The Institute of International Education (IIE), in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, has released a report highlighting the value and impact of fellowship programmes on marginalised communities.
The report is part of a 10-year alumni tracking study of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Programme (IFP), the single largest programme commitment in its history, in which $420 million was invested.
The report, Transformational Leaders and Social Change: IFP Impacts in Africa and the Middle East, provides important insights into the personal, organisational, community, and societal impacts of IFP alumni in Kenya, Nigeria, Palestine, and South Africa.
The report shared the perspectives of 361 IFP alumni and local stakeholders.
In Kenya, the programme featured 126 fellows, 60 women and 66 men. Pursuing degrees under the umbrella of social justice. wenty seven per cent took up studies in International Development, 21 per cent Education, nine per cent Public Health and eight per cent Environmental Science.
According to the report, the programme provided IFP alumni with important experiences of fairness in the socio-economic processes they had been through.
For some, the experience opened their eyes to the fact that they had all along been victims of injustices.
They, however, have been able to leverage their strong individual voices into a strong, coherent collective voice, actively contributing to their communities in diverse ways, spaces and levels.
Commenting on the results of the report, Maurice Makoloo, Ford Foundation’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, said, “This study confirms that when every person irrespective of their background is provided with as equal opportunity as the next person, they develop their talents to incredible high levels.
“Ultimately, the investment in these individuals empower them to make significant contributions to advance our society.
“In many cases, IFP Fellows were the first people in their families and local communities to obtain post-graduate degrees, and in some cases, to obtain any degree at all.”
Between 2001 and 2013, IFP opened pathways to higher education for 4,305 social justice leaders from the world’s most vulnerable populations in 22 countries in the developing world.
Despite being from four different locations, the alumni share certain commonalities: past challenges stemming from discrimination and economic hardship, their dedication to social justice activism, and their commitment to IFP in their home communities.
“Our approach goes beyond the self-reported accounts of the program beneficiaries, and goes directly to the communities that have been affected,” explained Mirka Martel, IIE’s Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning.
“Very few studies can present data from this perspective.”
The results of this study show a largely positive impact, with alumni saying that their IFP experience increased their confidence, awareness, self-identity, commitment, leadership, and career advancement despite challenges upon re-entry at the end of the Fellowship.
Some alumni returned to face career barriers endemic to their community and home region, such as high unemployment rates and other labour market challenges.
At an organisational level, alumni and community stakeholders said that these organisations now have a stronger work ethic, consistency, transparency, and accountability since alumni returned to their home communities.
Stakeholders also said that the alumni they work with are more reliable and committed to getting the job done.
Interviews and focus groups with IFP alumni and community members showed that after IFP, alumni were more active and engaged in their communities, with a large majority of alumni returning to their home to apply the skills and knowledge they learned while on fellowship to improve their communities.
Alumni returned to focus on a wide range of areas including the criminal justice system, food security, rights for those with disabilities, and education expansion. Their contributions and impact in these areas can be seen in policy, programming, and planning.
Many alumni in this region are now in highlevel positions that they use to influence societal change. They also use their high-level positions to strategically challenge social norms and are key to moving social justice forward in their societies.
Additionally, results showed that family support for alumni varied depending on gender and aligned with their society’s expectations of women as traditional caretakers.
Due to this expectation, many alumnae faced challenges making arrangements with their families so that they could participate in IFP.
IFP’s emphasis on transparency proved to be an inspiration to alumni. They hope to replicate similar models of transparency along with IFP’s commitment to social justice in their communities.
In all four locations, the results of the fieldwork showed that higher education is key to advancing
social justice forward on a community and societal level.
One of the cross-cutting themes that emerged from the research was the profound impact that the programme had on female alumni and their communities.
The research showed that where the higher levels of marginalization that an alumna had experienced, the more of an impact their selection and participation in IFP had on their personal lives and on changing social norms in their communities.
“I never thought I was supposed to have an education or even allow my daughter to have an education,” a Nigerian alumnus said.
“I just thought that maybe when she finished secondary school, she will get married and she will be in her husband’s home. But my perspective had changed, today my daughter is a Ph.D. holder and she is a lecturer in the university.”
For Mohammed Bulle, an alumnus from Garissa county, for example, IFP has allowed him to have a more direct impact on Kenya’s food security policies through his work at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC).
“IFP experience was inspiring,” a Palestinian alumna said, adding, “I try my best to be fair, supportive, and professional with people as IFP was fair and supportive to me.”
Overall, the report showcases the crucial role alumni now play as models and mentors in their home communities as advocates for social justice.
Results showed that this was especially true for female alumni where they were, many times, the first woman in their communities to have the opportunity to pursue their higher education goals.