On 28 March, the CSC was delighted to welcome all 29 Professional Fellows from the 2022 cohort to Birmingham University for two days of networking, cross-organisation engagement and learning focused on the theme for this year’s programme: Girls’ Education. This was the first time a welcome event of this kind has been held bringing together all Professional Fellows and their hosts.

The Professional Fellowship Programme

Each year, the CSC offers Professional Fellowships for mid-career professionals from low- and middle-income countries to spend a period of time at a UK host organisation for a programme of professional development. The Fellowships provide recipients with an opportunity to enhance knowledge and skills in their given sector, and to have catalytic effects on their workplaces and beneficiaries after their placement.

In 2021-22 the Professional Fellowships are being offered as part of our Time Limited Programme (TLP). The TLP is a year-long programme of activities and events which have a particular focus. This year, the focus is on promoting Girls’ Education as part of the UK government’s ambitious initiatives to get 40 million more girls from low- and middle-income countries into primary and secondary school by 2025.

The 2022 Fellows and Host Organisations

In line with the theme for this year’s TLP, the 2022 cohort of Professional Fellows (and their host organisations) are all working in development areas linked to Girls’ Education and women’s empowerment. This is the first time the Professional Fellowship programme has been linked to a specific shared theme.

The 29 Fellows come from 11 Commonwealth countries and are joining 5 specially selected host organisations across England and Wales: Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project, the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, Knowledge for Change, Lifegate Outreach Centre and Windle Trust International.

The Event

The welcome event marked the first of a series of events being held for this year’s Fellows, enabling them to build lasting connections and share knowledge on their areas of expertise, with a view of supporting future collaboration in the area of Girls’ Education. The event began with a series of introductions: from the CSC, from all 5 host organisations and from the Fellows themselves.

“This is an opportunity to take a step away from your day to day work and think about what it is that you do, why you do it and how you do it.” – Annabel Boud, Head of the CSC

The introductory words of Annabel Boud, Head of the CSC, set the tone for the discussions and activities that followed, with the aim of opening up opportunities and alleyways for the kind of blue sky thinking many professionals struggle to find time for.

A series of presentations came next, led by various experts in different fields linked to Girls’ Education and equal access to opportunities. This included Piyumi Samaraweera, programme manager at Womenkind Worldwide, who spoke with infectious passion and expertise about the complexities surrounding the root causes impeding women’s rights, and sharing practical solutions that can be enacted to tackle these challenges at the Girls’ Education level.

Professor Sarah Hawkes, CSC Commissioner and Professor of Global Public Health at University College London spoke next about ‘Gender, Public Health and Women in the Workplace’. Sarah shared enlightening statistics on a multiplicity of gender issues, from the gender pay gap to sexual harassment in the workplace, that provided an important baseline for the discussions that followed.

On day two, two Commonwealth Alumni joined the event virtually, Sakhi Anita from India and Margaret Kamau from Kenya, to share learnings and advice from their own experiences in launching Girls’ Education themed Alumni Community Engagement Fund (ACEF) projects.

Professor Madeleine Arnot, CSC Commissioner and Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, then shared findings from her research into gender relations, reflecting on cultural strategies for change that can be enacted in this area through education.

Professional Fellow, Rosa Persendt from Namibia, summed up how we all felt after hearing Margaret speak: “Insightful is an understatement, can I pack you in my bag?”

From there, the microphone was handed over to Professor Nidhi Singal, Professor of Disability and Inclusive Education at the University of Cambridge. Nidhi spoke with conviction about the importance of making education inclusive for all sections of society – and why this will ultimately benefit us all. She filled the room with optimism and a thirst to act, sharing:

“When we talk about disabilities we always talk about challenges, but there are things that are working – so let’s build on those things.” – Professor Nidhi Singal, Professor of Disability and Inclusive Education at the University of Cambridge

Between sessions, there was plenty of time for connecting, learning and building on each other’s ideas and projects over dinner, refreshments and through group activities.

When asked at the end of the two days by the Chair of the CSC and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) of the University of Birmingham, Professor Robin Mason, to share the key themes and learnings to come out of the event, the room was not short of ideas. Co-production; multi-sectoral approaches; collaboration; cross-country learning; participatory approaches; making the voices of girls and other marginalised groups heard: this is just a snapshot of the themes to emerge from the group.

After all the delays caused by the pandemic, it was wonderful to have this group of Professional Fellows together in one room. It is even more wonderful to think that this is only the start of the three-month programme. We can’t wait to keep you updated on how the Fellows progress and to introduce you to individual Professional Fellows over the next few weeks.

See all photos from the event on the CSC Flickr page.