The second report from our 10-year impact study of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP), Social Justice Leaders in Action provides an in-depth look at the lives and careers of IFP alumni in three Asian countries—India, Indonesia, and the Philippines—detailing the different pathways alumni have taken and the ways they have leveraged their skills and networks to effect change.
Drawing upon focus groups and interviews with 274 IFP alumni and community stakeholders, this qualitative research highlights the stories behind the numbers shared in the study’s first report, Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impacts of Higher Education, released in April 2016. The findings from Social Justice Leaders in Action provide insights not only at how life-altering IFP was at an individual level, but how that transformative power extends through alumni to their organizations, communities, and societies.
The findings from Social Justice Leaders in Action not only show how life-altering IFP was at an individual level, but how that transformative power extends through alumni to their organizations, communities, and societies:
- Individual Impacts: In addition to acquiring field-specific knowledge and skills, alumni report that they have become more analytical thinkers, have gained greater confidence in themselves, and have developed newfound identities in spite of—or because of—their status as marginalized members of society. Some alumni also struggled with reverse culture shock, discovering that their communities were not ready for the social change they were trying to affect.
- Organizational Impacts: Alumni are drawing upon their skills and experiences to improve the work of their organizations. In particular, they are working to dismantle social norms and hierarchies that impede change and are implementing more socially just processes and programs that instill meritocracy, diversity, and inclusion within their organizations.
- Community Impacts: Fellows remain connected and committed to addressing social issues within their home or other marginalized communities, whether they are working directly with these issues through their jobs or supporting them outside of their professional responsibilities. They remain committed to their home communities and draw inspiration from them, even if they are living elsewhere.
- Societal Impacts: Alumni are contributing to broader societal issues through policy-making, governance, and thought leadership. The networks they have formed with IFP alumni and others have served as support, inspiration, and a tool for increasing collaboration and reach. Women’s experiences have been particularly nuanced, and many described feeling empowered while also contending with rigid societal gender norms upon their return.
- Higher Education and Social Justice: IFP was a catalyst for the inclusion of under-represented groups to be able to speak for themselves and influence decision-making. Providing fellowships to individuals who have traditionally lacked higher education is in itself an act of social justice, and serves an equalizing force, providing access to knowledge, resources, and networks that alumni are leveraging to advance their work.
In order to enrich findings from focus groups and interviews, the study team selected 18 alumni for in-depth case studies. Selections from six of these case studies are included throughout the report, and help to illustrate the range of IFP experiences.