bardakci in an interview. The ELT is a study tour to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan CAL organized for scholars from Harvard and other leading institutions. The trekkers’ main goal is to learn more about the unique leadership challenges and complex issues faced by key actors and stakeholders in the region. Bardakci recalled how discussions over coffee included everything from the rise of extremism to the hot issue of the refugee crisis. For the Class 28 Atlas Corps Fellow, the experience has been a personal quantum leap for her as well. “I have also built my personal and professional leadership capacity and feel more prepared to take on social issues back home,” she explained.

It is precisely this international fluency that makes the Atlas Corps Fellows a strategic addition to the CAL team. [“The program] has helped in getting perspectives and viewpoints from different countries,” added Lim, who is also co-founder of CAL. If the CAL-Atlas Corps strength is global, it surely is also local.

A few months after Bardakci started serving in CALI, the second Atlas Corps Fellow, Clara Wan, joined the CALI team. Wan, who has had experience in talent and learning development, says the Fellowship has been an overwhelming, “new learning experience” so far. “I get to work with different nationalities – Korean, Filipino, Turkish, American, Indian,” noted the Malaysian Atlas Corps Fellow.

Definitely, the future holds more avenues for greater CALI and Atlas Corps collaboration. Among other medium and long-term goals, CALI hopes to have more avenues to “provide leadership development opportunities to emerging social change professionals.” Atlas Corps Fellows assigned to serve with CALI will also help “support, diversify, and enhance CALI leadership training programs.” If the Atlas Corps emphasizes service, CALI lives and breathes leadership. And obviously, these two have a lot of points of convergence. There can be no real human development and self-actualization without leadership and service.

No doubt, organizations that are mainly motivated by high-minded aspirations like total human development do well on their own. But it is when they come together that the chance to create something radically new comes in.

By Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz