WHO IS TONIA WELLONS?
Tonia Wellons has successfully straddled international development and locally oriented community-based development with full intention, skillfully borrowing lessons from one and applying them to the other. With 18 years of development experience, spanning senior leadership roles at the World Bank Group — to social entrepreneur for a community-based social fund that she founded — Tonia is skilled in leading global development alliances, managing multi-donor operations, and engaging local communities.
Tonia currently serves as Associate Director, Office of Strategic Partnerships for the Peace Corps and is responsible for leading the agency’s partnerships with government, the private sector, international NGO’s, and the broader volunteer-sending community. The OSP team is tasked with facilitating strategic opportunities that advance Peace Corps’ mission and the role of volunteerism as a tool for development.
Tonia served as Fund Manager for CGAP, a multi-donor initiative focused on financial access and inclusion, housed at the World Bank Group. She spent a significant part of her career working on USAID-funded capacity development initiatives during the immediate post-apartheid era in South Africa. Her work in South Africa with local government associations and City Managers (in the US and South Africa) successfully led to a pipeline of local talent for municipal leadership during this new democracy’s most significant transition period. While living in South Africa, Tonia was able to leverage that experience to establish ‘south-south’ partnerships with municipal government entities and partners in neighboring Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Swaziland.
You can connect with Tonia here:
IN TOR 086 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- How initiatives and tough choices work within large organizations such as the World Bank Group and the Peace Corps.
- The (very few) differences between community development in an international setting and in your own community.
- Tonia’s efforts to keep a balanced life between a productive development practitioner and a mother of young children.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- World Bank Group
- Peace Corps
- Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund
- South-South partnerships
- Overlapping interests among agencies, large scale collaboration
- Culture shocks
- Community development
- Civil engagement
- Passions and choice, particularly at early career stages
- Girls’ school enrollment
- Volunteer work
- Grunt work
- Washington, DC
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Prince George’s County, Maryland
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
She engages with stakeholders on behalf of Peace Corps (PC).
Fundraising and missionary activities for PC.
PC and Rotary join forces, to identify overlapping interests in community development. Find needs in specific places to work together and avoid redundancies.
20 years in development
Started in USAID. Funding used to come mostly from governments.
Nowadays, 70% of assistance comes from private sources. A lot more collaboration has led to larger scale operations.
Education Major, in a Community College that required field work. On a yearlong preschool assignment, realizes “Education is not for me.” Their advisers recognize her engagement skills, point her to a development career instead of law.
USAID, taken to Sri Lanka. “A culture shock, and the best experience of my life.” Put on trajectory.
Local communities in the U.S. and in developing countries are not that different
“I’m a community development professional and practitioner.”
Worked at the World Bank, always wanting something more significant in international development but also in my own community back home. Travel around the world makes it difficult to work with your own.
Corruption arises in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She found herself the only spokesperson about civil engagement, wanting to shine a light, bring transferable skills to the people. This ends up in the creation of the PGC Social Innovation Fund.
She volunteers part time, then quits World Bank to devote herself full time.
On jumping the fence, and exiting
“I had a fantastic experience at the World Bank Group.” I kept in touch, but there were things she wanted to do. Left to take the time for something she was really passionate about and a family life. The Peace Corps opportunity presented itself at the right moment.
It’s hard to leave a place. A common mistake in NGO management is staying too long, and the longer you stay, the harder it is to quit. She decided to be strategic and not make her organization dependent on herself. “At some point you are not benefitting the community.”
Managing her rise within the Peace Corps
Prayer helped a lot. Requested a lot of support from her children, friends and family. “Make yourself available to your family, the special events, leverage technology to stay connected.” Additionally, pauses are important.
There are instances where my presence at the Peace Corps is too important, but to keep the balance it’s important to schedule family moments against ‘key moments.’ Ultimately, management comes first.
Failure and picking herself up
At WBG, the CEO left with budget shortfall. New CEO comes with high expectations, but facing the budget first was critical, and the problem of communication was Tonia’s responsibility. She had to command layoffs, project budget reallocation, high stress.
With help of key friends at WBG they came up on top, built a great relationship with the CEO.
Development Innovation (At Peace Corps)
Removing the barriers for girls to enroll in school. Strategic, multi-partnership intervention to keep them in school. Development challenges are to be addressed through collective action.
In Sri Lanka, feeling homesick. By the end of the first month there were people and places, then friends and a ‘personal guide.’ By the end, she didn’t want to leave. It’s part of the beauty of Peace Corps, its benefits are everlasting.
At a luncheon, she found out more than half of retired U.S. diplomats were Peace Corps volunteers.
“Get comfortable with the grunt work early in your career. You come in for the exciting parts, creating an effort or leading an initiative. Get acquainted early on with the planning, meetings, the things that are not interesting or sexy, do it incredibly well and do it incredibly fast. That way you will get good a getting to the good stuff faster.“
Also, don’t jump early into activities you are not totally into.
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