An official website of the United States government

Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: How do I answer the essay questions?
October 17, 2016

Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow from Nigeria, has offered helpful insights into what reviewers are looking for in the MWF essay questions.
Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow from Nigeria, has offered helpful insights into what reviewers are looking for in the MWF essay questions. (Courtesy of Adepeju Jaiyeoba)

When you get to the essay questions in your application, don’t see them as a barrier to be overcome. Instead, consider them as an opportunity to tell reviewers about the great things you have been doing and how being a Mandela Washington Fellow would benefit your community as well as yourself. The essays offer a chance to explain in your own words, and with your own energy and positivity, your track record of making change in the community and how you plan to do even more as a Fellow. (Here is a great article If you need general writing tips.)

Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow from Nigeria, offered some helpful advice to applicants in a previous blog for the YALI Network. This year she teamed up with several other Fellows on the YALI Network’s Face2Face page to discuss this year’s essay questions, with specific ideas on how to approach each one. Click on the link after each question to read the tips and the discussion.

  1. Please give a brief description of your professional background and
    current work. Why have you chosen this work? (read more)
  2. Nelson Mandela said, “It is in your hands, to make a better world for
    all who live in it.” What are you doing to improve your community? (read more)
  3. What role do you want to play in your community/country in 10 years?
    What are you currently doing to achieve this? (read more)
  4. Describe how your participation in the Mandela Washington Fellowship will influence your activities when you return home. (read more)
  5. What do you consider to be your most significant professional
    accomplishment or most innovative idea? Explain the accomplishment or
    innovation, why it was important, and what obstacles you overcame to
    achieve it. (read more)
  6. Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for working with
    leaders of the South African government to agree on a peaceful transition
    to multiparty rule and end to Apartheid. He was able to forgive those who
    enforced his imprisonment to achieve a greater goal. Leaders are able to
    achieve progress despite differing views or identities. Please explain a
    situation where you have used your leadership skills to resolve a conflict
    or disagreement with others. What actions did you take and how did you
    encourage respectful discussion? (read more)

Albert Muragijimana, a 2016 Fellow from Rwanda, said that when he first applied he made the mistake of telling stories about himself and his hard work in the essays without demonstrating the impact he was having on his community.

“If possible show the numbers,” he advised. “How many people are going to be reached? How many lives are you going to change? If you are running a school for example, how many kids are you going to take at school? If you are looking to improve access to education or access to health, how many people are going to have access to those services? So always make sure that you have demonstrated both the action and the impact,” Muragijimana said.

If you are having trouble, don’t be afraid to contact MWF alumni and those who are familiar with your work for advice. As Agang Ditlhogo, a 2016 Fellow from Botswana, said, the encouragement she received from previous Fellows “kept me going.”

“All through the application I would ask for advice, like ‘This essay is only 200 words but I want to go on for 700 words. Where do you think I should cut it? Where do you think I should modify it?’ So they offered that platform for us,” she said.

In addition to reading Jaiyeoba’s posts on the YALI Network Face2Face group, be sure to visit the YALI Network Facebook page and the MWF Application Information page to get more tips and information on preparing a great application. Good luck!