YALI Voices: Tips for MWF Applicants from a Fellow

As another Mandela Washington Fellowship application period opens, here are my top tips for aspiring Fellows.

  1. Interrelate your answers – For many of us who do a number of totally unrelated things, responding to application questions may be difficult because of the different hats we wear. It is not uncommon to see applicants with this characteristic put forth conflicting ideas in their application, which can leave the reviewer totally confused and constantly checking if they are still reviewing the same application. For instance, an applicant wearing several hats may respond to a question by talking about her involvement in climate change, another question using examples of how she is working to keep girls in school, and the third question with examples of her fighting malnutrition and helping farmers prevent post-harvest losses. An application like this will no doubt keep the reviewer confused.
    If the scenario I have described above is you, here are some guidelines to help you determine which of your many hats you should be wearing when responding to Mandela Washington Fellowship application questions:

    • Which of your various interests are you most passionate about?
    • Which one helps you fulfill the criteria of having a proven track record of leadership? Remember that the fellowship is not for people who will do but for people who are actually doing.
    • In which area do you desire growth the most?
    • Considering the focus and existing tracks of the fellowship, which of your many hats will benefit the most from this opportunity?
  2. Avoid technical terms – Reviewers have several applications as well as a deadline to meet. It is not likely that a reviewer will take a short course in a particular field to be able to understand the technical terms you have used extensively in your application. As much as possible, use basic, simple terms to convey your message. Remember, you will not be there to discuss the content of your application or expatiate on it.
  3. Avoid drowning your application in statistics – I know you want to impress the reviewer and have researched different statistics to back up the need for the work you are doing, but do not let these statistics take the place of words you should be using to make your case. While you may be tempted to put in all the figures you have researched, resist that temptation and make use of the most practical and relevant statistics you have.
  4. Break questions into parts – Many times I have read application responses where applicants respond to one part of the application and forget to answer the other part. As all parts will be scored, it will be impossible for the applicant to get the maximum score possible for that question. As you read each question, always make a note of what is expected and check your answer against your note.
  5. Take the “present continuous” test before deciding to apply – The Mandela Washington Fellowship is for leaders who are doing something in their communities and helping others create change, not those who currently have nothing to do but plan something in the future. The fellowship is for self-starters. Before deciding to apply, be sure your work is in the “present continuous tense” and not “future tense.” Nothing helps a reviewer decide not to progress an application faster than words like “I plan to …” or phrases like “I don’t really have anything I’m doing now but after the fellowship, I will …”
  6. Understand what the fellowship is about – In the past, I have seen applicants request from the fellowship what only a master’s degree or a Ph.D. could give them. Before applying, be sure to read extensively about the program and understand how it can help you and the work you are doing in your community.

Contributed by: Adepeju Opeyemi Jaiyeoba

Adepeju Opeyemi Jaiyeoba is a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow from Nigeria. She is the founder and CEO of the Brown Button Foundation, which creates low-cost delivery kits for expectant mothers in Nigeria. You can find and follow Adepeju on Facebook.

Feature photo by Simon Abrams/Unsplash.

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