By Elham Ali (YES 2008 - 2009, Bahrain, hosted by Aspect in Menomonie, WI)
It’s always fun to speak with YES alumni who were members of an earlier cohort, and ask them to reflect on their experiences as an exchange student, how YES impacted who they are today, and the way the program influenced their career choices. Elham Ali, a YES alumna from Bahrain, takes a moment to reflect on how experiences such as joining a hockey team, developing an unsuccessful prototype, and simply living in Wisconsin were all valuable life lessons.
“As an exchange student at Menomonie, Wisconsin I challenged myself to try things out of my comfort zone. I tried out for the varsity hockey team at Menomonie and played the entire season; keep in mind I was born and bred in the Middle East with minimal skating experience. The entire experience playing hockey in a team taught me the importance to dare greatly and to continue to be curious about the world around me. It also taught me to be loyal to a team and the community you serve, and that forging relationships takes time and trust. Most importantly, it taught me perseverance. Later in life this became an essential lesson because good causes, especially social changes in the communities I serve, require dedication and careful planning.
“When I was an exchange student, I took an architectural engineering class in Wisconsin and encountered my first failed prototype for a class project. It stung a lot given I was raised in an environment that cherishes perfection. It taught me to be vulnerable, yet brave. Humble, yet assertive in my decision-making throughout my personal life and career. While on the YES program, I learned that it’s ok to fail and make mistakes, and to continuously learn and grow.
“Some of my experiences as an exchange student gave me the courage that was necessary for my work as a project manager in international trade working with high-level diplomats and international teams. In times of uncertainty, I leaped afraid and dived into courage. This is never more so true when I decided to enter the tech world, teach myself coding and build my own company.
“Since graduating from the YES program in 2009, I have worked on causes in public health, healthcare, social justice, and technology. My mission is to develop health-related products and services that help improve population decision-making and widen informed choices. I’ve worked in global health projects in various developing countries like Kenya, Uganda, and India. One of my favorite professional experiences was when I was a project manager, leading the launch of a joint microfinance and educational mentorship program for HIV-affected youth in Kenya with Omega Foundation and Harvard University. The program aimed to increase the wellbeing and livelihood of 100+ orphaned HIV- affected youths in Kisumu district. I collaborated with public and private partners like Kiva Zip to create a robust microfinance model and built a monitoring and evaluation system to track stakeholder progress and measure outcomes. In Uganda I worked to increase financial empowerments for 60+ female loan borrowers. Even in the U.S. I’ve assisted in the successful renewal of a $1.6M statewide clinical education initiative at the New York State Department of Health serving 18,000 physicians. I’m humbled to have opportunities to work in multiple communities serving vulnerable populations, such as improving marketing campaigns.”
Learn more about the projects Elham has worked on at this link, and read more in depth about her journey to where she is today here.