A US-based philanthropic organization is investing 280-million dollars to ?expand access to higher education.? The Ford Foundation has been operating its International Fellowships Program for the past three years. It?s provided aid to more than 11-hundred people in 22 countries.

The Ford Foundation says more than 40-thousand people have applied to its International Fellowships Program, or IFP. IFP Executive Director Joan Dassin says this indicates ?a vast untapped pool of talented individuals?eager to pursue graduate level studies.?

"It is a program designed for people to undertake post-graduate level study at universities anywhere in the world. And it is expressly targeted for people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study at that level," she says.

Ms. Dassin says it?s critical for people from developing countries to be exposed to wide-ranging of points of view and technical knowledge.

"The basic intent of this program is to promote a new generation of leaders. We think our program is quite special in that it intentionally seeks people who are not usually at the table when it comes to critical decisions involving their communities and countries. So, we?re hoping with this program to promote a new generation of leaders of leaders, but people who have really lived and worked close to the problems that they expect to solve," she says.

Among the fellows chosen by the Ford Foundation are Nigerians Babatunde Omilola, Rabia Sa?id and Wilson Akpan.

Babatunde Omilola studies at the University of Sussex in Britain, expecting a Master of Philosophy degree in development studies. He says he wants to promote rural development through his fellowship.

"With this fellowship I hope to go back to Nigeria and help people in the rural communities by trying to link the rural sector into the mainstream of national development in Nigeria. And I hope to also be involved in politics at the later part of my life in Nigeria," he says.

As we heard, one of the goals of the Ford Foundation?s International Fellowships Program is to develop a new generation of leaders. Babatunde says he wants to be among them.

"I believe I?m already one of them really. Because the kind of training I?ve received has actually equipped me with what I need to actually be a good leader ? not only in Nigeria but in Africa and perhaps in the whole world. You know, this has always been my vision," he says.

Rabia Sa?id also studied in Britain for her Master of Science in environment and development at the University of Reading. While her background is in science, the Kano resident campaigns for better education and health care for girls. Rabia says the Ford Foundation took her community work into account.

She says, "It was quite unique; different from all the scholarships I?d been trying for, which was more concerned with the academic performance. This one wanted to know how much you have put into the community, which has shown your concern."

She hopes to influence Nigerian energy policy, making it less dependent on fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. Rabia Sa?id says she favors renewable energy sources that are less damaging to the environment, such things as solar and wind power.

Wilson Akpan is also aware of the impact of oil and gas exploration on the environment. He did field work in Nigeria?s Delta State. He?s currently working on his PhD at South Africa?s Rhodes University. Wilson says he understands another goal of the Ford Foundation program: social justice.

"I come from Nigeria as you will probably have known and I happen to come from the Niger Delta area, where Nigeria?s oil wealth comes from. And I happen to be doing my doctoral studies in that area, too. So, I know exactly what social justice can mean to a people. I think I have an idea what it is."

Wilson Akpan says meeting fellows from many other countries ? and the experience he?s gained in the program ? will help him take a leadership role in the future.

He says, "It?s probably the greatest thing I could ever aspire to. Graduate education does not always necessarily mean that people will become leaders of the kind we?re talking about. But here is a fellowship for me that sharpens that perspective. It?s like sharpening the impulse to look for a new kind of leadership that will be seeking out social justice in every situation."

There?s no age limit for those applying for the International Fellowships Program. That allows those who have had to interrupt their studies for one reason or another to be eligible. Those wishing to apply can get more information at www.FordIFP.net.