Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: The importance of being a leader

Portrait of Lee Mark du Preez (Courtesy of Lee Mark du Preez)
Lee Mark du Preez (Courtesy photo)

When South African Lee Mark du Preez first heard of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, he knew it was an opportunity for him to take the work he’d been doing in his community to the next level. Since his school years he’d been on the board of the Children’s Home in his town of Pietermaritzburg, which helps orphaned, abandoned and abused children. He had also worked as an entrepreneur and consultant on South Africa’s black economic empowerment initiative.

But when he applied for the fellowship in 2013, he was not among those invited to come to Washington. The next year du Preez applied a second time, and this time the outcome was very different as he was selected to be a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow.

What changed between his first application and the second, and why did he become a better candidate the second time he applied?

He remained on the board of the Children’s Home but doubled his efforts to get involved, giving more of his time and taking on more responsibilities. In addition, he became an advisory board member at the University of KwaZulu–Natal for Enactus, a global student organization that uses the power of entrepreneurship to create positive social change. Enactus teams from 1,600 universities in 36 countries compete for the best plan with the greatest impact. His chapter, du Preez said with no small amount of pride, has “won the championship in South Africa five times. We’ve never not made the semifinals.”

He was also asked by the leader of his local chamber of business to create a youth leadership and business development program. “I became more involved in programs that run on a larger scale,” he said, which he believes helped his application to stand out in a way it hadn’t before.

“Absolutely keep trying,” he said, when asked what he would advise applicants for the MWF who have applied and not been selected. “They must keep trying like I did. But they should also continue to develop and raise their profiles, so that by the time they do try again, they can be so good that it’s almost impossible for them to be ignored.”

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