From Competition to Collaboration: Empowering Emerging Leaders at TILN 2023 Brussels Week

May 25, 2023
Razmik Martirosyan
6 min read
Photo credit: German Marshall Fund of the United States
Building relationships and working together across borders is more important than ever in today's rapidly changing world.

The German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN) recognizes this and has been bringing people from the United States and Europe together since 2012 to create a diverse group of inclusive leaders. This distance-learning program runs for six months and is designed for individuals who are committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work. It provides them with access to workshops, networking opportunities, and a variety of resources to help them become better community leaders.

What sets the TILN program apart is its emphasis on values and emotional intelligence. After an initial online phase, participants come together to discuss their values and what the issues that are important to them in their countries. It's not just about getting things done; it's about building empathy and cultural competency and creating connections across cultures and locations. The program is all about bringing people together to learn and grow.

This year, 22 emerging leaders participated in the TILN program. They capped the program by spending the week of April 30 to May 6 in Brussels for in-person programming. The experience had left a profound impression on the participants, and they spoke about how the program had shifted their mindset from one of competition to one of collaboration. The fellows also emphasized the importance of self-care and global collaboration, which are key themes of the TILN program.

What sets the TILN program apart is its emphasis on values and emotional intelligence.

Before embarking on this journey, TILN fellow Tim Wirix (Belgium), Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Student Organization (CDSO) at KU Leuven, expected to meet a diverse group of individuals committed to making a positive impact on their communities. He also hoped to gain knowledge in areas that were new to him. Other than that, he tried not to have too many expectations because, as he put it, "programs like this are shaped by the people participating in them."

"Looking back on this adventure, I have to say that all of my expectations were exceeded. I met people with whom I had an immediate connection due to our passionate commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. Consequently, this testimonial is a tribute to the selection committee. Their efforts should not go unnoticed. They are the reason this program has been a success right from the start.

Furthermore, the fellowship has given me a second wind regarding my social commitments. I was able to recharge my batteries by finding myself in a space where creativity and visionary spirit were celebrated, and everyone regardless of success or status genuinely acknowledged each other's commitment. And this was despite a packed schedule," said Tim.

For Janea Jamison (Louisiana, United States), a regional advocate at the US Small Business Administration, the TILN fellowship was an amazing opportunity to connect with young leaders from different countries who brought diverse experiences and knowledge to the table. According to Janea, the fellowship highlighted the importance of global networking and coalition- building, as well as the power of solidarity in DEI work.

"We shared in-depth conversations on issues taking place in [our] regions and countries now and how we can collectively build," said Janea. "Many of our adversities and challenges are very similar. When we share our experiences and strategies, we can create solutions and bring these suggestions back to our communities and neighborhoods."

One important lesson Janea learned from the fellowship was not to neglect self-care while fighting for racial equity, justice, and freedom. "As we are fighting the 'good fight', it's necessary also to make sure that we are centering self-care, that we are taking time to make sure that we are healthy, so that we can be productive in our career and our work—our overall well-being," she emphasized.

For Mark Duffy (Mayor of Ballina, Ireland), the program was an opportunity to collaborate with friends across Europe and the United States and broaden his understanding of society. "The better I am as a person, the more skilled I am, the broader my understanding of society, the better I can deliver for Ballina and Ireland," he emphasized.

Mark found the program to be excellent and especially appreciated the opportunity to meet and learn from other participants during the in-person week in Brussels. "It's been an incredible experience, and it is a privilege to have everything that we have been afforded during the week. Not many people have the opportunity to do it, and [it’s] been so refreshing to meet such nice people," he said.

Through TILN, Mark gained more confidence in sharing his story with others back home and elsewhere, highlighting the value of the program's learnings and its impact on both personal and professional growth.

TILN fellowship teaches you how to be inclusive and mindful, and it gives [you] space to be open, genuine, and outspoken

Alba Brojka (Albania) found her TILN fellowship experience to be refreshing. She was inspired by meeting new people who were outspoken and driven, and she loved creating synergies with them. "I am bringing back to Albania a better Alba. An Alba who is inspired and who is part of a community that believes that societies can become better by being inclusive, by reminding themselves more of the values and the humanity we share", Alba she said. She believes that the TILN fellowship is an excellent opportunity for emerging leaders from the Balkans to reflect and change within themselves, as it empowers their lived experiences and provides them with hope and a sense of belonging to a group of great individuals. "[The] TILN fellowship teaches you how to be inclusive and mindful, and it gives [you] space to be open, genuine, and outspoken," she added.

Steve B. Irakoze, GMF TILN Program Manager, expressed his satisfaction with the program's success. He highlighted the importance of new sessions on COVID-19 and climate change, and of fostering the well-being of the fellows. "I am thrilled to hear the fellows say: ‘We never get the chance to speak about this; we are so happy for this chance,’" he remarked. Steve was particularly proud to have created a safe space for all the fellows where they could openly share their thoughts and ideas, a space where everyone felt like they belonged in the conversation. He also took note of their feedback and intends to incorporate their suggestions in the future. "Fellows want to lead sessions themselves and I’m eager to make it happen" he said, looking forward to future iterations of the program.

In the interests of openness and transparency, and to eliminate any concerns potential applicants may have about hidden agendas, we asked Steve to explain the goals of the TILN program and what it hopes to achieve with the fellows in the future.

Steve answered, "I hope that the fellows will continue their important work in their countries and stay connected with each other even after the program has ended. I want them to view this as an opportunity to gain new friendships and valuable experiences that they can bring back home and use to help their communities. My objective is to foster better leadership skills and a human connection among the fellows from across the United States and Europe. The goal of the program is to encourage cooperation and dialogue among changemakers from different backgrounds and cultures and to promote positive change.”

Steve also emphasized the importance of international cooperation in addressing global challenges such as climate change, polarization, intolerance, hatred, and disinformation. He reiterated GMF’s core belief that people-to-people diplomacy is one of the most effective ways to foster change and promote cooperation globally.

The Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network program offered by the GMF is a valuable initiative for those seeking to make a difference in the world. The program provides fellows with the tools, resources, and connections needed to become effective leaders and work towards creating a more interconnected and inclusive world. By empowering individuals to drive positive change, this fellowship is helping to build a better future for all.