2017 Fellow Megan O’Leary, Hilton Prize Coalition – USA

Megan O’Leary recently completed her Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship, which involved her in various aspects of marketing, administrative and backbone services for the Coalition. Megan is completing her senior year at The University of Austin, Texas, where she is studying International Relations and Global Studies. In this blog post, Megan reflects on her experience working alongside the various Coalition members as a member of the Secretariat team. Her fellowship bridged the gap between academic theory and the real world application of collaboration.

Bridging the Gap with Real Experience
by Megan O’Leary

As an International Relations and Global Studies major, my education has given me the chance to study, read, and write about my interests — but I always felt there was a gap between my understanding of the scholarly literature and how these issues actually play out on the ground. My fellowship allowed me to begin bridging that gap with the only thing that can: experience.

My path to a broader understanding of the global non-profit industry and to professional discovery led me to apply for a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship placement at the Secretariat headquarters. Here I found the seamless intersection of my many interests—international development, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, human rights, refugees—not to mention the opportunity to leave Texas and work in the Washington, D.C. area for the summer.

“Collaboration” is a word I encountered so frequently in my classes and readings that it began to lose its meaning. The consensus of my favorite class, ‘Complex Emergencies and the Humanitarian Response,’ was that collaboration is the key in the humanitarian field to overcome challenges and failures in disaster relief. This call for strategic partnerships and transparency was inspiring, but led to some frustration—where does this talk of collaboration become action? Who makes it happen and how?

With the Hilton Prize Coalition, I found my answers. As it turns out, “collaboration” is a word everyone in this field is struggling to define and to actualize. But through working with a passionate and dedicated team, what I once viewed as frustration became an exciting challenge. The Coalition is comprised of the 21 Hilton Prize Laureates, all best-in-class organizations that have been widely recognized for their humanitarian work. They have formed an independent alliance, which is supported by the Coalition’s Secretariat, Global Impact, where I am proud to have worked this summer.

My time with the Hilton Prize Coalition revealed the commitment that the industry does indeed have to collaboration, and how the individuals behind the scenes of humanitarian operations work tirelessly to convert all of that talk into action. For a small group of even the brightest people, the task of supporting a Coalition seems daunting: managing communications between 21 organizations, identifying strategic alignments between them, creating and implementing programs, all while trying to share this important message of collaborative work to a global audience. Through the Collaborative Models, Storytelling, and Fellows Programs, I was able to see how the Coalition navigates these challenges and creates a unifying force of its members with joint research and workshops, sharing people’s stories through documentaries, and forging a new generation of humanitarian leaders to prioritize collaboration in study and practice. These initiatives showed me what true collaboration can look like, and the surprising amount of creativity and tenacity it requires to make it happen.

Professionally, this fellowship has been a great learning experience. It has exposed me to the rewards and challenges of the humanitarian world that cannot be accessed from a classroom. I was able to support the Coalition members by conducting meaningful research and generating content on member initiatives to broadcast on the Coalition’s blog and social media platforms. To supplement the practical training I received on the job, I was able to complete a customized DisasterReady curriculum to better understand the theories governing humanitarian operations on the ground. I was able to attend meetings with Coalition members as part of the Secretariat team to brainstorm ideas to further the Coalition’s mission, something I will never forget. I have gained the professional confidence and real world experience I had been craving.

A huge thank you to the Hilton Prize Coalition for this opportunity! Although my time in Washington, DC has ended, I very much look forward to continuing my journey with the Coalition through the Fellows Alumni Network.

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