From Upwey to the U.S.A: A wonderful professional and personal journey

Matthew Clarke

Published 27/7/2018 in

By Matthew Clarke, 2017 Fulbright Professional Scholar in Non-Profit Leadership

Over the last decade, 400 natural disasters have killed more than 100,000 people and affected a further 120 million annually. The international community provides tens of billions of dollars to assist local communities impacted by these humanitarian emergencies. Increasing the professionalization of leaders and managers of humanitarian disasters is critical to ensure the most effective recovery of communities and countries as well as the most efficient use of resources.

I was extremely fortunate to be awarded the 2017/8 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership in order to better understand how the humanitarian sector works in the US and share the work occurring in Australia at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) – a joint initiative of Deakin university and Save the Children Australia.

My Fulbright program was split over two sites. The first location was Boston, whilst the second location was in Washington DC. Both these locations allowed me the opportunity to work alongside an array of institutions and individuals that have expertise that directly touches upon the work being undertaken at Deakin’s CHL.

Whilst in Boston, I spent time at Tufts University’s Feinstein Centre for International Affairs and the Harvard Humanitarian Academy. Both academic institutions provided opportunities to better understand how the CHL at Deakin might evolve over time. The Feinstein Centre has been in operation for 25 years whilst the Harvard Humanitarian Academy is less then 10 years old. Both institutes undertake research and teaching. Whilst at both institutions, I was able to discuss the need for the CHL to develop its own research agenda and seek advice as to how this might occur. Members from both institutions were very keen to assist and provide expert advice and support. It was also evident from visiting these two centres and observing their teaching that the teaching programs at the CHL are world class. This means that when seeking international collaborations and partnerships in this sphere that we can do so with confidence and knowledge that we are actually adding value.

During the second phase, I was in Washington DC, I was hosted by the Humanitarian Business Group within Save the Children US. Given Deakin’s very strong relationship with Save the Children Australia, it made sense to extend this existing institutional relationship by spending time with US colleagues. In addition to meeting a rage of humanitarian workers and leaders at Save US, I was also able to make contacts with colleagues in an array of other aid agencies, including Mercy Corp, World Vision, Relief International as well as USAID and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Across these meetings, I better understood the humanitarian sector in the US and possible opportunities for cross-country work.

Over the course of my 25-year work career, I have not had such an experience that equates to this Scholarship. In addition to the length of time away from ‘normal’ duties, which has allowed a certain level of refection and planning, the Fulbright scholarship has brought me into contact with people I would normally not be able to access. This access has increased the information I have been able to receive and heightened the level of conversation I have been able to participate in. I now have a list of contacts in the Humanitarian sector that I can now confidently draw upon in the ongoing development and building of the CHL. During the three months away, I have been able to assess my professional career and the impact I have made and the impact I would like to make in the future. I return to Australia even more sure that the work being undertaken at the CHL is valuable and of world class. I return wanting to extend its influence and its impact within the humanitarian sector.

Separate to these professional experiences, I have been very fortunate to have had my family with me over the course of the Scholarship. This was perhaps the main reason I was able to consider applying for the Scholarship. Had they not been able to accompany me, it would have been impossible to spend this much time away. We had the most wonderful experiences as a family – from Christmas in New York, to a weekend at a snow resort, to visiting historical Civil War battle sites to attending NBA and NFL games to watching our 9-year old daughter step onto an iconic yellow School bus each day on the way to school! Of course, not all experiences where positive: all our children required additional immunization shots to be eligible to attend School. We found our way to the local health clinic and the two younger children received their needles without incident. However, soon after our 17-year old daughter received her needle, she stood up and promptly fainted – She fell face first onto the floor! There was blood everywhere as she had split her nose open. As I cradled her (trying to avoid the blood), our 9 year old daughter then fainted. So, I was holding one child, whilst my wife held another. Very soon we were surrounded by 6 paramedics and some very concerned health clinic nurses!. Seeing inside an ambulance and emergency ward was not high on our ‘to do’ list, but all ended well with the 17 year old fronting up to School the next day – with two black eyes!!

All of these experiences have been remarkable and only possible through the generous support of this Scholarship. It has changed the way I understand my own professional sector, but just as importantly it has enhanced my entire family’s understanding of the US and the relationship between our two nations. It has been career and life changing.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au