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On October 13, 2023, Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Naasu Genevieve Fofanah, Binbin Wang, and Janah Ncube–hailing from Sierra Leone, China, and Zimbabwe, respectively–joined Dwight Hall for a panel on the topic of “Navigating Social Impact Careers.” They shared the pivotal experiences, challenges, and life lessons that have guided their advocacy, highlighting their unique pathways to careers in public service.
This event was brought to students, staff, and local community members by Dwight Hall’s Alumni Mentorship & Career Development (AM&CD) Task Force, which strives to make the Hall a hub of information, mentorship, and networking for current students and alumni interested in public service, social justice, and related careers.
The task force is a part of the Grow pillar of Dwight Hall’s program delivery, which is organized around three principles: Engage, Grow, and Advance. Under Grow, the task force develops students’ intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest with interactive panels, workshops, and networking opportunities.
More than 25 students and community members gathered in the Dwight Hall Library to participate in the panel moderated by Caitlin Monsky ’24, Chair of the AM&CD Task Force and Alumni Engagement Coordinator on the 2023 Dwight Hall Student Executive Committee.
Panelists Naasu, Binbin, and Janah are members of the 2023 cohort of the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program, which is a four-month, full-time residential program based at Yale’s International Leadership Center and housed within the Jackson School of Global Affairs. World Fellows contribute to Yale’s intellectual life, give talks and participate on panels, collaborate with peers, audit classes, and mentor students. The program has also been a boon to Dwight Hall; Abdul-Rehman Malik, who came to Yale as a 2017 World Fellow, later joined Dwight Hall as the Founding Director of the Muslim Leadership Lab.
Naasu is a Sierra Leonean entrepreneur and author with extensive gender and global public policy experience. An award-winning women’s and girls’ rights activist, she has championed controversial issues globally, including launching Susue Women’s Finance during the COVID-19 pandemic to influence government policy on women’s access to finance and serving as Sierra Leone’s first Special Gender Adviser to ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Binbin is a Chinese climate activist and social scientist who offers extensive expertise on global climate governance and policy. She co-founded the China Center for Climate Change Communication, a local think tank, to conduct national surveys investigating the public’s perception of the climate, the key findings of which were picked up by China’s National White Paper and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Janah hails from Zimbabwe as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Crisis Action, a global organization working on the protection of civilians in conflict. Her work as a global development strategist has informed systems and structural changes to multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the United Nations and has saved lives over 15 crisis situations across the world. She also advocates for democratic governance in Zimbabwe.
During the panel, the Fellows cited many inspirations for their commitment to public service and fighting for the common good. Binbin noted that when she began working with Oxfam, an international humanitarian and anti-poverty organization, in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, she was motivated by a desire to help ordinary people who had been impacted by the disaster. This initial step into humanitarian work opened the door to her work on climate policy and research, which began soon after. “I learned that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but also a development issue. And if we address climate change, we can also help gender injustice and issues like biodiversity protection.”
Naasu and Janah expressed how their callings chose them, not the other way around. “For me, I didn’t have a choice,” emphasized Naasu. “The only answer was to put myself forward not just to contribute to my country, but also to the Commonwealth, the African Union, and to global public service… ”
Janah noted that while she started her career as an accountant, she “did her social activism by night, because there are things that you will find you just cannot not do. For me, I couldn’t not fight for my rights and the rights of others.” This conviction began at an early age, when she witnessed the “indignities of poverty and injustice in [her] community” and the intersecting gender injustices she faced as a girl and woman.
On the topic of the greatest lessons they have learned in their careers, the panelists emphasized the necessity of humility, being excellent, and grounding yourself as you embark on your work.
“Having humility, being able to listen, and viewing life as a continuous learning process have been very important lessons for me,” noted Naasu. “I went to university at 31 as a single parent, and finished at 36. I have not achieved what I have today solely because of my academic credentials, but because of my experiences and also my willingness to admit I don’t know everything.”
Janah’s greatest lesson was deceptively simple: be excellent. “As a person who often came in as the only woman in a male-dominated space, or the only Black person or the only African person, or even the youngest person, I learned that when you are excellent at what you do and you deliver excellent results, people may have opinions, but they can’t argue with that.”
Binbin highlighted the importance of self-awareness and reflection when progressing in one’s career. “Keep asking yourself the three key questions,” she advised. “Who you are, where you come from, and where you would like to go.”
The panelists also reflected on the greatest challenges they faced in their careers. Naasu detailed the backlash she received as the first Special Gender Adviser to Sierra Leone’s then-president. “It was a positive disruption of the status quo, and people really did not like that,” she recalled. “It does get very painful when people call you names or try to degrade your experience, but in public service you have to be prepared for these kinds of situations… You overcome that by being true to your calling and being a top player of your game. I used the power of knowledge to fight back against inequalities and those that made me feel small.”
Janah recalled being jailed for her activism in Zimbabwe. While her incarceration was undoubtedly painful, Janah emphasized that members of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (of which Janah was Chairperson at the time) rallied at the police station from morning until evening, demanding to see their leader released and unharmed. “When you take other people with you through these struggles, you are no longer representing your personal struggle, but a people’s struggle,” she noted.
Dwight Hall extends gratitude to Naasu, Binbin, and Janah and looks forward to partnering with the Jackson School of Global Affairs for future events aimed at exposing students to careers in public service.