Learning from the Fellowship: My Experience at HelpAge USA, Alumni Blog

Anna Russell is an alum of the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows. In this blog, Anna reflects on her fellowship placement and where she is now in the humanitarian space. 

When I first heard of the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program, I was a graduate student at George Washington University. I had met Susan Riker, the Director of Partnerships and Development at HelpAge USA, at a thinktank event in DC. Thanks to Susan’s outgoing personality, we quickly clicked and started sharing about our mutual interest in global health and aging populations. After several more meetings, she encouraged me to apply for the Hilton Prize Coalition fellowship, so that I could join HelpAge USA. I won the position and started working with HelpAge USA in March 2016.

HelpAge USA is the US affiliate of HelpAge International – the only nonprofit organization in the world concerned with addressing the needs of older populations in developing countries.  Working with the small US office turned out to be a fantastic opportunity for me. I was able to get involved in almost every aspect of the organization – planning conferences, writing grant applications, and editing progress reports for donors.

However, Susan knew of my interest in monitoring and evaluation – after all, it was the degree I was working toward in grad school – so, she found M&E work for me where she could. So, together with other stakeholders from across the countries where HelpAge works, I developed a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) learning platform. This platform allowed people across different countries to share best practices, lessons learned, and build their knowledge of M&E. Now that I have worked for several other organizations, I can see even more clearly how needed this type of platform is. Too often, silos appear due to geography, focus area, or just because collaboration is usually more complicated than solo work. Through this platform, HelpAge USA truly invested in the breaking down of silos to ensure that all of the stakeholders connected to HelpAge could learn from each other to better serve aging populations.

Additionally, Susan and the rest of the HelpAge USA staff helped me to network and to find opportunities after the fellowship. They connected me to people within the global health space, wrote letters of recommendation, and have supported me at every opportunity. I have felt immensely supported by HelpAge – not only during the fellowship but also in the years afterward.

Now, several years after the fellowship, I am working at the CDC in the Division of Global HIV/TB. I have designed an M&E curriculum, disseminated ideas and tools between PEPFAR-supported countries, and assessed the utilization of evaluation findings in PEPFAR-supported countries, continuing the work of breaking down silos and building evaluation capacity that I started at HelpAge.

Just as I have used the skills and technical abilities that I started learning at HelpAge for the rest of my career, I learned several critical lessons at HelpAge that I have carried with me to every job since.

  1. Be an Initiative Taker: Thinking creatively and being an independent worker will take you far. In my fellowship with HelpAge, sometimes there would be lots of things to do but nothing assigned directly to me. I would ask Susan if I could get involved with something, and then I would make sure to follow through (this is key!). My initiative and follow-through allowed them to give me more responsibilities as time went on.
  2. Be an Enthusiastic Coworker: Sometimes, especially early in your career, you will have projects that don’t perfectly align with your long-term interests. That’s okay! It is essential to be enthusiastic and put your best foot forward no matter what project you are assigned. At HelpAge, I worked on a lot of things that I had no experience in, and it often felt overwhelming, but now, having worked in so many different areas, I find I have a better understanding and appreciation for various divisions and tasks involved with running a global NGO.
  3. Be an Observer: The fellowship may be a person’s first foray into global health like it was mine. I spent a lot of the fellowship observing and learning from people around me. How did they prioritize their different work responsibilities? What kind of information was imperative to make decisions? How did they write an effective email?!  Learning from the other HelpAge staff, even when they weren’t officially teaching me, was critical to gaining an understanding of working in global health.

My fellowship at HelpAge USA helped me become the global health practitioner that I am today. The fellowship set up the foundation for my career and was a launching pad to my current opportunities. I am incredibly grateful for the fellowship and hope to continue using these lessons wherever I end up next.  

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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