Learning to be Better at Doing Good:

Reflections on The Racing Upwards Fellowship

Back in April, 2022 Racing Upwards Fellows, Diana Angeret and Emma Orefuwa, talked us through what brought them to the fellowship and what they hoped to gain from their time with The Athena Advisors. Now, six months later, they co-author a reflection on what this time has meant for them and what’s next.

Diana Angeret, writes:

I recall exactly where I was when I received the email congratulating me as one of two fellows selected for the Racing Upwards Fellowship at The Athena Advisors. Following my initial pleasant surprise, that I had applied as myself and been accepted, I looked up the other fellow: Emma Orefuwa! That was a terrible idea. She is a force to be reckoned with.
Self-doubt set in. What if they realise they have made a mistake?

I gathered my thoughts and told myself: you are doing it. And, as Robin always says: “you can do hard things”. And so, I did.

As the fellowship comes to a close, I feel like a completely different person. I started the fellowship hoping to learn how to raise funds for an idea I had and, hopefully, for the non-profits I work with, while contemplating a career change. I ended up with a new career path and then some.

I first realised I had changed after I attended one of the firm’s powerful capacity-building sessions: Food for Thought, Poetry for Social Justice. This was something I had never experienced in any work environment. I was at peace with the fact that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer. That I am not disappointing my parents, both lawyers, by taking a different path.

The fellowship is very hands on and coming from a place of ignorance about what fundraising was, I am glad we were the two of us. Emma and I exchanged messages several times during the fellowship after having eureka moments. This was mostly due to the wonderful people Robin introduced us to. They have influenced our decisions and given us a new perspective on life. It was always so delightful to have teammates who wanted you to win and wanted you to do well.

I had always enjoyed reading and researching and I just didn’t know how many other ways I could apply this skill. The Racing Upwards Fellowship at The Athena Advisors Consulting taught me to view fundraising as a journey and a way to literally change the world for good. That is what I want to do; I have a new sense of purpose and am prepared to do more. I simply didn’t know how before.

Emma Orefuwa writes:

As my good friend and expert fundraiser, James Newell, always says: ‘fundraising is not difficult to do, but it’s easy to get wrong’. He’s not mistaken. Fundraising in third-sector organisations is often a scrambled effort, with staff and boards frantically trying to raise impossible sums of money in the shortest time, usually after it’s dawned on them that jobs and operations are at risk. If it’s so stressful, why on earth would someone choose to be a fundraiser? I knew there were better ways of fundraising and hoped that the Racing Upwards Fellowship would demystify them. I wanted to build my skills and capability to fundraise for any cause, in a plethora of ways, from anywhere I happened to be in the world. The Racing Upwards Fellowship has equipped me to do just that, and so much more.

The fellowship has been involved and fully immersive. Right from the outset, we served as core members of the team, simultaneously learning and executing activities with clients and colleagues on some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time.

One of the highlights of the fellowship has been the various opportunities I have had to meet with and learn from, high-powered individuals who are doing phenomenal work in the realm of philanthropy.  While I have benefited immensely from networking during my career, the connections made during our fellowship took on a different tack. They were carefully thought out, planned for, open exchanges, often masterclasses in operational excellence, always inspiring. Many a time Diana and I reveled in debriefing on the golden nuggets we had picked up from top-performing people who had found ways to navigate a space that can at times be challenging.

Embarking on the fellowship with Diana Angeret has been a joy. We have been pillars of support for each other while finding our footing in the world of prospect research, donor engagement and client advisory.

During this fellowship, we have been challenged to think more holistically about giving, and the importance of reflecting on every aspect of our human experience to make us better agents of change in society.

The Racing Upwards Fellowship targets communities of colour and is a much-needed initiative in a sector woefully lacking in diversity. Until the Racing Upwards Fellowship, Diana nor I had met a professional black fundraiser. Our time with The Athena Advisors has afforded us the opportunity to initiate relationships that will be sustained beyond our fellowship, which will in turn enable us to support other underrepresented groups within our networks, who are passionate about fundraising and non-profit management.

We both entered this fellowship at a time of uncertainty about where we were heading professionally, but with the conviction that we would use this experience to be better at doing good.

The Racing Upwards Fellowship has provided a platform for us to do just that, and do it well.