Marika Kurdadze ’09
Akhaltsikhe, Georgia/Roscommon, MI
Mariam Malidze ’11 (Georgian High School Exchange program alumna)
I regularly check my mail, as most of you probably do, but the thing is that I find the mailbox full of new opportunities. That is a secret FLEX alumni share. On that day one email especially caught my attention, “FLEX-Ability IV”, which as I’d heard from fellow alumni, was an amazing experience. Well, let’s see, I applied and… here I come, one of the participants of the conference, who was selected among other outstanding alumni to take part in the regional initiative. And here my four-day adventure begins…
The fourth annual South Caucasus FLEX-Ability Workshop was held February 14-17, 2013 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Fifty four FLEX alumni from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan gathered together at the Vere Palace Hotel to discuss prospective project ideas, develop their leadership skills and thus, contribute to the development of their communities across the South Caucasus region.
After witnessing three years of successful experiences, the U.S. Embassies of Armenia and Georgia agreed to fund the workshop again and it became possible to bring another FLEX-Ability Workshop to life. Special thanks go to American Councils Country Directors Elvira Dana, Tyson Lemons and the entire Georgia Office led by Timothy Blauvelt, Kristi Milorava, and Marika Kurdadze for hosting and arranging every detail of the conference.
Participants were actively involved in different sessions and trainings during all four days. On the first day the alumni from each country introduced themselves through presentations and videos describing FLEX alumni life in their countries. You could easily feel the pride, honor and sense of unity around.
The conference agenda included workshops that covered topics such as Leadership Skills, Key Competences and Leader as a Follower. The alumni also discussed the characteristics of a leader and did the self-evaluation tests during the sessions led by amazing FLEX alumni – Tamar Shermadini (Georgia), Ayan Salayeva (Azerbaijan) and Shahen Mailyan (Armenia).
The main focus of FLEX-Ability, however, was the Project Design and Management sessions. Throughout the workshop we worked in small groups with Peace Corps Volunteer Trainers – Caroline, Julie and Jonathan – and learned how to create and implement successful projects, what are the best ways of involving community and the most important – how to make our projects sustainable. As a result, three completely different project ideas were developed by alumni. In the end, we presented the ideas and expressed the willingness to turn them into grant proposals and apply for FLEX Alumni grants.
During the conference, we were honored to have a guest speaker Sergi Kapanadze (founder of a think tank, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, also a FLEX and UGRAD alumnus) talk about the importance of being young leaders. He shared his experience as an exchange student. Among the useful and valuable advice that he gave the alumni during his inspiring speech, the most memorable one for me was the phrase “The worst question you ask is the question you don’t ask!”
The highlights of the event also include the visit of the Ambassador of the United States to Georgia Richard Norland. The Ambassador welcomed the young leaders, congratulating them on being successful and wishing everyone luck in the future. He encouraged them to take the lead and use the experience they gained in the United States to have a positive impact on their communities. Ambassador Norland also enjoyed answering the questions and hearing some stories from alumni.
On the last day we had the chance to meet Mary Shea, FLEX Alumni program manager via Skype. She greeted the FLEX alumni and introduced plans connected to the 20th anniversary of FLEX program including the $20 challenge, which inspired the alumni to come up with some creative ideas.
Besides the official and academic part, alumni from Armenia and Azerbaijan were able to discover various aspects of Georgian culture by visiting the restaurant where they tasted traditional Georgian cuisine and having a Tbilisi city tour. As a host I felt proud. This conference didn’t only give the FLEXers knowledge and skills about different topics but it helped us to socialize with each other, build friendships and exchange our knowledge and experiences.
Alumni from South Caucasus agreed altogether that FLEX-Ability is about connecting people, forming friendships, gaining experience and having fun! It’s about achieving a clearer understanding of cultural diversity and similarities in the South Caucasus region and realizing the responsibility our generation has in changing things for better.
It is the event with a huge impact that has to be continued in the future! Now I definitely feel lucky!
“FLEX (-Ability) unites us”