FUSE is a national nonprofit that partners with local government to help urban communities thrive. FUSE works with cities on a range of issues, including economic and workforce development, healthcare, public safety, climate change, and education.
The program’s approach centers around an executive fellowship program. FUSE co-designs ambitious yet achievable year-long projects with government partners, recruits experienced leaders to take on those challenges, and provides the support and learning opportunities to meet the community’s needs. A FUSE Fellowship is an opportunity to bring the skills you’ve honed in your career to a partnership with a major US city to address some of the most pressing challenges facing that community.
Sean Doss, a ProFellow reader, successfully applied for the 2017-18 Cohort of FUSE Executive Fellows. His project is “Creating a New Asset Management Model to Support Affordable Housing” based at the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department. We spoke with Sean to learn more about his fellowship experience thus far.
Why was the idea of a fellowship appealing to you?
I knew I wanted to explore a segue into government or non-profit. I had joined boards and looked for opportunities that I thought would offer that. However, over time, I realized that I really needed to make a “deep dive” into the nonprofit or government sector and I wanted that to be an opportunity where I could leverage my existing experience. The idea of a fellowship came into play and I liked that a fellowship was a route that would also offer a learning experience. I recognized that a fellowship could lead my career in a new direction. So, then the question became: might there be a fellowship opportunity for an Executive that wanted to use existing skills as well as learn something new?
How did you hear about FUSE?
I saw an ad for FUSE through ProFellow. That ad was the reason I applied. I had subscribed to ProFellow the year before; they offer so many different types of fellowships, each providing different experiences. So, I watched and waited and kept my eyes open for the right one. The FUSE fellowship spoke to me. It was categorized specifically as an opportunity for mid-level executives looking to make career transitions and it presented an opportunity to use my existing skills to add value to a government agency.
At the same time, the fellowship with FUSE would give me a taste of this new sector within the timeline of one year. I liked that it was not an indefinite commitment. I would come away from that year really knowing what it was like to work in government and also with real experience that I could point to going forward. It gave something I could take as I moved to that next level, it gave me credibility.
What was unique about FUSE that drew you to the fellowship?
When I talked to the folks at FUSE, I got excited that these organizations really needed help! The FUSE city partners wanted someone to come in and be a part of their team, someone who would help them solve real problems and who would bring new ideas to the table. I wanted to be that person.
Another aspect of the FUSE Fellowship that drew me was that I could make it my own. No one had walked this path before, it was a new role that I could carve out and shape as I worked with the city. It’s true that that part of this journey is also scary, but the unknown always is! I was doing this because I was looking for a challenge and more specifically, an opportunity to put myself out there and to learn and grow. I thought, “You’re asking for my skill set!” which I loved and also loved that I knew I could bring that; but, the other part is that I could say, “they’re learning from me and I’m learning from them!” I really appreciated a partnership where we would gain from each other.
One last thought. I’d come to recognize that many fellowships are unpaid or underpaid and that can sometimes represent how the fellows are viewed by their hosts. As I wanted to be recognized as an Executive who was bringing a certain level of experience to the project, that FUSE compensates its fellows is one of the demonstrations of appreciation for my skills and what I bring to my city agency. That felt good.
What do you consider to be the most important thing you have learned so far in your fellowship?
There is no one right way to get to a solution. You have to take some small bets and be ready and willing to learn a lot about yourself through the process as well. The adjustment is about more than the transition from private to government; it’s also a personal journey. I moved across the country, which is a huge learning experience, but I have also never understood my strengths the way I have come to understand them from immersing myself in this new environment. I’ve learned, for example, that my relationship skills are even more effective and important than I’d realized. Bring people together creates amazing opportunities. So, it’s really top three: leverage your strongest strengths, make small bets that move you towards your goal and be ready to learn!
What advice would you give to someone who is currently considering a FUSE fellowship?
Making this decision was a process for me. I was thinking a lot, for a long time, about what I really wanted and what was important to me. I won’t say that I ever really knew for sure before I accepted the fellowship that a fellowship or a FUSE fellowship was right for me, how could I? I thought about the interests that I had: homelessness, youth, workforce development, affordable housing, and others, and I sought ways to become involved that didn’t end up being everything I wanted them to. I didn’t know there was such thing as a fellowship or especially an opportunity for a mid-level, career executives like what FUSE offers, but once I did, it just made sense.
Once you recognize that FUSE represents the right opportunity for you, follow your heart. I think that really says it. Let the process be organic and at the same time, really think about where you’re ultimately trying to go with this. Don’t forget what you’re in it for. I’m in the fellowship now and I know exactly what I want and where I want to be at the end of this. You should know what you’re in it for and be genuine to that as you move through the process.
What are your plans following your fellowship?
I’m beginning to talk about that with my network and just this morning with a FUSE alum, actually! I still have nearly six months of my fellowship left and some really great things have gone on with my project recently, but I’m beginning to get excited about what happens next, too. I’m exploring opportunities with nonprofits, foundations, and endowments that work with the City of Los Angeles on homelessness, housing and/or workforce development initiatives – opportunities that further that change of direction for my career that I was looking for.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.