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A Decade of Advanced Study Opportunities for Social Change Leaders Worldwide

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The IFP Model

How did IFP identify, select, and support such an unusual and talented group of fellows?

The program developed a unique educational model: an integrated, decentralized approach to increasing access and equity in higher education that also contributes to social justice. The model combined outreach to previously excluded beneficiaries with an emphasis on enhancing fellows’ knowledge, skills, and capacity to serve as transformational leaders in their home countries.

Local Partner Organizations
Target Groups and Recruitment Strategies
Selection Criteria
Selection Panels
Pre-academic Training and Placement
Monitoring and Ongoing Support

Local Partner Organizations

As a global program operating in 22 countries, IFP’s effectiveness was closely tied to its innovative structure: a Secretariat in New York managed the program as a whole and set policy guidelines, while partner organizations in 22 countries managed key aspects of the program in each local context.

This decentralized architecture enabled IFP to sustain a flexible, country-based operation within a single global framework.

Target Groups and Recruitment Strategies

To achieve greater equity and educational opportunity, each local partner considered gender, race and ethnicity, religion, region of origin, economic and educational background, parents’ education and employment, physical disability, and other barriers to education. Although these factors affect access to higher education in all IFP countries, their relative weight differs in each context. IFP partner organizations worked closely with local scholars, activists, public intellectuals, and public sector representatives to develop locally meaningful definitions of “disadvantage.”

Educational opportunities typically tend to be concentrated in major urban centers and are focused on urban elites. IFP therefore developed innovative methods to reach remote and disadvantaged populations. These included: advertising in vernacular languages in local media markets; working with universities, NGOs and government entities in rural areas; offering information sessions to potential candidates who otherwise would not apply; and relying on program alumni from the targeted groups to recruit new candidates.

Partner organizations in each country refined these strategies each year based on the previous cycle’s candidate pool.

Selection Criteria

IFP’s emphasis on equity and access to higher education as an entry threshold is in marked contrast to other international fellowships programs, and the inclusion of non-academic criteria to judge candidates’ relative merits as “transformative leaders” is also distinctive. These criteria were developed by local partners: first to define basic eligibility in relation to “equity and opportunity,” and then to determine individual competitiveness in regard to academic qualifications, leadership capacity, and social commitment.

IFP enhanced its ability to attract diverse candidates by eliminating any age limit, by permitting study in a wide range of academic fields and disciplines, and by allowing fellows to enroll in universities located in any part of the world, including in their home country or region.

Selection Panels

While IFP employed well-known peer review practices in selecting fellows, these were adapted to serve local communities. IFP selection panels brought with them a high level of familiarity with local needs and conditions. Thus they were able to assess candidates on IFP’s multiple dimensions, from equity and opportunity considerations to leadership, social engagement and academic performance and potential. Locally-constituted selection panels also enabled candidates to submit applications in their own languages.

Worldwide, IFP earned a reputation for transparency, stemming from the professional standing, integrity and independence of the selection panels. To safeguard the perception (and reality) that the program was not captured by special interests, neither the Ford Foundation nor IFP officials were permitted to serve on the panels.

Pre-academic Training and Placement

Many fellowships require that a candidate be accepted at his or her chosen university before being formally accepted into the program. Such a requirement is often a significant barrier for people with limited access to higher education and insufficient knowledge and means to identify and apply to high quality post-graduate programs.

During the one-year “fellow-elect” period, IFP provided preparatory training and placement support for entrance into universities. Working with local providers, the program offered pre-enrollment training to fellows-elect on an as-needed basis in areas such as computer literacy, research skills and academic writing, as well as foreign language study. For about one-third of IFP fellows, preparatory training continued after arrival at their host universities.

During the fellow-elect period, the selected candidates also received educational advising to help them refine their study objectives, which in turn facilitated their placement in universities. The investment in preparing fellows for academic success is one of IFP’s most important and effective innovations.

Monitoring and “Re-entry” Support

IFP’s unique decentralized system required partner organizations to maintain contact with active fellows regardless of their study location. This created a supplementary support system that went well beyond regular student services provided at host universities, and also provided a smoother transition from the fellowship experience to fellows’ return back home.

During the course of their study grants, fellows requested access from their respective IFP organizations to participate in program benefits such as professional enhancement, family funds, sandwich programs, and English language training. In order to renew multi-year grants, fellows were required to provide their local organizations with proof that they had completed the current academic year in good standing. These reporting requirements allowed partners to provide their fellows with additional guidance on how best to utilize the fellowship to finish their academic programs and meet degree requirements.

Further incentives for return were built into the IFP system through partner-provided services, including counseling for returning fellows and information on job and study opportunities. Partners also enabled returning fellows to stay connected to the program, often as recruiters, selection panel members, and active members of country-based IFP alumni associations and networks.

Through its decentralized methodology, IFP demonstrated that concerns about the “brain drain” phenomenon can be addressed by favoring candidates who show sustained engagement with their home communities, offering the possibility of earning one’s degree at home, and nurturing strong fellow-partner relationships. More than 80% of IFP alumni are now living and working in their home countries or regions.

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