The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development defines economic empowerment as the capacity of women and men to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes in ways that recognize the value of their contributions, respect their dignity, and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth. The six-week Professional Fellows Program (PFP) for Economic Empowerment, Middle East and North Africa is a two-way exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and designed to promote mutual understanding, enhance leadership and professional skills, and build lasting, sustainable partnerships between mid-level emerging leaders committed to strengthening their communities through social entrepreneurship and workforce development.
Not merely in its title alone, Legacy International’s PFP truly supports economic empowerment through the rigorous yet immersive experience it provides fellows with – that additionally is socially responsible and wholistic, in light of the participants as people who continue to learn every single day. These program activities consist of a week-long Leadership Clinic in Southwestern VA partnering with Virginia Tech, four-week fellowship placements in D.C. or Austin Texas offices/businesses, a three-day Professional Fellows Congress, cross-cultural conversations with speakers, follow-on projects supported by mini-grants, and homestays in Southwest VA.
Since 2010, Legacy International has hosted more than 238 Professional Fellows from the countries of Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman. The cohorts include professors, engineers, directors, program managers, department managers, CEOs, CTOs, and COOs of their companies. Each and every participant bring their own personal experiences, formal and non-formal education journeys, passions, and visions for their respective home communities to the program and their follow-on projects.
Some of the Washington, D.C.-based fellowship hosts included companies and groups like Fifth Tribe, Stuck in the Sand, Open Arms Housing, Inc., Street Entrepreneurs, Hera Hub, Accelerate, NPR, IFES, Teach-Now, and many others. These hosts were so essential and pivotal to the fellows’ experience because they are all groups that primarily function to help and assist everyday people in their business, non-business, and educational ventures.
In a clip from our 2018 PFP group, Mona Itani shares her experience and understanding of economic empowerment with regards to her creation of “Riyada for Social Entrepreneurship.” Through the implementation of the “Peace Tech concept” she was exposed to via her PFP host, Itani continues to foster social entrepreneurship in Lebanon by equipping youth with social innovation skills that comprise digital technology, business, and community engagement while connecting them with the right network.