Iron sharpens iron: How the Fellowship’s first in-person get together went down

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on most in-person engagements. But towards the end of last year, the African Food Fellowship put together a physical interactive session that not only ushered in a joyous festive season, but also set the mood for renewed energy and vigour for 2022.

December 10, 2021 marked the very first in-person engagement for the organisation, as well as the first time the Kenyan Fellows in its Food Systems Leadership Programme were meeting each other. In a fitting toast to end a challenging year characterised by zoom fatigue and dependency on screens, online friends became real life friends as the Fellowship staff and Fellows enjoyed a day of laughter, in-person peer coaching, food and drinks at a city hotel with a gorgeous view of the Nairobi skyline.

“This is the first chance that the fellows have had to meet each other in person and we saw them come to life. It was magical. It gave them a chance to dive into their world, their challenges and priorities, and give each other some peer coaching support to allow them access to all the brilliant ideas and insights that their peers have to offer,” said Fellowship Stage Two lead Hamish Wilson.

In an interactive session, Fellows gave testimonials of how the Fellowship has so far impacted their lives, both professionally and personally. Many said that it was a game- changer in terms of helping them grow as leaders. “The Fellowship has gone beyond just food systems. It has made me a better leader, and gone beyond that to help shape me as a person as well. It has not been just professional growth, it has been personal too,” said Horticulture Fellow Winnie Yegon.

The Fellowship’s spirit of camaraderie, collaboration and creative problem solving was in full display during breakout sessions where Fellows sat in groups and listened to each other speak about the most pressing challenges in their lives, then brainstormed to find solutions to these challenges and helped each other chart ways forward.

“I loved the day today. We had an amazing peer learning session where we got to coach each other and listen to each other’s challenges. When we sat down to talk about solutions, all these different ideas came up, from different people with different perspectives. I will definitely be replicating this at my place of work,” said Sieka Gatabaki, an Agri-finance Fellow.

Agri-Finance Fellow Grace Njoroge agrees. “The peer feedback session was very interesting. I realised that we have similar issues but different ways of approaching them, and different perspectives. People were able to open up because it was a safe space,” she said.

For others, the get-together offered a platform for building each other’s strengths, quite unlike the cutthroat competition that professional spaces are usually known for. “Today has been a day of insights, vulnerability and sharing stories. We have been able to engage and enjoy each other’s company while learning and growing and developing each other. We say that iron sharpens iron and today was a big day of sharpening,” said Horticulture Fellow Waithera Ng’ang’a.

Aquaculture Fellow Proscovia Alando was excited to work with like-minded individuals to transform food systems in Africa. “Today has been amazing. I have met Fellows from other thematic areas within the Fellowship. I have been interacting with them online and meeting them in person has been amazing,” she said.

Tom Ogweno, a Horticulture Fellow who travelled from the lake side city of Kisumu, is strategising how he will harness his peers’ collective brilliance to fix the glaring weaknesses he has identified in his line of work. He is looking forward to a 2022 filled with opportunities for impactful, collaborative work.

“There are Fellows who are also interested in the agri-food market. There are lots of gaps in the market and I intend to work with like-minded peers to make the supply chain more efficient. Working together, this is possible: you need other people’s opinions in order to make it work,” he said.

Toasting to a great year, Hamish wrapped it up with a compelling reminder for everyone: “This is what this Fellowship is all about. It’s alive!”