Leah Denise Wyatt: Supporting Organizational Change for USAID in Uganda

Leah Denise Wyatt (Capstone 2015) wanted to work “at the nexus of research and development,” and the School of Professional Studies’ Information and Knowledge Strategy graduate program helped her achieve her dreams, by equipping her for a job in Kampala, Uganda.

She describes herself as “a believer in human ability to reach full potential using a combination of talent, discipline, and passion.” She goes on to say, “I find joy in being a resource in my organization that connects people to knowledge and information they can act on." Working as a Learning Fellow for the United States Agency for International Development, she is able to bring that ethos to Africa, creating strategy that will improve the organization’s focus.

Wyatt is at the beginning of a new career path, and in an email interview, she tells us how she got to her new venture.

When you were applying to graduate school, were you hoping to work abroad?

Absolutely. I knew I wanted to work in sub-Saharan Africa when I was applying to graduate school. My determination to work on the continent is almost all I talked about in my statement of academic purpose.

My career began as a communication specialist for community affairs in urban development. I was then exposed to international health system development while collaborating in research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a knowledge management specialist. Combined, these experiences positioned me to work at the nexus of research and international development. I began to see the possibility in listening to communities with an aim toward understanding the change they want to see, and how I can call on knowledge to assist.

When and where were you a student at SPS?

I was an SPS student in Information and Knowledge Strategy Master of Science Program from August 2014 - March 2016, based in Washington, DC at the time.

What is your position in Uganda, and what work are you doing?

As the United States Agency for International Development Learning Fellow in Uganda, I advance strategic learning by identifying opportunities to examine the impact of decisions made in project design and project implementation. Right now, I am communicating implications of a new five-year strategy on the organization’s structure. The strategy responds to a dynamic operating environment and requires the organization to be more collaborative, nimble, and responsive. I am also capturing mission-critical knowledge from outgoing staff, and transferring it among incoming staff to boost the likelihood of a successful transition.

How did your coursework help in your position?

I constantly refer to my Networks and Collaboration coursework. I convene conversation and elicit knowledge to reveal solutions to challenges faced in development. I also find myself referring to papers I wrote during my studies with IKNS. I made recommendations derived from my analyses using the IKNS frameworks. These inform my action today.

What was the path to this job?

I moved to Washington, DC from North Carolina to support organizational change in United States Agency for International Development. I worked with a team to design a program that would bring specific and discreet analytical capability into the Agency, in addition to improving institutional policies and guidance. When we introduced the Learning Fellows program for the first time, I decided to pursue the role of a Fellow so that I could model it for the Agency and future Fellow candidates.

Could you share a specific story about your Columbia Information and Knowledge Strategy Master’s? Do you have any memorable events?

I seem to have memories of overwhelming ‘feelings’ in moments of events. The most memorable feeling I call to memory was during our second residency. John Stepper, author of "Working Out Loud," had just finished a talk, and I tweeted, “I’m having that feeling of knowing that everything I’ve learned and experienced has led to this very moment.” That was followed by two illuminating and deeply intellectual, yet digestible and approachable talks by Institute for Knowledge Management co-founder Larry Prusak, and Nancy Dixon of Common Knowledge Associates.

In that moment, my entire being stepped out of “wandering about,” into “knowing without doubt.” In that moment every life experience, path, hope, dream, and desire intersected, and I was in the middle of it all. I left empowered and inspired to apply my new-found knowledge in support of African change-makers.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy at Columbia University.