Developing Strong Leaders and Building Stronger Communities Through the Pathy Foundation Fellowship

Oct 22, 2022 | #YouthAdultPartnership, #YouthVoice

by Jessica Franko |

The Pathy Foundation Fellowship is a community-focused experiential learning program designed to optimize the personal and professional growth of young change-makers. Since 2015, the Pathy Foundation Fellowship has been supporting emerging leaders in delivering impact in their communities, while building competencies that will serve them for life. The Fellowship is designed for undergraduate or masters level students from participating universities, under 30 years of age, in the year immediately following their graduation.  

The year-long program begins with a 3-month training period (both on-campus and distance), where Fellows are introduced to leading principles, practices, tools, and philosophies of leadership, project management, and community development. Throughout the program, Pathy Fellows plan, design, and implement an innovative project in a community they have a meaningful connection with. Pathy Fellows also have access to international professional networks, gain technical project support from leading development practitioners, are provided with generous funding, participate in building and maintaining robust peer support systems, and receive dedicated, ongoing, and individualized support through one-on-one leadership coaching and other resources. 

The Coady Institute’s innovative and blended approach to asset-based community-driven development is integrated throughout the program. The program’s educational methods also incorporate a participant-focused, flexible learning agenda underpinned by strong adult education principles, technical expertise, and various supports to optimize project impact, and personal and professional learning and growth. 


Key Youth Engagement Strategies 

Supported Autonomy. Fellows are afforded significant flexibility to optimize their opportunity for learning and growth, whilst being offered sufficient guiding support to create a safe and supportive environment to progress efficiently and effectively through the Fellowship. This approach to learning in the program is called ‘supported autonomy,’ where Fellows are trusted and respected as emerging leaders in undertaking the responsibilities of the Fellowship, while also having access to flexible guidance and resources to work through the inevitable challenges faced throughout the Fellowship experience. Supported autonomy is a central approach of the Fellowship, enabling Fellows to self-determine the direction of their Fellowship journey, and make autonomous decisions, enhancing their self-efficacy and confidence as leaders. 

What does this look like in practice? 

    • Flexibility in determining project priorities, tasks, and activities 
    • Self-directed learning in the Community Phase 
    • Ability to self-define and identify personal and professional development goals and intentions 
    • Control over the creation of supportive routines 
    • Control of a $40,000 Fellowship budget, with ongoing financial guidance and support 
    • Fellow-driven approach 
    • Opportunity to treat the Fellowship year as a ‘sandbox,’ within which Fellows can ‘test’ their values, skills, knowledge, and approaches in practice 

The concept of “supported autonomy” in the Pathy Fellowship can be likened to the idea of the conical wire cages designed to support tomato plants as they grow. Just as tomato plants receive more and closer support in the early stages of their growth, with more freedom as they grow upwards and out of the cone, so Fellows benefit from significant supportive structures early on, with that support gradually broadening to accommodate Fellows’ own level of comfort and sense of autonomy as the Fellowship progresses. The support is there if they need it, but it does not interfere with their independent learning and growth.” (Adam Baden-Clay, Coady Institute Youth Programs Coordinator) 

Experiential Learning. The Fellowship is a predominantly experiential opportunity. The major component of the Fellowship is the nine-month Community Phase, where Fellows enter their respective communities and begin implementing their projects. The emphasis on experiential learning in the Fellowship enables Fellows to practice and gain new skills, deepen their learning, solidify their values, and develop as active and effective agents of change. The experiential implementation of Fellow projects during the Community Phase is complemented by periodic reflection, in the form of coaching calls with the program’s leadership development coach, check-ins with the program coordinator, and the submission of comprehensive reflection pieces. 

What does this look like in practice? 

    • Fellows are actively engaged in learning through hands-on experience 
    • Fellows pursue self-identified goals, and assume responsibility for their learning 
    • Fellows are autonomous decision-makers, and are supported through robust distance-based peer-and-program supports 

Peer-to-Peer and Professional Mentorship & Support. Peer support and professional mentorship opportunities increase Fellows’ accountability to each other, enhance Fellow ownership over the learning space, and accelerate professional growth. During the Fellowship, Fellows engage in multiple layers of peer support, including Triads, Cohort calls, and Alumnx engagement. Triads are small group pairings of Fellows that exist within the larger Cohort structure – this leadership model has proved to be very successful for peer-to-peer support and coaching. Each small group is comprised of three or four Fellows, who can provide informal support to each other (as required) and who meet/communicate regularly to discuss goals, strategies, approaches, leadership opportunities, concerns, challenges and developmental opportunities. Fellows also have the opportunity to work closely with Coady staff members and associates who act as knowledgeable supports for project development, idea stimulation and network access; these staff members are experienced practitioners in their field who Fellows are able to contact on a one-on-one basis for technical support and expertise throughout project planning and implementation. In the past, Coady Staff members and associates have acted as project consultants, aiding with sustainability, community dynamics, project activity development and other forms of guidance. These professional pairings are determined and driven by Fellows. 

What does this look like? 

    • Fellows are tasked with monitoring the learning environment, ensuring that their peers are safe, comfortable, and engaged 
    • Fellows periodically assume rotating leadership roles to maintain and strengthen Cohort bonds, and increase Fellow ownership of the learning space 
    • Fellows meet periodically with each other in small groups and as a Cohort to offer and gain meaningful peer support 
    • Fellows are introduced to Alumnx at various points throughout the Fellowship to encourage inter-cohort connections 
    • Fellows self-select and work with Resource People on areas relevant to the growth and success of their project and professional development 

Since 2015, we have continued to review our programming, processes, approaches and curriculum to ensure that we are able to optimally support Fellows on their journey throughout the year they spend in the Fellowship. Most importantly, we have found that the classroom environment with the Pathy Fellowship becomes a container within which a sense of community can be developed, where Fellows have an opportunity to connect and practice their community-building in an authentic and meaningful way based on their shared values. The learning environment of the Fellowship attempts to reflect a world that we aspire to, causing a shift in Fellows’ understandings of what is possible, and modelling different ways of building and sustaining community. We do this through practicing authenticity, accountability, and acceptance, and by keeping relationship-building as a central and dedicated feature of the program. 

“The Fellowship provided me with several resources and newfound friends that helped support my growth as a leader and community change maker. The in-depth training, life coaching, appreciative interviewing, and asset-based community development that the Fellowship allotted helped me as a leader develop a well-rounded understanding of how to work with the community to instill change and growth.” (Giovanni Akeson, 2019-2020 Pathy Fellow)

At the time of writing this, I have experienced the Fellowship in a multitude of ways: first as a Fellow (2019-20), as the Fellowship’s Program Assistant (2020-22), and as the Coordinator of the program (present). In all of these roles, what I have found most striking about this program is its wholehearted support of young people. In a society where youth are often taught that we do not have the agency or breadth of experience to lead or contribute to meaningful change, the program’s trust and unwavering belief in young people is refreshing, to say the least. At the Pathy Fellowship, we believe that youth are not only well-equipped to lead, but are also some of the most creative members of our society in identifying, mobilizing, and innovating solutions to complex realities. As a ‘learning program,’ we are in a constant state of evolution, to maximize the potential of this opportunity and remain relevant to the shifting landscapes of youth leadership. It has been an immense privilege to work alongside youth enacting change in their communities – to see them crystallize their values, embrace the love they have for their communities, find joy in the work they do, and enact their hope for the future, is a truly inspiring thing. 


Interested in learning more about the Pathy Foundation Fellowship? 

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      Jessica Franko

      Jessica Franko

      Coady Institute - Coordinator, Youth Programs


      Jessica Franko joined the Coady Institute in June 2020 as the Pathy Foundation Fellowship Program Assistant, before transitioning to the role of Coordinator, Youth Programs in June 2022. Prior to this, Jessica completed her own Pathy Foundation Fellowship (formerly OceanPath) in 2019-20, where she worked with two adult empowerment groups and their corporate partners in the Okavango Delta Panhandle and in Maun, Botswana. Her Pathy project worked within the scope of livelihoods in the eco-tourism value-chain using an Asset-Based Community-Driven lens to community capacity and relationship-building. Jessica received a BAH medial in Global Development and Political Studies from Queen’s University in 2019, and is currently completing a Master’s of Adult Education and Community Development at St. Francis Xavier University