Common Questions: Applying to be a Mandela Washington Fellow

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As Network members applicants begin to prepare their applications for the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship, we took a look back at some of the common questions we’ve answered in person on completing the application, the process for applying, and what applicants need to know about the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

For each of the past three years, staff from the U.S. Department of State have answered questions from YALI Network members about applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

On how Mandela Washington Fellows are selected …

You have to be a citizen of a sub-Saharan African country and have to be residing in a sub-Saharan African country. You should be proficient in English, and between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of your application. You should have a proven record of leadership or accomplishment in public service, business/entrepreneurship or civic engagement. We also like to see a demonstrated commitment to public or community service, to volunteerism or mentorship. We are looking for someone who has the ability to work cooperatively in diverse groups and who respects the opinions of others — someone with demonstrated knowledge or experience in the track for which you are applying. The essays and the applications that you submit are very important, because we want to see people who’ve had a track record of making change and are looking forward to making change as we move forward. One must be energetic and positive. The most important criteria is to have a real commitment to return to Africa and put your new leadership skills into use to benefit your community and country.

On English proficiency …

We’re looking for applicants who have English that is good enough to participate in an academic program in the United States. There is no TOEFL test, but we ask applicants to self-rate their English on their applications. There are also the essays that must be well-written in English. There will be an interview process and we will get a feel for whether you actually can speak English or not. It will become apparent whose English is strong. If you make it to the semifinalist round and are interviewed at the U.S. Embassy or somewhere else in your country, the staff there will of course be holding the interview in English.

On applying from a different country than where you permanently reside …

We are looking for candidates who are living in sub-Saharan Africa and who are committed to the future of their continent and home country. For the purposes of this program, we don’t look at Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt as part of sub-Saharan Africa. Interviews for the Fellowship will be occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. If you are applying in sub-Saharan Africa but in a different country in sub-Saharan Africa from which you normally reside (maybe you are studying or working in another country), the embassy in the country in which you’re currently living will likely be able to do the interview for you and then transmit that back to our embassy in your home country to make a decision.

On setting quotas …

We value diversity in the United States and hope to reflect this in the Washington Fellowship program. We want a diverse group of countries, ethnic groups, religions, gender, physical, visual, and hearing abilities. We are looking for a diverse group of opinions as well. We are looking for the full range of people who make up African society. We expect to have people participating in this program from every country in sub-Saharan Africa. Ultimately, we want to make sure we have a representative group of individuals from across the continent as a whole.

On what documentation to include with your application …

The key thing we are looking for is demonstrated leaders. It really is up to you what documents you decide you’d like to upload, so I would just suggest that you pick the documents that you think best reflect either your professional expertise or your leadership capacity. If you have trouble demonstrating that in a documented form because of various reasons outside your control, we would still like to take a look at your application. An important part of the application is the essays where you have the opportunity to demonstrate what you have accomplished and what your goals are for your future.

On which Fellowship track to choose …

A candidate who has experience in a particular track (Business & Entrepreneurship, Public Management, Civic Leadership) will be a stronger candidate than someone who has never worked in that area. But we welcome all who want to apply, both those who currently work in a particular track and those who have an intention to do so in the future.

On submitting multiple applications and ranking the tracks …

You cannot submit several applications and it will not improve your chances. If you submit several applications you will be disqualified. Do not submit more than one application.

On the role of educational achievement in the selection process …

We will consider what your formal education is, but you will not be disqualified if you do not have a formal diploma or degree. Formal education plays a role in terms of how we evaluate your application as a whole. We really are looking for Fellows who are demonstrated leaders in their communities and their countries. Africa is a diverse continent and we know that leaders come to their achievements through both formal and informal means.

On what we expect upon your return to Africa …

We hope that you bring back new skills and new enthusiasm. What we really hope for is a multiplier effect — that you share with your friends, family and colleagues what you saw, learned, and perhaps taught others in the U.S. so that this experience grows. And we hope that you continue to stay in touch with us.

Further Information: https://yali.state.gov/mandela-washington-fellowship-application-questions/

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