My name is Zakariya Baker. I am a social worker, private therapist, social advocate and a soon-to-be graduate of the ASRI Future Leaders Program. Over the last year, I have sought to further increase my knowledge and experience. My progress and success have been largely as a result of my experiences with ASRI. I have found myself growing in my profession, having begun working in the NGO sector, which necessarily exposed me to the harsh realities of life in South Africa for the vulnerable. What followed was a growing desire to seek out greater systemic change. I found myself seeking change through my interactions with the Social Work Action Network South Africa, with whom I work on campaigns relating to social issues in South Africa, both at a local and international level. In my private capacity, I also designed and implemented a successful affordable therapy initiative which ran between July and December 2020.
During the 2020/2021 Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute’s Future Leaders Program’s academic component, I initially expected a lectured experience. Instead, I found myself drawn into thinking spaces which I had rarely previously seen, where a greater focus on understanding and critical thinking was placed on the learning experience. What I gained from this was a mixture of knowledge, as well as skills needed to acquire knowledge. I was provided with an opportunity to explore themes which I could relate to social development, including both theoretical and contemporary economics and politics. Understanding the political and economic climate of South Africa and compounding it with my existing social understanding thereof expanded my perspective on social issues greatly.
Content was not only presented, but rather also engaged with through interactions, many of which served as the foundation of peer relationships which helped me grow intellectually and personally. In addition, interactions with ASRI mentors provided me with expert views and clarity whenever I lacked understanding. My social development approach was challenged by other ways of thinking, which I was able to grow from and integrate into my externship. Being with ASRI over this time has given me access to a network of thinkers within all fields; one that makes available knowledge which is diverse and eclectic.
This network, comprising of both ASRI and my fellow peers, is one that I truly hope and commit to remaining with as I forge my career going forward. Whether my aspirations guide me to policy development, advocacy, or grassroots social development, I have become confident in my ability to continue to learn from the staff and my peers in the ASRI Future Leaders Program. Through this program, I have grown assured in my newfound knowledge and in my potential to grow.