After four years of rejection, Augustine Okorodudu, a broadcaster and youth development specialist from Nigeria, was selected in 2019 for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. What did he do differently from previous years? The founder of Ideals and Realities Youth Empowerment Foundation (IRYEF) and YALI Network Influencer shares in this article 10 tips to make your application stand out.
1. Tell Your Story
Oftentimes, we don’t know our stories matter, until we decide to tell them. To write an attention-grabbing essay, you must weave a good element of storytelling into it. We all have stories, but how to put the narrative together is always a challenge. The reviewer can sense how motivated you are about the work that you do from your story. You do not need to be a professional to tell a compelling story. Put it the best way you can. You didn’t just start caring for girls or children overnight, it started somewhere. Let the reviewer feel your spark or fire from your story. You don’t need to lie or exaggerate; be real and let your drive come through in your essay.
2. Have a Central Theme
In my early years of applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I made the mistake of always drifting around in my essays. There was no logical flow of ideas, no coherence. I came to realize that I wouldn’t have selected someone like me if I was a reviewer. So what should be done? Your essay must have a central theme. Are you talking about women? Then talk about women. Do you work with boys? Then tell us how you are working with underprivileged boys in your community. This was one of the secrets I discovered when writing my 2019 application. Have a central theme and anchor every other related achievement on that theme. You may be working with women, girls, and youth in your NGO and have a paid job as a medical doctor — make that connection clear for reviewers.
3. Show Impact
Oftentimes, we are tempted to play up the work that we’ve done, but don’t forget to show the impact of that work.
How many people have you reached? What was it like before, and what changed after your intervention? You must be able to show that transformation as simply and logically as possible. Make sure your impact is measurable.
4. Avoid Plagiarism
Apart from the fact that plagiarism is a no-no, it also reflects badly on your credibility. It is a subtle way of saying, “I don’t believe in myself and my work.” Be original. If you must quote others, acknowledge them.
5. Read Instructions
It goes without saying, but many MWF applicants don’t take the time to read instructions. Last year, the first thing I did was digest the application guide, which helped me to ace my application.
6. Write Simply
By this, I mean you should write short and clear sentences in your essays. Avoid technicalities that may confuse your reviewer. At times, applicants want to be verbose, but they fail to understand that they are not communicating well. You have a limited number of words to convey a message; use them wisely.
7. Use Real-World Examples
Many of the essay questions are designed to help the reviewer understand your experiences. With that in mind, try to highlight the best examples from your life that convey your skills and interests. Consider using the STAR approach, focusing on the situation, task, action, and result. Explain clearly what the situation was that you found yourself in, what task you were assigned, what action you took, and what the result of your actions was.
8. Don’t Walk Alone
Know any alumni you can reach out to? Connect with them and ask them whatever questions you might have. Get them to review your application, too, and make helpful suggestions. Working with alumni goes a long way if you want to write a strong and competitive application.
9. Meet Your Deadline
It’s always a good idea to finish up ahead of time and read through your application to catch minor errors.
10. Keep an Open Mind
When you have done all you can, including praying, remember to keep an open mind about your application. Stay positive. Even if you’re not selected this time around, keep making an impact. Stay true to what you believe in; it could come in handy next year.
Ready to apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship? Visit the Fellowship application page for submission deadlines, application instructions, and more.