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IIE: Study abroad for social justice leaders impacts whole communities

Funding postgraduate study abroad for emerging social justice leaders from marginalised backgrounds has a ripple effect impacting entire communities and may help to avert brain drain, a study by the Institute of International Education has concluded.

The report is the first in a 10-year study by IIE into the IFP.

84% of alumni interviewed live in their home country, and most reported being actively involved in their communities

The report looked at the impact on participants of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, which supported graduate-level education for 4,305 emerging social justice leaders from marginalised communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Russia between between 2001 and 2013.

“By reaching one right person, there’s the potential to reach all that are touched by that person”

The study found that IFP participants have not only experienced personal and professional benefits but are also “driving tangible and sustainable change in their home communities, countries, and wider global society”.

A survey of nearly 2,000 IFP alumni found that nearly 900 have created new programmes and organisations since graduating, 97% of which address social issues or provide community services.

These programmes, almost half of which were established by women, have impacted 9.5 million individuals in the IFP countries and 860,000 additional individuals worldwide, alumni reported.

“By reaching one right person, there’s the potential to reach all that are touched by that person,” commented Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice president for research and evaluation and one of the report’s authors.

In the case of IFP, we now have 4,305 potential agents for large-scale social change all over the world.”

Organisations founded by alumni included the Instituto Terena de Educação Intercultural in Brazil, which serves various indigenous communities in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and helps to inform policies around the use and con­servation of ancestral lands; and the Liangshan Institute for Environment & Livelihood Development in China.

Backgrounds of IFP participants

Backgrounds of IFP participants

Meanwhile, the survey revealed that IFP alumni are committed to local work in their communities, challenging concerns that funding graduate-level study abroad creates brain drain.

The vast majority of survey respondents – 84% – live in their home country, and most reported being actively involved in their communities. Three quarters said they serve as role models in these communities, and two thirds reported that they are consulted when their community is advocating for social justice.

Even those who now live abroad reported that their work has a significant impact on their home countries.

The research also shows that the survey respondents have contributed significantly to public discourse on social justice, producing nearly 35,000 journal and news articles, reports, works of visual art, book chapters and influential presentations.

This is in addition to almost 15,500 print resources, including books, and some 12,000 conference presentations.

On an individual level, 91% of IFP alumni who took part in the survey said that the programme expanded their professional opportunities.

As of 2015, 93% of alumni were employed or studying for a full-time degree, and unemployment rates among alumni were lower than their regional averages.

“This study is the first of its kind that puts some hard numbers behind what impact can result from international scholarship and fellowship programmes”

Nearly 80% said they held a senior leadership role in their work, and 87% said they felt the IFP helped to build their leadership skills.

Examples included a Kenyan student who had been forced to drop out of high school when he lost his vision, but now serves as the senior assis­tant director in charge of special needs education at the Kenyan Ministry of Education, after joining the IFP in 2010.

There were also notable trends in the fields of work pursued by survey respondents: 93% entered work relating to community service, in fields including education, community development, human rights and environmental issues.

Additionally, more than half of the alumni interviewed (57%) said they volunteer on a regular basis, contributing an average of eight hours a week, with the most popular fields again being education, community development and children, youth and families.

The report, Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impacts of Higher Education, represents the first findings of a decade-long study into the IFP.

The study aims to answer a need for more concrete data on funding higher education abroad for leaders in disadvantaged communities, Bhandari said, given that evidence of the impact of such programmes is “often anecdotal”.

“[It’s the] first of its kind in that it provides actual evidence and puts some hard numbers behind what impact can result from international scholarship and fellowship programmes,” she said.

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