Fellowships For Young Leaders In Public Service: 3 Questions With Butler Koshland Fellow Mehroz Baig

Oct 14, 2013
Mehroz Baig, 2013 Butler Koshland Fellow

In 2014, the Butler Koshland Fellowships program is offering a new fellowship opportunity for one emerging leader to serve as a fellow to Esta Soler, President, and Founder of Futures Without Violence. Based in San Francisco, this exceptional fellowship program pairs accomplished leaders with an emerging leader for one year to work closely together on a project. The aim of the fellowship is to identify and mentor the next generation of public service leaders. Previous mentor-fellow pairs include Lucy Blake, a visionary conservationist and winner of the MacArthur “Genius” Award, paired with fellow Paul Burrow; Dr. Sandra Hernández, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, paired with fellow Shannon Malone; and Malcolm Margolin, founder and Executive Director of Heyday, paired with fellow Kate Brumage, who is now Executive Director of the Butler Koshland Fellowships organization. In general, the program seeks emerging leaders who have at least a few years of professional work experience, a demonstrated dedication to public service, a good work ethic, a strong desire to learn, and a unique perspective to share with the program.

Mehroz Baig, a current Butler Koshland Fellow, is being mentored by Dr. Gloria Duffy, the President, and CEO of the Commonwealth Club of California. The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum, bringing over 400 annual events on topics ranging across politics, culture, society, and the economy to over 20,000 members. Its mission is to be the leading national forum open to all for the impartial discussion of public issues important to the membership, community, and nation. During her fellowship, Mehroz is working with the Club’s editorial and development teams as an in-house journalist, creating reports on its live programs and broadcasting them to other media outlets. Mehroz shared with us insights about her incredible fellowship experience.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Butler Koshland Fellowship?

There were multiple aspects that attracted me to the Butler Koshland Fellowship at The Commonwealth Club: one was the subject matter and the other, more important piece was the mentorship model the fellowship is based. As a graduate of a journalism and international affairs dual master’s program, my interests lie in public policy and journalism. The Public Affairs and Communications Fellowship in that sense seemed like a perfect fit for me to explore these subjects professionally within the context of a nonprofit environment. However, what excited me most about this fellowship was the importance the Butler Koshland Fellowship committee and The Commonwealth Club give to creating a mentor-mentee relationship. I believe mentorship is extremely important and the fact that it was built into this fellowship model was something that I had not seen before. Additionally, having the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Gloria Duffy was another big aspect of the fellowship that was truly exciting. To have the chance to work closely with someone who has a long-established history in non-profit work, not to mention having worked on negotiating disarmament agreements for weapons of mass destruction among former Soviet nations, is an incredibly unique opportunity. And that’s putting it mildly.

I find that navigating career options as someone who is starting out in her career is difficult, especially with the backdrop of today’s slow economy and conversations about “leaning in,” which aim to identify how women can balance personal and professional lives within the workplace. However, what I saw in the fellowship description was a new employment model—one that takes into account the fact that young leaders need time and space to learn, but also a workplace that is willing to nurture them. At the same time, there are skills and attributes that we bring to the table and in that sense, the working relationship is mutually beneficial. From my perspective, I couldn’t wait to be a part of this type of community. And now that I am fully engaged in my fellowship, my ultimate hope is to form a strong working relationship with my mentor, and also contribute tangibly to the work that The Commonwealth Club is undertaking.   

2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?

One of the most inspiring aspects of this fellowship for me is the accessibility I have to my mentor and my colleagues and the flexibility with which I can undertake projects. My day-to-day work can be quite different, depending on the day. I can go from interviewing experts and writing blog posts, to editing videos of our programs, to attending meetings on fundraising strategy, to brainstorming ideas for content distribution and media technology in our new building. Additionally, with the slew of programming that The Commonwealth Club undertakes, in any given week, I can hear some amazing speakers talk about their work. For example, this week, we’ll host the co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, and Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, all in the same week! That to me is not only fun but really engaging—I am constantly learning more about different subjects and topics, switching in and out of different tasks, and working with a wide range of people. That variety keeps me on my toes and allows me to learn a great deal in very short periods of time.

My very first project during my fellowship was a promotional video for the Club. I was very excited to have the opportunity to conceptualize the project and work with a great team of people at the Club to gather the footage needed for the video. Editing the video and finally showing it was a great experience and I’m so excited that it is now part of the Club’s promotional materials. Separately, a long-term project that I’m working on is our newly formed partnership with The Huffington Post. The partnership has two components—one includes written blog posts and the other features videos from our programs that focus on San Francisco Bay Area topics. I research and write articles for publication and curate and edit our video content. As such, I’m able to contribute to this project on multiple fronts.

On a personal level, what I appreciate the most about my fellowship is my mentor. Having the ability to ask her questions, talk to her about her own career trajectory, share my thoughts about my career plans, get advice and input on the work I’m doing and have a confidant with whom I can share successes and doubts is priceless. Relationships like this don’t come easily and, while I’ve had professional mentors in the past, there was never an explicit agreement that someone chose to invest time in my career and cared about my success. It is such an incredible resource to have that relationship and I feel very fortunate to have it as part of my professional growth.

3. What do you think made your fellowship application stand out?

I’m not sure of the conversations or the process that went into selecting fellows for this position. However, I think that part of it was my background, particularly in journalism, because that was a place where The Commonwealth Club was looking to add more resources. Generally speaking, the Butler Koshland fellowships look for a good match between the mentor and potential mentee. While the application materials (cover letter, resume, and writing sample) are a good indication of where the mentor and mentee might align intellectually, the interview is the best way to determine personal rapport. I remember going in for my interview and being interviewed by three people. I have interviewed for jobs before and unlike my interviews in the past, this particular interview was much more of a conversation than an interrogation. That was a very different experience for me but one that I welcomed and one that helped me to also understand that the fellowship was a good fit for me. I also think it’s worth mentioning that applicants should submit an application that presents who they genuinely are. The fellowship is about helping you succeed and about matching you with a mentor who you can work with and establish a strong relationship with. In that regard, putting your best foot forward doesn’t mean putting forward an application you think the committee wants to see. They truly want to know applicants for who they are, what they want to do, and what they’ve already done. Feel free to share your visions and passions—they are welcome!

Mehroz Baig came to the Commonwealth Club from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria Global Public Square. She has a special interest in human rights, international affairs, and the experiences of Pakistani-Americans — much of her written work concerns these topics. Previously, Mehroz worked at the County of Sonoma’s Economic Development Board and Human Services Department, conducting research and managing programs. Mehroz is a graduate of Wellesley College and has dual master’s degrees from Columbia University in Journalism and International Affairs. 

© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved