Talitha Goldmann-Kefalas is the first German fellow of the Next Generation Leaders program. With the one-year fellowship at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in the US, she is preparing for her leadership action plan in Germany, where she wants to establish new ways to integrate female refugees in society. In the interview, Goldmann-Kefalas explains what Germany and the US can learn from each other in refugee work.
Ms. Talitha Goldmann-Kefalas, what is your experience with the work of the Institute so far, and what are the quality characteristics of the fellowship program?
As I see it, the McCain Institute for International Leadership with its Next Generation Leaders (NGL) program is a unique and comprehensive executive program in various respects: Due to my profession in “Social Work as a Human Rights Profession” I have found the focus on servant leadership and on value-based and character-driven leadership particularly appealing. I haven’t found an equally sound and comprehensive approach in any other leadership program so far.
A particular quality characteristic for me is the management and execution of the training program by Ambassador Polt and General Freakley. As experienced executives, they create transparency while representing an exemplary, value-based understanding of leadership as opposed to the sense of entitlement that is considered outdated these.
“I want to continue to learn from and with other leaders in the global network, and initiate value-based change as a servant leader.”
They support every single participant and encourage everybody with their different professional and national backgrounds to give their best and actively initiate positive change. As the training leaders, they encourage participants to develop an authentic style of leadership and invest in personal development.
What goals do you hope to achieve by the end of the fellowship?
The program’s main objective is for participants to actively advance their leadership skills and understanding of leadership and consequently, to initiate positive change in society. This progress should be demonstrated, among other things, in the implementation of the developed project. The goal is to gradually implement the Leadership Action Plan (LAP). My personal goal is to fully incorporate the theoretical and practical learning experiences by the end of the program year and to know that I am well prepared for my planned project in Germany. As the fellowship with the McCain Institute continues beyond the actual one-year program, I also want to continue to learn from and with other leaders in the global network, to stay grounded and to not lose sight of the practical application, and initiate value-based change as a servant leader.
What will be the next steps after your return to Germany, and how are you planning to share the skills you have gained during the fellowship?
In order to implement my LAP project, I am already working on setting up a sound organizational framework. I have learned a lot about the NGO landscape in Germany over the years and am aware that there may be considerably more barriers and challenges to overcome in implementing my project than would be the case in the US. In this context especially sound financing, good and effective teamwork as well as networking are key components to sustainable change. It is one aspect to co-develop with experts an innovative and target-group-oriented project for and with female refugees. The project shall be focused on women with migration experience and pool resources for their holistic and sustainable integration through a broad network. To accomplish this, I am planning to apply online and blended learning tools. The aim of the project is to identify and meet the needs in the field of refugee integration.
Another aspect is to find bold partners, willing to join and shape this journey, to significantly improve holistic and sustainable integration for the target group. I look forward to seeing which cooperation options will arise in the weeks to come and what news I will be able to share three months from now.
Half of your fellowship time and your stay at the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix, Arizona is over. At this point, what would you say Germany can learn from the US? And what can the US learn from Germany about working with refugees?
Now that I have learned more about working with refugees here in the US, I am even more aware of the wide range of freedom, rights, and support options available to the target group in Germany. I think it’s very important to provide people seeking refuge with safety and future opportunities. Compared to Germany, the time period and financial leeway for truly arriving in the US is much more limited. It is not rare for financial support to run out after only a few weeks, as refugees are required to accept work offers, irrespective of their command of English. Precarious work, lack of language skills and housing in disadvantaged neighborhoods are rather the rule than the exception. From what I’ve experienced I would argue that, as far as these things go, Germany is much better aligned with the needs of individuals and the goal of sustainable integration than the US – even though there is still plenty of work to do in Germany as well, especially in regard to ensuring reliable integrative structures and integration monitoring. It is also essential to invest early on in professional social work on the frontline.
“I am convinced that norms and values play a key role in integration”
A key difference between the integration approach in the US compared to Germany can be “read between the lines”. I have met refugees, both in private and professional settings, who are “proud to be American”, based on fundamental values and norms. This attitude is almost inconceivable in Germany. At least I have not encountered it there yet. Nevertheless, I am convinced that norms and values play a key role in integration, and I would say that conveying norms and values in integration activities in Germany was not pursued seriously enough. Which is why I think it’s important to initiate a discourse on values, both on the local and national levels, to provide transparency about and convey aspects of the German core culture. German society has to rise to the challenge of discussing values again, without instigating fear that this might undermine our understanding of tolerance. Therefore politics should create safe spaces on the local level and at educational institutions and provide the required resources.
You have been living in Arizona for several months now. What have been your most surprising encounters during your fellowship?
It’s warm! Actually, it is hot here pretty much all year and there have been only a few rainy days so far. But most of all, people are warm too, open for conversation and genuinely curious. I have encountered the “superficial friendliness”, often associated with the US, much less than people who are attentive and open to all kinds of good discussions.
Other than that, I was shocked to see the extreme poverty of many people in Phoenix. Over 25,000 people here in Maricopa County are homeless and many of them have no social safety net to rely on. But considering that Phoenix is also home to the ASU, the most innovative university in the US, and to the many helpful people I have met here, I am hopeful that “changemakers” can also be found in this field, ready to step up and initiate sustainable change for the lives of these people. I have tried to do my bit during my time here too, taking time for them and listening to them…and sometimes more practical: handing out bags with food, sanitary items and a greeting card to encourage them. It’s so important to deliberately take some time for these kind of personal encounters in our fast-paced lives! That’s another area where I had the privilege to learn a lot.