Cover of IFP Impacts in Asia report

Press Release

Social Justice Leaders in Action: How IFP Alumni Effect Change at the Grassroots and Policy Levels

Learn more about the IFP Alumni Tracking Study

IIE releases second report in 10-year study on the impact of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program

NEW YORK, March 7, 2017—The Institute of International Education (IIE) today released its second report in a groundbreaking 10-year alumni tracking study of one of the largest global fellowships in higher education, the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program (IFP). The report, Social Justice Leaders in Action: IFP Impacts in Asia, provides an in-depth look at the lives and careers of IFP alumni in three Asian countries—India, Indonesia, and the Philippines—detailing the transformative impact of the IFP model not only on the individual level, but also on an organizational, community, and societal level.

Through 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, which was released in April 2016. The current report examines the different pathways IFP alumni have taken and the ways they have leveraged their skills and networks to effect change.

“Lessons from the International Fellowships Program show that when given the opportunity, non-traditional and under-represented students can succeed in advanced studies and help create positive change in their communities,” said Hilary Pennington, Ford Foundation’s Vice President for Education, Creativity, and Free Expression. “By adopting a more inclusive approach to admissions and recruitment, higher education institutions can more effectively reach untapped candidates who have the potential to become global leaders.”

The Ford Foundation provided $420 million in funding resources for IFP, the single largest program commitment in its history. Between 2001 and 2013, the program supported graduate-level education for 4,305 emerging social justice leaders from 22 countries, representing a wide range of groups that have faced discrimination because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, economic and educational background, or physical disability. IFP’s underlying assumption was that, given the right tools, emerging leaders from disadvantaged communities could succeed in postgraduate studies and would work to improve conditions in their communities upon returning home.

Social Justice in Action

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. Key findings include:

  • 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 these case studies are included throughout the report, and help to illustrate the range of IFP experiences:

  • Haslaida Abubacar, a Muslim Filipina woman from the minority Moro ethnic group, has used what she learned in a Master’s in Sustainable International Development to become an effective leader in working with youth. She has worked with Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services and has developed training programs that are now being used by local governments. “If we want to change the society, we need to influence and empower our youth. We need to mobilize and mentor them to realize their full potential as active citizens and future leaders,” she says.
  • Bahrul Fuad, a leading expert on disability in Indonesia, has put the knowledge he gained in a Master’s in Humanitarian Assistance to use to effect change as a public intellectual in the disability policy field. He makes change on both the policy and grassroots levels, contributing to developing disability guidelines through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as implementing economic cooperatives and microfinance programs to empower people with disabilities to run small businesses. “Most people with disabilities do not have an education, and often receive a marginalized status,” he says. “Since returning home, people listen to me more when I speak. People give me respect.”
  • Irshadul Haque, a journalist who was held back by caste-based discrimination while working at a major Hindi newspaper in India, found that his Master’s in International Journalism helped him learn digital journalism skills and develop an online news platform that enables him to be an agent of change. Irshadul covers issues such as caste-based violence against Dalits that are not covered by the mainstream media and has found he is uniquely positioned to contribute something new by launching the site in his native town rather than a major city. “I could have worked anywhere, but I was determined to start something on my own and influence public opinion. I wanted to give back,” he said.

“Whereas our first report helped measure the magnitude of IFP’s impact 15 years after the program began in 2001, this second report takes us into the everyday lives of IFP alumni in remote communities and urban centers.” says Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s Deputy Vice President for Research and Evaluation. “Using the powerful tools of qualitative action research, this report not only offers an in-depth look at the multi-layered impact of IFP, it reflects our inclusive and participatory approach to carrying out our study and engaging IFP alumni.”

The IFP Alumni Tracking Study is part of a comprehensive IFP Knowledge Management Project that includes the Ford IFP Global Archive, housed at Columbia University Libraries in New York. Both the IFP Alumni Tracking Study and the Ford IFP Archive aim to provide researchers and practitioners with an in-depth look into the links among access to higher education, international development, and social change.

For more key findings from the report visit the IFP Alumni Tracking Study website.


About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,300 member institutions.

IIE has a long history of working with foundations to implement a broad range of scholarship and fellowship programs, while also conducting research and evaluations to assess the impact of these programs. The Institute’s Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact provides research and program evaluation services to domestic and international governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, foundations, and higher education institutions to facilitate the collection of more comprehensive and policy-relevant data on international education, and to assess the impact of international fellowship and scholarship programs. In addition to the Ford Foundation, IIE has recently conducted program evaluations for the Alcoa Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Schlumberger Foundation, and the U.S. Department of State and Department of Education, among others.

About the Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact

The IFP Alumni Tracking study is being conducted by the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact.
The Center brings together the Institute’s in-house research expertise with leading minds from around the world.

Learn more about our Center and our other evaluation projects