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International Fellowships Program Helps Disadvantaged Students from Around the World

IFP Fellows at Ohio Conference

Unlike others, this program deliberately chooses among qualified applicants who are members of marginalized or disenfranchised groups in their societies.

The International Fellowships Program (IFP), which recently commemorated its ten year anniversary, has reason to celebrate. The program provides postgraduate fellowships for emerging leaders from marginalized or excluded communities throughout Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Asia, and Latin America. Thus far, IPF has selected nearly 4,000 fellows in 22 countries and will have supported approximately 4,300 when selections conclude in 2010. VOA’s Carol Castiel recently spoke with the program’s executive director, Joan Dassin, about the positive impact the program has had on the fellows and their respective communities

Joan Dassin

Unlike most international scholarship programs which target the educated “elites,” IFP deliberately chooses among qualified applicants who are members of marginalized or disenfranchised groups in their societies. These groups differ from country to country. In Latin America, it may mean students of indigenous or African heritage, many of whom comprise the poorest social classes. In Africa, it may mean targeting females or students from a less privileged ethnic group. Whatever their “disadvantage,” those chosen to pursue graduate work all share a common trait that accounts in part for the program’s success: they possess a deep commitment to returning to their home countries to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

Rose Nantaba from Uganda

“It’s very fascinating to see the hunger that people who have been such pioneers have for learning and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to take advantage of the opportunity awarded by our fellowship,” says Dassin. She goes on to observe that “The academic success of the students makes very clear that people from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds can succeed academically with the proper forms of support.” Grantees are allowed to pursue a variety of fields of study in universities anywhere in the world. IFP accepts only 5 percent of applicants, which makes the program one of the most competitive in the world.

Nilsa Rain from Chile

In 2001, the Ford Foundation granted IFP $280 million, intended for a ten year life span. Dassin is hoping that the program’s success has produced a model for other partners to use in the future. IFP works with national governments, multi-lateral donors, universities, and private sector funders. According to Dassin, the model is such a success that “the Brazilian government has just approved the first-ever affirmative action [program] at the post graduate level based on our program.” Dassin says that there are many other elements of IFP that can be replicated in different countries and different ways.

The strength of the program is also demonstrated through IFP’s alumni associations. Dassin believes that the international connection among the alumni is the real “legacy” of the program. “We are supporting the creation of these associations so they can become an organizational force for social justice.”

To read more about IFP’s fellows and the impact they have had in their home countries, visit the website:

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