Alumni Highlight: Reuniting with Denver Fellowship hosts and Tackling the U.S. Bar Exam

Written by Ketevan Vashakidze, PFP Spring 2018 Alumna from GeorgiaLawyer at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, Human Rights Division

I am very happy that I managed to visit United States in February 2020, before the Covid -19 pandemic broke out. I had two reasons to go back.

First, I took the Washington DC Jurisdiction Bar exam. A lawyer needs to pass this exam in order to be allowed to practice law in the United States. I successfully passed it and this achievement significantly extends my professional capacity. I will try to make the most of this opportunity and have a larger impact with my work.

Second, after taking the bar exam, I went to Colorado to visit my PFP Spring 2018 host organization – Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice.

With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff
With Colorado Public Safety Department Criminal Justice Division Staff

I was also looking forward to see my host family: Joe Thome, Cynthia Huerta -Thome and our new family member the Golden Retriever Oscar. The reunion in the Denver airport was emotional. Even though, my life is full of adventures and joy, I have not been that happy very often. It felt like returning home. The fact is, my host family has really become my second family.


Host family
With my Host family

Over these two years my host organization Colorado Department of Public Safety has become a strong professional ally, meeting my colleagues was exciting as well. Some of them have been promoted to higher positions, some retired, while others have stayed in their previous occupations. They invited me to attend Colorado Criminal Justice Forum, where 500 stakeholders gathered to plan ways to adopt best Criminal Justice practices, as long as Colorado Justice System has fair ambition to be prominent and highly responsive to contemporary challenges. I had a chance to meet prosecutors, defence counsels, legislators, community representatives, the governor, and many other specialists involved in justice reform. We were all happy to share our stories, exchange our experiences and plan future activities.

I want to thank the American Councils team, PFP program team, Colorado Public Safety Department, my mentor Meg Handel Williams, and my host family Cynthia and Joe  for giving me the opportunity, and supporting and inspiring me to work with my United States colleagues who remain my reliable contacts when it comes to professional advice and support.

With Colorado Senator Pete Lee
With Colorado Senator Pete Lee

Furthering the Fellowship: Public Transportation Project in Ankara

Ali Onuralp Unal, Spring 2019 Fellow from Turkey 

Coordinator of Projects Department of Ankara Municipality

US Foreign Ministry

After the Professional Fellowship program in 2019, Ali Onuralp Unal returned home to Turkey and began working on major projects in the transportation field. While working as a fellow at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Unal contributed to the establishment of bicycle infrastructure under the leadership of Celeste Gilman and Roger Miller. After this experience, he brought new ideas to the Ankara city bike path Project, implemented in 2020. Celeste Gilman, supervisor of Unal in WSDOT, visited Turkey for a bike infrastructure Project in this year.

In addition, Unal worked on improving the public transport system in Ankara. He works closely with United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and suggested an optimisation system Project idea to USTDA. Apart from the established methods, this idea was very different to optimise public transport. Ankara Public Transport Authority will increase the capacity of public transport lines, bus stops, drivers and busses thanks to this optimisation Project.

The project plans to implement analytical modelings and integrations, taking into account population density and mobility to calculate the mobile application. After the Project, it is estimated that public transport efficiency will increase 10% in Ankara. USTDA and Ankara Metropolitan Municipality signed a 1.25 million dollar grant to fund these efforts, and the American company SAS also contributed 1.25 million dollars, totalling 2.5 million dollars for this project to date.

Of his experience in the Professional Fellows Program, Mr. Unal said;

“I applied to the PFP program in 2019 and was selected as a fellow. America experience was unforgettable for me. We had very good memories with my team there. After leaving the US, they published a very good article with my name on the official institution blogs. They explained our work in detail. The important thing was to bring the good practices to my country. This project isone of the results of PFP. As a Turkish citizen, I am happy to serve my country. The Professional Fellowship program has been an important milestone in my life. I recommend this unbelievable program to every Professional. I thank the American Councils and its valuable staff. “

Ali unal

Post-Fellowship Highlights: Applying the PFP Experience

This update was shared by Exan (Salic Sharief Jr.), Spring 2018 YSEALI PFP Fellow from the Philippines

Right after the fellowship, I went back to Mindanao and applied my learning. I partnered with the Philip Morris Foundation Inc. to provide back to school programs to marginalized communities in the region. I also went back to assist in the Marawi Rehabilitation and Recovery effort through work with the Department of Trade and Industry. We provided consultations on the livelihood skills needed and attempted to establish and revive trade centers within communities of internally displaced persons, transitional shelters and tent cities.

Awarding of “Peace Builder of the Year” during the 2018 SDG Champion Awards

In addition, I met with Equal Access International, a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC. We initially conducted formative research on the situation of violent extremism in southern Mindanao and I eventually landed a position as the Senior Program Manager for the start-up country office in Cagayan de Oro. After a few months, I was promoted and I am currently the Country Director of said representative office.

Equal Access International – Philippines team with the US Embassy in Manila Representatives

YSEALI PFP has indeed brought many positive changes because the skills learned during the fellowship were very useful as I finished my political course in the Academy of Political Management within the same year of the PFP. This also brought me more invitations for speaking engagements in inspiring the youth of Mindanao. I also received the award “Peacebuilder of the Year” during the 2018 Young SDG Champion Awards.

YSEALI UrFarm Coffee Project during outreach activity in Mindanao


A Brief Report on New Business Hub: from San Diego to Malaysia

written by Akmal Sabaruddin, Spring ’18 YSEALI PFP Fellow from Malaysia

In spring 2018, I was selected to the YSEALI Economic Empowerment program and I spent my time in San Diego at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and Hera Labs, Sorrento Valley for an attachment under the supervision of Dr. Silvia Mah. With similar academic backgrounds, we were focusing on organizing entrepreneurial program for academics especially for undergraduate students. Other than focusing on the academic training, I was inspired to see the business hub at UCSD which also known as “The Basement”. This hub was designed to provide a space for entrepreneurial activities such as forums, lectures, meeting spaces for investors and for student’s startups to discuss and develop their product before it’s ready for the market. Apart from that, I also spent my time at Hera Labs, Sorrento Valley during my attachment in San Diego. Hera Labs is a business accelerator which empowers women entrepreneurs and startups to scale their businesses. My time with Hera Labs was really an eye opener for me to move forward in helping student’s startups by providing them with good facilities in a safe business environment.

In November 2018, my U.S. outbound project was selected for funding from the U.S. State Department. This was the only opportunity for me to convince the university management team to develop a business hub for student startups. I finally managed to get a space for the business hub from the faculty management team and it will be called as “FSK (Faculty of Health Sciences) Business Hub”. After trying many times and ways in finding grants, finally I got an approval from the university for strategic research funding. This is the golden opportunity for me to take a lead in the development of the faculty business hub. At the moment, the business hub is still undergoing some upgrading process and it is expected to complete by November 2019. I am glad for the opportunity given in the YSEALI PFP program where I can make a change for a better cause and contribute back to the university and the society.

Fingertalk Team Won Grand Prix for Daigaku SDGs Award in Tokyo

written by Dissa Ahdanisa, Spring ’16 YSEALI PFP Fellow from Indonesia

The Fingertalk team, represented by the founder Dissa Ahdanisa, won the first prize, Grand Prix, of Asahi Shimbun annual Daigaku SDGs Action Awards in Tokyo on 20 February 2019. After passing the first round of document application, Fingertalk, representing Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, was selected to be one of 12 finalists.

As suggested by its name, the competition was open to undergraduate, graduate students and researchers from universities all around Japan to come up with ideas that will help achieving any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The goals cover areas such as poverty eradication, high quality education and social justice. Accordingly, finalists ideas ranged from providing educational program for young Japanese students to creating affordable and portable toilet for underprivileged communities in Southeast Asia.

Dissa presented Fingertalk most recent project, Plushindo. It empowers underprivileged Deaf community by creating creative products to support endangered animals in Indonesia. The project was born from the collaboration with Hijrah Saputra from Piyoh Design, who designed the creative product, plushies, modeled after several endangered animals in Indonesia such as orangutan and Komodo dragon.

Last year, supported by New Zealand Embassy, while training the Deaf, the project was able to produce up to 600 plushies and provide educational program to young school children all around Indonesia. Dissa, Hijrah and Fingertalk team hopes by winning Daigaku SDGs Award, the project will be able to expand and create opportunities for more Deaf people in Indonesia.

The award was given by Mr. Ishida Ichiro, Marketing director of Asahi Shimbun as the lead judge. He mentioned that the project has a potential to expand globally and to sustain in the coming years. Dissa dedicates the win to all of the Deaf crew who has worked hard and hoped that it can act as a bridge for Japan and Indonesia. “It is definitely a step to eradicate social inequalities. We will work hard to create more impact in the world. Ganbarimasu!”

dissa and hijrah fingertalk