MINN Connections: How an IDEA Fellow Pays It Forward

  • Posted on: 7 May 2018
  • By: Sarah Vast


Since 2016, MINN’s IDEA Fellowship Program has continued to grow and expand. Last year we held our first Fellows Reception where we gave fellows an exclusive opportunity to deepen relationships with MINN stakeholders like Karen Baumgaertner (MINN co-founder), McKnight International Program staff (5+ years of Summit sponsorship), MINN volunteers, and board members.

We are looking forward to 2018’s efforts to better serve our current and past fellows -- as well as -- our MINN community. The fellowship program is more than sharing opportunities and voice with MINN fellows, it is also a chance for our MINN community to expand our understanding of the world by learning from those who are bridges between life in Minnesota and the communities where international work has been or is being done. Stay tuned for the 2018 IDEA Fellowship applications (June 2018). In the meantime, we invite you to learn more about our inspiring 2017 MINN Fellow, Diana Chaman.

-- Kaying Vang, MINN Board President

Born and raised in Peru, I moved to Minnesota in early July, after completing my Master’s degree in Public Administration in Syracuse, NY. I came here to join my husband who had relocated to the Twin Cities. It was challenging to be in a new city without a professional network, friends, or family. Looking for opportunities, I connected with a MINN board member who spoke more about the organization and recommended that I apply to the IDEA Fellowship Program.

I realized this would be an exciting opportunity for me to connect with other professionals, share ideas and projects, and most importantly, learn from each other’s experiences on sustainable development. I submitted my application and was deeply honored to be selected among a group of highly motivated, educated, and experienced individuals from all walks of life.

During the MINN Summit, I reconnected with other fellows, and attended engaging sessions on topics covering fundraising, monitoring and evaluation, social enterprise development, and building resilient communities. In my past work, I managed projects on rural development in the Andean region through capacity building and food security. Hence, I was excited to expand and enrich my perspectives with the experiences of seasoned professionals who I connected with throughout the forum.

These meetings inspired creative solutions for our common interests. For example, I was invited by Mohamed Malim, CEO of Dream Refugee and 2017 MINN IDEA Fellow, to start a mentorship program within his NGO. Having volunteered in a similar organization during my master’s I was excited to start this project. Over the course of five months, I met with my mentee, a bright young high school student and a refugee with the dream of getting into college. Together, we planned and strategized for her not only to attend to her top university choices -- but to also get a full scholarship. And so, we did. She has accepted a scholarship that includes full tuition and a living stipend for her top choice university. Based on this initial experience, the program is expected to expand.

Likewise, during my work as a Child Hunger Program Specialist, I was able to connect with other MINN members. For instance, after winning the University of Minnesota’s Community Health Initiative, I was happy to find myself working on this monitoring and evaluation project with MINN member/volunteer, Alyce Eaton. Moreover, being a MINN IDEA Fellow contributed to my visibility as a professional, and I was contacted by the Mississippi Market Co-op to become a member of their board of directors.

The IDEA fellowship has been an excellent platform for me to share expertise and develop long-lasting partnerships with the purpose of expanding the impact of our work. Furthermore, it has given me the sense of belonging to a community of practitioners sharing a common dream: building the foundation for a more sustainable and equitable world.