How the Hilton Prize Coalition is building future humanitarian leaders

Photo by: Hilton Prize Coalition

Building the next generation of humanitarian leaders is a top priority for the Hilton Prize Coalition. The coalition, an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, came about very “organically” as several of the winning organizations started looking for ways they could work together for collective impact, says Samantha Ducey, director of partner solutions at Global Impact, the organization that supports and serves as the Secretariat for the Coalition.

From this, its three signature programs evolved: the Fellows program, the Collaborative Models program, and the Storytelling program, which were established with the aim of leveraging the resources, talents, and expertise of each of its members. “The role of the coalition and the three programs is to create an environment where they can work together,” says Ducey, and “where each coalition member can identify what they can contribute and what they can learn and gain from one another.”

Now approaching its third year, the coalition’s Fellows program works with member organizations to identify and develop the sector’s future leaders. Here’s how the coalition is helping these organizations invest in new skillsets and create opportunities for early-career professionals, while fostering partnerships in the sector.

A collaborative approach

Collaboration is a core component of the Fellows program as it seeks to instill this mentality in the future leaders it works with, says Ducey. This takes various forms — from overlap with the Storytelling program, which engages participants in writing blogs to reflect upon their experiences, to placements, which are “collaborative in nature” and involve fellows working with multiple host organizations. There have been a number of collaborative placements. One fellow from the 2017 cohort worked with both PATH and Heifer International on a project that was “very instrumental” in helping the two organizations see how they could potentially work together more closely says Katharine Kreis, head of the nutrition innovation team at PATH.

Through a number of online platforms, the coalition also aims to bring current fellows and alumni together, including at events to connect in person with professionals working at various levels in the humanitarian sector. They are thinking about how the program can “cultivate a network and a sense of community while these fellows are completing their placements,” says Ducey and how “that will translate into long-term connections that can support their future work in the sector.”

Investing in new skillsets

Recruitment of fellows is coalition-led, and while host organizations may look at their current programmatic needs, many take this chance to explore new and emerging skillsets. “The program affords that opportunity for organizations to look at how the sector and the space as a whole are evolving,” says Ducey, “and have the opportunity to really expand their own skillsets and expertise and work within those new areas.” While fellows often contribute to programmatic, research, and marketing work, increasingly, there are roles for them in the digital technology space, she explains.

These placements are “fantastic opportunities for the next generation of leaders,” says Kreis. As an organization that is “very much interested in innovation and next generation tools and technology, as well as next generation people and ideas,” Kreis was very interested in bringing in early career professionals and providing a platform for dialogue and cross-disciplinary discussions. This is not just an opportunity for the fellows, she adds, but also for the organization to learn from “the people who are going to be taking over public health and development in the coming years.”

In the past, and alongside their broader intern program, the organization has taken on young professionals with experience in data and analytics, business, public health, and environmental science and given them the chance to develop ideas in these areas using new tools. When it comes to sourcing candidates, Kreis says she first defines a tight scope of work or project for the fellow, then often works with universities to find a good match.

Landesa was also among the many host organizations last year and has since offered a position to the fellow that worked with them. Based in their D.C. office, the fellow helped cultivate their business development line, which is a relatively new and an actively expanding area of the organization’s work, says Colleen O’Holleran, program manager for Landesa’s program operation team. Having the fellow working out of their D.C. office “really strengthened” their team as it grew and developed, she says. “We were able to do much more in that period of time. She really set a foundation that we’ve been able to use as a launch pad to further strengthen our work.”

Fostering diversity

The coalition provides a grant to each member organization, which enables them to support fellows with a stipend for the duration of their program. In establishing the Fellows program, it was important to the coalition that young professionals from a whole range of backgrounds would have access to these opportunities and that they would draw a diverse pool of candidates, says Ducey. The grant is intended to cover a fellow’s stipend or travel expenses and therefore help those “individuals participate, grow their experience, expand their knowledge and their practice in the sector,” she explains. The grant also recognizes “the contribution that’s being made by the fellows and the role that they’re playing in these organizations.”

This grant may not cover all costs associated with hosting a fellow, but it is a generous contribution and allows organizations to host additional fellows, says Kreis, or even support them in carrying out field-based work, as PATH has done in the past. Aware that many young people are leaving school with huge student debts, Kreis says they are always grateful to have this funding available to help. “Our next generation thinkers get an opportunity and PATH have an opportunity to have some of that new thinking on board.”

The coalition is particularly interested in identifying and cultivating talent at a local level and the 2017 fellows cohort represented eight countries, including India, Mexico, Tanzania, and South Korea. Kreis is often looking for people who have experience in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan African and South Asia. So she is always excited for people to join her team who are from outside the United States. Many of the coalition members already have long-established relationships with communities in the U.S. and overseas, explains Ducey, and they draw fellows candidates from these channels. One of the priorities of the program is continuing to foster these relationships and making sure there is a “diversity of experience and perspectives, and different views and backgrounds that would bring richness to an organization and their work,” she adds.

Tips for applying

• Recruitment is carried out by the member organizations, so opportunities for fellows and the scope of work can vary. While many of the coalition organizations work with partners and institutions overseas, they also look to local universities and career fairs to find recent graduates, especially through events geared toward public sector work such as Georgetown's Government & Nonprofit career fair.

• O’Holleran says she looks for candidates with strong writing and research skills and passion for the organization’s work. “We’re looking for people who are expressing a long-term interest and commitment to either working directly in land rights or somehow having crossover with our sector,” she says.

• PATH often looks for candidates with a master’s degrees and an interest in one of the different areas they work in — from public health, to environmental science, to monitoring and evaluation. Kreis says she is not just looking for candidates with the right technical skills, but also those who fit the organization’s culture. “I want to have people who are curious, ask good questions, are good listeners,” she says “and who are going to work well with the rest of the team and fit into an organization like PATH.”

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About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.