From June 12th through the 17th in Washington, a conference was held on developing leadership to resolve social injustices around the world. The Ford International Fellowships Program sponsored the event, inviting 135 recipients of its fellowships from 19 countries.
Joan Dassin, executive director of the Ford International Fellowships Fund, says the aim of the fellowships goes beyond providing worthy recipients with a good education.
"The long-range goal really is to assist in the formation of a new generation of social justice leaders. So, we believe that people from activist or academic backgrounds in this day and age of the knowledge economy and global forces need a world class education in order to be effective leaders for social change in their own countries and communities," she says.
In the first four years of the International Fellowships Program, the Ford Foundation has received over 66,000 applications. Ms. Dassin says with so many eligible candidates it’s difficult to choose recipients.
"We’ve now awarded over 1500 fellowships and by the end of this year, we’ll have over 2000 fellows in the program," she says.
Of the 135 fellows who attended the leadership conference at Catholic University, 56 were from the African countries of Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Egypt.
Lola Lawrence is from Nigeria. She’s using the fellowship to study agriculture and resource economics in Edmonton, Canada. She’d like to take that knowledge back to Zaria in Kaduna State to help women develop a livelihood.
"I intend to go back and form a kind of NGO, if I’m able to do that, to really educate women. Because I think lack of information is really depriving a lot of women to a lot of entitlement they need. Letting them know what is attainable out there and what they can do, maybe in education and other aspects of life, is really important for them," she says.
Ms. Lawrence, who’s 35, says knowledge changes a person, adding it’s changed her in every way.
"Yes, I think so, I think so. Because we all change and again it’s a necessity for development. Because you can’t be stagnant and say you want to develop or you want to move people or change their situation or change their way of doing things without you changing yourself," she says.
Another recipient of a Ford Foundation International Fellowship is Sogo (SOH-joh) Matlala of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Mr. Matlala, who’s 39, is attending school in his home country, focusing on social and behavioral sciences in public health. He intends to work in rural areas.
Well, there’s the problem of getting everybody involved in health issues, especially men. Because what I have experienced is that it’s only women who most of the time consult their health services, especially the clinics. But men don’t usually attend to the health issues. This is the area I want to get involved in, to get men to share the responsibility with women in terms of controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections," he says.
Behavior change is a major part of HIV/AIDS prevention strategies. However, many health experts say it’s been difficult to get many men to practice safe sex.
"I need to understand what men do actually. They go to bars and beer halls, so that’s where I’ll have to go and meet them, you know. Try to have what we call peer educators amongst these men. Some of them really want to get involved in these issues and identifying these individuals who want to get involved and empowering them to have more knowledge and then trying to teach their peers about all these things," Mr. Matlala says.
But are the Ford fellowships making a difference? Joan Dassin says the future looks promising.
"I think you have to judge the difference one fellow at a time. You know, people are beginning to go back. The program is relatively young, so we only have about 250 graduates. But of those people, 80 percent of them are in their home countries and almost everybody else is still studying for an additional degree or doing some sort of related training. So, people are going home and they are starting health clinics and they are starting new organizations and are working in universities. And they’re doing all the things that further study can make them do effectively," she says.
The Ford Foundation says between the years 2000 and 2012, it expects to invest 280 million dollars in its International Fellowships Program.