In recent times, I have been asked by mentees and colleagues on what they can do to get admitted into a fellowship program. Consequently, I have decided to put this piece together as four things to consider, if you are trying to be part of a fellowship. I have put this together in reflection of the four fellowship program I have been selected for, in the last five years (I wrote about one of them here). Do let me know if this resonates with you, and if you find this useful in your most important work.
Purpose match. Every fellowship has its own purpose, and that purpose should match your personal career goal. In 2014, I became a School of Data Fellow. The purpose of the fellowship was to bring activist that work around data together in one place, exchange knowledge, and after one week, go back to their country to teach civil society organizations and journalists on using data to advocate for change and creating compelling stories respectively. In 2012, when I co-created Follow The Money, all campaigns were data-driven, and also that I had led more than five training focused on the same purpose for the fellowship. You can relate this to the statement of purpose or personal statement that is always requested when applying for fellowships or scholarships. So if you are applying for that fellowship, check if your personal statement or motivation will show any significant contribution you have made to your field or your community and that such contribution matches the purpose of the fellowship.
Fellowship Target. Most fellowships have a group they are targeting. The Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program at Yale University targets mid-career professionals. This means you must have had between 7 – 10 years experience in your profession. If you have just kickstarted your career, you might need to wait a bit before applying to be part of such fellowship. In mid-2015, after seven years of experience working in the social sector, I was admitted into the Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law Fellowship. It wouldn’t have been a good fit if I had applied 2 or 3 years before that time as they were looking for mid-career professionals. One way to know if the fellowship targets you, is to look at the profile of past fellows (Most fellowship programmes have past fellows profile on their website), and check to match it with yours.
Volunteer and Intern locally. If you are still thinking about how and where to get experiences, even if it is just a year experience, then I suggest you volunteer locally. You can use your volunteer experience to establish your purpose. Volunteering gives you that leverage to understand how the social sector works. If you are hardworking enough, and the organization you volunteer with got some extra resources – they might look at you first before recruiting external personnel. My first experience working with a UN agency in 2011, was brought about by initially volunteering with the Standby task force. Your volunteer prowess could be shown on your resume and in your personal statement. Just to add, when you volunteer your time and skill, request for a letter showing how much time, and a description of the work you put into the task you have accomplished.
Recommendation. Keep relationships with your co-workers, mentors, mentees, lecturers, bosses, and subordinates. At some point, you might need their recommendations in your proposal or application. Past fellows of fellowship programmes are also a plus if you can get them to recommend you. I do not like reaching out to them only when I need them to write a recommendation. I have created a circle of mentors (who are friends, partners, investors, colleagues, lecturers, bosses) who I share updates with, on my career, and next project. Once I encounter a fellowship that matches my goal, I quickly share the link of such opportunity with them, and ask for their thoughts on how useful such fellowship could be to my career, and if they will be willing to write a recommendation for me if they think it’s a good fit. At times, my mentors do send me fellowship opportunities. If you come highly recommended for a fellowship, you are highly likely to be selected.
Finally, do not be deterred by refusals, keep trying and doing your good work. I have had more refusals than acceptance to fellowship programmes. There are other things to consider, I have only highlighted the once I feel is important, do let me know in the comment box if you have some other things to consider as a co-fellow. By the way, I found this a very useful resource, if you are considering your next fellowship.