The Professional Fellows Economic Empowerment Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, brings emerging leaders from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise. Participants spend up to six weeks in the U.S., where they complete individually tailored fellowships in businesses, government offices, media, non-profits, or business associations. The program also provides structured interaction among Americans and foreign participants designed to develop enduring professional ties and lasting partnerships.
In partnership with International Center for Journalist’s (ICFJ), Professional Fellows sponsors an international summer fellowship for media professionals entitled “Unlocking the economic potentials of digital media.” The program recruits professional and citizen journalists, media business managers, digital media entrepreneurs and technologists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The fellows are asked to create media business models that harness the power of digital tools to generate sustainable new revenue. The fellows participate in a four-week program in the United States, including a three-week internship at U.S. newspapers and media organizations. In addition, 10 Americans from those institutions visit the fellows’ homelands for a two-week tour of digital media institutions organized by the ICFJ’s local partners including Mundiapolis University in Morocco, Hiber for Training and Technology in Jordan, Impact Hub Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Sirdab Lab in Kuwait.
To learn more about this extraordinary program, we interviewed former Professional Fellow Youssra El-Sharkawy of Egypt.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Professional Fellows program?
I work as a journalist in an English language newspaper in Egypt and I always wanted to develop and improve my skills and take new steps in my profession. I learned many things and gained great knowledge through senior staff and high profile editors. I chose not to stop at a certain level and always seek new information and techniques. Today, everything is going digital and through the coming years, I think digital media will prevail. That is what made me want to be part of this coming change, and I have to be prepared for this. I found the program “Unlocking the economic potentials of digital media,” which is supported by the International Centre for journalists in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State. I applied for it because I wanted to gain experience and learn new techniques on how to create a business model that employs digital media.
I applied with a project idea that employs digital media and I was granted a one month fellowship in the United States. I spent around four days in Washington, D.C. and three weeks in Sarasota, Florida in my host organization. Then I returned to D.C. to participate in the Professional Fellows congress, where I presented my project’s poster.
2. What is a typical week like for a fellow?
I spent three weeks in my host organization which was the Sarasota-Herald Tribune, a leading newspaper in Sarasota which has a great profile in digital media as well as investigative journalism and others. During my fellowship I tried to meet with journalists in different fields including digital, finance, economic, graphics, cultural, investigative and other fields. I discussed with them many issues about my work and my country, and gained a great insights from them. I learned how they promote their newspaper, how they manage their digital news, and how they secure funding, among other things. I also asked to join the training sessions that they held every week and asked to join them while covering events. This introduced me to many things that I never knew about.
I also attended nearby events and searched for exclusive stories that I could write about and publish in the Herald Tribune, and also to bring back with me to Egypt. I went to the only Muslim mosque in Sarasota and interviewed people from the Muslim community there. The story was published in the Tribune as well as my newspaper, The Egyptian Gazette. I also attended some theatrical plays with the Editor of Theater of the Tribune. I have a passion for theater and I’m also a playwright and theatre director, so I was keen on attending theatrical events.
I think that a typical week for a fellow involves spending every day learning new things and joining as many events as he or she can. The fellow should be ready to take the adventure – and should consider his or her fellowship as an enjoyable adventure that will change all his coming future for good. The fellow should enjoy everything – even tasting new foods and enjoying nearby institutions, events, festivals and other cultural activities.
3. What do you think made your application stand out?
I think my background was what made my application pass the first step. But, in the interview, I had to discuss my project and my background and whether I would be able to establish this project or not. I had to show self confidence and good knowledge of my field. I had to also give convincing answers to the questions.
I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to visit the United States and have my fellowship in the prestigious Herald Tribune. It was an incomparable experience.
Youssra El-Sharkawy is an accredited Egyptian journalist with more than six years of experience. Her work has been published in various Egyptian, Arab and international media outlets. In her articles, she pays particular attention to human rights, empowerment of women and youth, gender equality, democratization, and social problems. Youssra is also a freelance translator, theater director and playwright with three published books.
© Victoria Johnson 2014, all rights reserved