Spring 2017 Fellow: Danielle Harris, Landesa – USA

Danielle Harris is currently completing a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with Landesa, an NGO based in Seattle, WA that champions and works to secure land rights for millions of the world’s poorest people all over the globe. Danielle holds a BA in Africana Studies from The College of William and Mary.

In this blog post, Danielle reflects on her experience working on Landesa’s business development team, strengthening the public-sector donor portfolio, and the impact of this work on her as a young professional. The Coalition is pleased to note that Landesa has offered Danielle a position as a Business Development Assistant upon completion of her fellowship.

A Chance to Shine through My HPC Fellowship
by Danielle Harris

After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies, I faced the same question posed by many people with disapproving eyes: “What are you going to do with that?” Sure, I thought, there may not be as clear a path career-wise as my accounting and medical student friends had, but I looked past others’ lack of confidence in my future and continued on.

In February, I attended a career fair specifically for job-seekers interested in working for nonprofits or the government. As I walked around the booths and talked to recruiters, I was relieved to find organizations that I was excited about and could envision myself working at. I passed the Hilton Prize Coalition table and stopped to chat. I was told about a fellowship opportunity with a nonprofit called Landesa that focuses on land rights all over the world. I looked over the job description and thought, “Wow. This is something I could really excel at.”

Soon enough, I was back in DC interviewing for the job. During the interview, I explained that I had gotten my degree in Africana Studies, done health work in Ghana, and interned at CRS and USAID. I waited nervously for the interviewer’s response, worrying that she would be less than impressed with my degree and experience; I braced myself for the all too familiar disapproving look. To my surprise, the look I received was full of excitement, and my soon-to-be supervisor and I launched into an insightful discussion about the lack of exposure to African history in primary education. Over the next couple of months, my supervisor and I became a real team. She was generously patient as she taught me the ins and outs of business development in the public sector, and I supported her with small tasks outside of my fellowship work as the number of opportunities we were pursuing became overwhelming.

Danielle with one of the handouts she created for her presentations.

I am grateful for this fellowship because it has given me the opportunity to develop a new skill set in fundraising and opened a possible career path that excites me. I cannot believe how much I have learned in the last few months. I started off my fellowship by creating a spreadsheet containing Landesa’s past and potential partners, noting their relevant skills, geographies of focus, and information about donors. This document has made identifying partners for potential opportunities much more efficient. Next, I completed a registration process that would enable Landesa to apply for funding from the European Commission. Along the way, I built my skills with the fundraising software, Raiser’s Edge.

I was also responsible for sharing the information with colleagues. Working in a nonprofit made up of mostly lawyers and top degree holders can be intimidating when you are tasked with teaching them something new. However, over the course of my fellowship I have learned that although I may have less experience than my colleagues, I did have the ability and time to dive into the research and truly understand potential funders, how they work, what they are looking for, and how Landesa can receive funding to further its mission. I have been able to share my specific research with my colleagues through multiple presentations. I presented to Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights on the Global Innovation Fund and Development Innovation Ventures, created a research document on the Green Climate Fund, and gave a brown-bag presentation on the Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank. Everyone at Landesa has supported me in finding my voice and my confidence, and I am continuously inspired by their achievements.

The reason for me sharing this very honest and personal account of my fellowship experience is to say that there are insecurities and uncertainties that go with being a young professional pursuing a humanitarian career. The job market is competitive, and there are so many amazingly qualified candidates who are also looking to make a difference in the world. However, I was able to find the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program, which believes in investing time and resources into preparing future humanitarian leaders. The Coalition provided me with online training courses, check-in meetings, networking opportunities, and the ability to work for an amazing non-profit like Landesa. I can’t thank the Hilton Prize Coalition and Landesa enough for this fellowship opportunity.

Lastly, to any young graduate being asked what you are going to do with your degree, don’t be afraid to break from the norm and create your own path to success. You will find people who will smile at your resume and give you a chance to shine.

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