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Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: Which track should I choose?
August 2, 2022

Students walking outside
You have three tracks to choose from to be a Fellow studying at a U.S. college. Choose carefully! (© AP Images)

As a Mandela Washington Fellow, you would learn a lot and meet many useful contacts over the course of six weeks on a U.S. college campus. Looking over the application, you will notice there are three separate tracks or themes of study, and you are asked to “rank the sector/track in order from the track that most closely aligns with your daily work, education, or community involvement.”

These are your choices:

  • Business
  • Civic Engagement
  • Public management

You may be especially interested in one, or even all three, but some former Fellows would advise that you pay close attention to the wording in the application. It’s not so much about what interests you. It’s more about what you are doing now.

Juby Peacock, a 2016 Fellow from Botswana, learned this lesson the hard way. She wanted to study business and entrepreneurship, but because she didn’t currently have a business of her own, her first application was unsuccessful. The next year she tried for the civic leadership track. Again, she did not qualify.

“I thought I’m such a loser. I’ll never try again,” she said. Bear in mind that this remarkable person had 12 years of experience in social work and volunteerism in addition to being an accomplished artist. Oh, and she was also once Miss Botswana.

Peacock realized she hadn’t made a critical point clear to those reviewing her application. Her involvement with an arts-based nongovernmental organization actually made her a civic leader in practice. “I was doing it all along, but I just didn’t know how to say it,” she said. She tried again for the civic leadership track and met with success.

“What I realized is that I did not actually understand the tracks at first,” said 2016 Nigerian Fellow Balarabe Ismail. “I learned I have to know the track I am applying for, and will I have the skills or the experience in those areas.”

Rita Zaumu, a 2016 Fellow from Cameroon, said she has “a passion” for community service and was strongly considering applying for the civic leadership track. But with several years of business experience and as founder of a communications company, she realized this might not be the best choice. “After a lot of reflection, I decided it was better to apply from what I have been doing for the past seven years,” she said.

On the YALI Network Facebook page, Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a 2014 Fellow from Nigeria, advised hopefuls that “you don’t want to confuse the application reviewer such that they won’t even know the track to place you.”

“Here’s my advice: Of the three areas, which one provides you with the most evidence of effectiveness? Which one do you desire to grow most in? Which one do you think the Fellowship is best positioned to help you advance? When I was applying, I had an NGO and a business. I applied for business because I wanted advancement in that area and I got it,” she said.

So think about your choice. It matters.

Good luck with your application!