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 Ksh 42.3 billion ($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. 27% took up studies in International Development, 21% Education, 9%
Public Health and 8% Environmental Science. According to the report, the programme has 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
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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 labor market challenges.
At an organisational level, alumni and community stakeholders said that these organizations 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
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 high-level 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’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
program had on female alumni and their communities. The research showed that where the higher
levels of marginalisation 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.
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“I never thought I was supposed to have an education or even allow my daughter to have an
education,” a Nigerian alumna 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).