My reflections following a two and half day inclusive leadership seminar in Paris

I was excited to spend two days in Paris, la cite d’amour, croissants et baguettes. The first one got me in trouble. As soon as I got off the Thalys, I walked down the platform and could not help notice the charming French man working for the border police.

God gave us eyes to look, so I stared.

Apparently that gave them enough reason to run after me and do a full check up!

Lesson learned: no matter how cute he or she is, just keep walking and don’t stare!

I love attending GMF’s seminar and retreats for their alumni fellows. I get to meet new people, I learn new things, and I continue to expand my mind. The entire program was fascinating, and I will only share some of my personal highlights from this seminar for the sake of brevity in the digital age.

Different appearances, one humanity 

The first afternoon and evening were long but exciting. I was amazed by the diversity of the participants. Many ethnic backgrounds from various countries in the world came together in the beautiful George Marshall Centre in Paris. The afternoon kicked off with speeches from senior officials. We then became active participants in practical exercises forcing us to mingle and speak our mind while standing and moving around. I must say this is an excellent way in fighting fatigue and keep the energy levels at the right level for the desired engagement.

The value proposition workshop led by two GMF Marshall Memorial Fellows (Ahmed Larouz and Nicole Beaufort) was a lot of fun. We explored our notions of diversity and inclusion. Many different interpretations but it all boils down to belonging to something bigger while still being yourself, no matter the color of your skin or your beliefs.

I personally attach a lot of importance in fostering inclusion by giving people the tools and methods of working together by reducing the “unnecessary friction” that comes with diverse teams.

Different notions of inclusion

We spent the evening in the Canadian Embassy to France with an interesting panel discussion on diversity. What struck me the most is the simplicity of GMF’s President Karen Donfried. She occupies, and has occupied very high-level positions. Her humility, eloquence, and speech from the heart is the emblem of the kind of leaders the transatlantic relations need now more than ever.

Listening to their discussions. I could not help but wonder how much are we focusing on the individual versus collective change?

For example, many individuals feel depressed and unfulfilled in the digital age as they are not using their full potential or are not living life in line with their own values. Either they hide behind their mask, or they are simply lost in life trying to meet standards that are not theirs to begin with.

A mindset of exclusion fuelled by fear is perhaps a major cause for hate crimes, propaganda, divide, and rule, etc. to prevail in this digital age. 

One panelist pointed out that the far right groups often control 5% of the social media platforms, but at the same time have an audience reach of 50%. This shows how many people hide behind technology. anonymity and other means available to them.

Authentic relations, face-to-face dialogue, and engagement become paramount in shifting mindsets and connecting with people’s heart instead of only their mind.

For sure challenging as for example, how do you engage face to face with a generation which is brought up as a digital native and only knows how to communicate via screens of addiction?

Thinking about how different groups live life is essential for change to be effective and sustainable. 

Social Entrepreneurship focused on impact 

The next day was equally inspiring if not more. It started out with a panel discussion with Yazid Chir, a man who has helped redefine social entrepreneurship in France. He shared with us how he has brought together some of the biggest names in business and governments with teenagers from the suburbs who were mentored by them. Many of them growing up with a belief they are less than others because of society’s labeling on people. Many believed they did not deserve a chance to live and develop their potential, so they choose a route of despair and crime.

The stories Yazid shared are the emblem of inspiration that humanity is the same at the core, regardless our status or titles, our skin colors or beliefs, our gender or expressions of who we are as a human being. By investing in these teenagers, many developed into a successful human being in life living their full potential.

It is because someone, somewhere had the bold idea to make a change with a small step. Someone had so much willpower to fuel his vision into something bigger than himself.

And over 10 years later, his mentoring programme is now operating across several cities in France. For more information, you can visit “Nos quartiers ont du talent” (our neighborhoods has talent) at

Diversity on the outside, inclusion on the inside 

The seminar concluded in the afternoon with fascinating stories and workshops led by transatlantic creative minds. The highlight of the afternoon was the end when the Wapikoni Mobile project presented their story and mission in inspiring people to accept their diverse cultural backgrounds as an inclusive one. Wapikoni is a not-for-profit organization in Canada that helps give indigenous youth a voice in society. They travel across several nations to record stories from indigenous people and inspire their next generation to live a life of purpose and impact while embracing their cultural heritage.

When Ariel Waskewitch, Stoney Nakoda First Nation, dancer, singer, and artist shared her story through an inspirational video, my heart skipped a beat.

It skipped a beat because all of a sudden I realized that we all face the same struggles at the core…no matter our geographical locations nor origins nor cultures. Her movie illustrated the struggles she faced growing up between what she perceived as two opposing cultures. A perception of opposition fuelled by society.

Who was Ariel? A Canadian teenage girl with an indigenous background hiding her artistic expression through dance? Or an indigenous teenage girl who deep down loves her cultural heritage, and wants to express it through dance but feels unable to?

You see how many of us experience the same struggles in life. Whether we have parents who were immigrants. Whether we are children from a mixed-race family. Or whether we grew up with imposed standards that were never ours.

At the core, we struggle to combine the desires from the inside with the expectations from the outside.

Inclusion starts with accepting all parts of yourself as one and living our potential based on our own standards and beliefs. Standards and beliefs that are adaptable as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of life.

There were many more highlights and inspirational stories from people i was privileged to meet. People who are trying to make a difference and impact through the expression of art, through the expression of their passion, through the expression of their brilliance.

Why? These are people who understand the value of living a life of purpose and meaning which is more significant than themselves.

Thank you German Marshall Fund for an inspirational seminar, and I look forward to participating again next year in 2019!

Stories from the heart

Thank you for taking the time and reading my stories, stories written to inspire you. Follow me for more inspiring and motivational blogs & videos on

The bestselling series of 20beautiful women volume six by Saba Tekle is about to be released. Stay tuned as I will share my own life story with the world, and inspire you to live a life of purpose and meaning.


Welcome to Nadja El Fertasi's website. How can we help you?

× How can we help you?