The West Africa Acumen Fellowship
Acumen Academy is the world's school for social change. We inspire the world to build solutions to poverty and equip determined individuals using the knowledge and tools of business grounded in community and the practices of moral leadership.
The West Africa Acumen Fellowship is a rigorous leadership program that brings together a cohort of extraordinary individuals working on problems of poverty and equips them with the knowledge, skills, and community to strengthen their leadership and scale their ventures to create meaningful change in West Africa.
After Fellow Candidates complete the program they join The Foundry, a community of like-minded peers who are working across sectors and geographies to build a world based on dignity. As part of this diverse community committed to sharing ideas and experiences, they gain access to capital, coaching, and continuous learning as part of lifelong accompaniment on their journey to creating social change.
West Africa is at a crossroad - socio political issues such as conflict, insecurity, corruption, bad-governance and the economic fallout of COVID-19, have deepened poverty within the region. Disrupting the status quo requires a new kind of leadership committed to building sustainable and resilient systems. Acumen Academy in West Africa is bridging the region’s leadership gap by equipping and enabling a generation of leaders that can navigate the unknown, listen deeply, build trust, and bring together the views and priorities of multiple stakeholders in service of our shared prosperity.
Who are we looking for?
- The Fellowship looks for “builders” who are working to solve problems of poverty. Builders include founders, CEOs, and senior leaders (COO, MD, etc.) at for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid social enterprises as well as corporate or government sector intrapreneurs. While these titles offer a glimpse of the types of roles Fellows play, what matters most is what you're building and the track record of your impact.
- Applicants must have a minimum of 5 years of professional experience and should be able to demonstrate their commitment to solving issues of poverty.
- Applicants should demonstrate their ability and willingness to give (contributing their knowledge, experiences, networks, and/or ideas) and receive support from the Foundry.
- Applicants must have a reliable internet connection, be fully available to participate throughout the entirety of the program, and be able to participate in English.
- Applicants must reside in West Africa and the impact of their work should be focused on West Africa particularly our focus countries which are: Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia
For over 17 years, our flagship Fellowship curriculum has equipped Fellow Candidates with the knowledge, support systems, and skills they need to lead social change, work across lines of difference, and mobilize their communities.
Fellow Candidates remain in their jobs and participate in a 6 month program comprising 5 seminars. The seminars are paired with online group and individual assignments designed to inspire an engaged community. The following provides a high level overview:
- One 3-day virtual immersive
- Two 5-day full-time in-person immersive (8 hours of pre-work for each immersive consisting of self-paced learning and group calls)
- Two 4-week virtual workshops (3 hours a week of pre-work including group and individual calls as well as self-paced learning)
Fellow Candidates build trust and test new leadership skills within their cohort. This cohort-based model creates deep bonds which persist well beyond the program, and Fellows build peer relationships that prove invaluable on their journey toward creating greater impact.
Fellowship curriculum highlights below:
Fellowship ImpactFellows come from all walks of life - they work in all sectors, industries, and issue areas, and share the determination and vision to build a world based on dignity. The Fellows Program supports the Fellows' impact across three levels:
- Individual: Fellows are challenged to reflect on their values and behavior, and to change the way they think of and engage with larger systems to create a world based on dignity
- Organizational: The program offers a space to practice new leadership methods that create different outcomes in their teams and organizations
- Societal: The program enables a deeper understanding of how to extend the influence directly or through the organizational work across their broader communities and ecosystems
At its core, the Fellowship is focused on translating this impact into three interconnect outcomes:
1. The Foundry: Fellows belong to our global community, The Foundry, that accompanies them over a lifetime, creating opportunities for support, collaboration and collective impact.
2. Moral Leadership: Fellows help catalyze the practices of Moral Leadership within society, building a growing movement that strives to role model a world based on dignity.
3. Reimagining success: Fellows help shape the actions of their organizations and initiatives to build solutions that reimagine the goals, structures, and rules of existing systems in order to engage with systemic problems of poverty.
Where deeply committed social innovators gain lifelong accompaniment to lead social change
Once graduated, alumni from our Fellowship and Accelerator programs join The Foundry, gaining access to online resources, financial capital, expert mentorship, and opportunities to showcase their work and expand their reach.
How to Apply
Submit the Online Application
December 10, 2023
December 10, 2023
Participate in the Selection Conference
February 9-10, 2024
February 9-10, 2024
Start your Fellowship Journey
February 26, 2024
February 26, 2024
Please read the Application Toolkit to prepare your application.
Q: What are the academic qualifications for the program?
There are no specific academic prerequisites.
Q: Are there minimum or maximum age requirements?
There is no maximum age limit, however the applicant must be over the age of 18 to apply for the Fellowship.
Q: Do Fellows have to be citizens of a West African country?
Fellows are NOT required to be citizens of a West African country to become a Fellow. However, they must reside in West Africa and the impact of their work should be focused on West Africa particularly our focus countries which are: Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia.
Q: Is English proficiency a requirement?
Yes. All seminars and training are conducted in English, with the exception of the Colombia and Spain programs, which are offered in Spanish. Proficiency in the language that the program will be conducted in is a requirement to ensure Fellows are able to give and get the most from this experience.
Q: I’m not from any region where Acumen currently has a Fellowship… Can I still apply?
No. At this time, we are targeting individuals whose work has a direct impact in the regions below:
- East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan)
- West Africa (Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia)
- The Rockefeller Foundation - Acumen Food Systems Fellowship (Global Program)
Q: Can someone who has participated in one Acumen Fellows program apply and participate in another? (for example, can a Global Fellow join the Colombia, East Africa, India, Pakistan, or West Africa program?)
No. Each cohort of Acumen Fellows must be composed of individuals who have not previously taken part in an Acumen Fellows program. This is specific to Acumen’s programs; candidates who have participated in other fellowships or leadership programs, or who have taken Acumen Academy courses, are welcome to apply.
Q: Can I apply if I have graduated from an Acumen Academy Accelerator (formerly known as +Acumen Accelerator Programs)?
If you have graduated from one of the following Leadership Accelerators, you won’t be eligible for the Fellowship as the content and experience are quite similar for both these programs. These Leadership Accelerators are: Leadership Essentials for Innovative Builders; Inclusive Economy Leadership Program; Resilient Small-Scale Fisheries Leadership Accelerator; Leadership Program for Climate Resilience Innovators Pakistan; Leadership Essentials for Social Innovators India; Resilient Small-Scale Fisheries Latin America Leadership Accelerator 2023; or Social Impact Leadership Accelerator-Vietnam 2023.
Q: Can I apply if I have taken Acumen Academy courses?
Absolutely! Taking Acumen Academy courses prior to the Fellowship is strongly encouraged.
Q: Can two people from the same organization apply for the Acumen Fellowship?
The Acumen Fellowship is a significant investment in an individual’s leadership journey. As the Fellowship is competitive and only ~20 spots per year in each region are available, we aim to amplify our impact through the Fellows by asking them to take learnings from the Fellowship back to their teams and communities.
This means that in a given year, while multiple people from the same organization may apply, should you all meet our basic eligibility criteria, we will only be able to select one of you to advance in the selection process. We suggest keeping this in mind as you make the decision regarding whether one or more of you will apply in the same year.
This also means that, within a 3 year period, we will not be able to accept more than one person as a Fellow from the same organization. If somebody from your organization has been an Acumen Fellow in the last 3 years, we will not be able to accept your application this year (except if you are part of a large organization (i.e. UN, WHO), then we'd consider if your role and team are significantly different and removed from the other Fellow.)
Q: Do I have to be working at a social enterprise to be considered for the Fellowship?
No. Although the majority of our Fellows are leading social enterprises, our Fellows also work at other types of organizations.
While there are some exceptions, Fellows mostly fall into these three categories:
- Entrepreneurs who have founded or are leading a for-profit or non-profit organization that provides critical goods and services to the underserved.
- Organizational builders who are playing an integral role in the growth of poverty- focused organizations from within, but not as the Founder or CEO.
- Intrapreneurs who are building innovative solutions to tackle poverty at existing institutions (governments, corporations, etc.) by shifting culture, strategy, and building new collaborations.
Q: Can you please share more about your selection criteria?
The Acumen Fellowship is for builders who are committed to solving the problems of poverty and want to build a world based on dignity. Beyond the basic eligibility requirements (stated on the website), we are looking for the following when selecting Fellow Candidates:
Commitment towards solving problems of poverty
The builders we seek are individuals who are deeply embedded in the community they serve and are already leading or building organizations/initiatives to solve the problems of poverty. They have decided that the world needs to change and have already taken steps to drive the change they wish to see. They are in a position of influence in the work that they are doing, have demonstrated impact, and have a clear vision about the impact they want to create in their communities. We invite you to ask yourself: “Can I demonstrate my commitment towards solving problems of poverty and show the impact of my work? What’s my vision to take this work forward?
Leadership and Growth Potential
We are looking for individuals who have purpose alignment with the work that they are doing. They demonstrate self awareness, ability to learn from their mistakes, and persist on the path they are pursuing. These individuals are able to demonstrate their leadership capacity through past examples, sharing their life experiences. We invite you to ask yourself: “Does this program match my current leadership development needs? Can I learn and grow in service of my purpose?”
Values Alignment and Readiness
The Fellowship is an educational leadership program, and requires an individual to ask difficult questions and learn in a cohort setting. We are looking for individuals who are willing and able to take on this leadership and be part of a cohort that brings together different identities, beliefs, and experiences.
We believe in accompanying our Fellows as they continue to work on creating impact around the world. We expect applicants to demonstrate that they will be able to share their skills, knowledge, and experience with the Foundry, and similarly be able to benefit from the Foundry offerings. We invite you to ask yourself: “Am I aligned with Acumen’s values? Is this the right time to undertake this journey? Does this seem like the right next step to follow to get to the next level?”
Q: Do I need to currently be involved in work focused on poverty?
Yes. Our program is designed for individuals who are currently leading or are an integral part of building an organization/initiative whose mission is to eradicate poverty. We can only accept individuals who are already on this path on a full-time basis. We will, on an exceptional basis, consider applicants who are working part-time, as long as they demonstrate a full-time commitment to fighting poverty*.
Poverty is a complex concept and we believe it is not defined merely by economic measure (you can read more about how we think about poverty/injustice here - “The Opposite of Poverty”).
Q: How many Fellows are selected each year in each region?
On average, we select ~ 20 Fellows per year in each region.
Q: I meet the preliminary requirements and basic eligibility, but I am in the middle of a job switch right now. How would that affect my application?
Our program is designed for individuals who are currently leading or are an integral part of building an organization/initiative whose overarching mission is to eradicate poverty and injustice within their community/country/region. We look for individuals who are currently committed to the work full-time and are able to bring back what they learn in the first year of the program to their work for direct application.
If you believe that you have significant prior experience in social change work and have plans to stay in the work of tackling poverty, we would encourage you to apply. If not, please consider applying next year. You can always start investing in your capacity to create effective change with other offerings by Acumen Academy made available to anyone passionate about creating change in the world.
Q: What should I keep in mind while applying?
Keep the following tips in mind as you approach your application.
- Be concise. Please be mindful of stated word limits as the application will not allow you to exceed them. It is strongly recommended that you compose your responses in a word processor with a character count feature.
- Save your draft often. From the beginning, make a habit of clicking the SAVE DRAFT button at the bottom of the page to avoid losing your work. You can always return to your application form when you save it as a draft, however you will not be able to make changes after you complete the submission.
- Save an offline copy. We strongly recommend you read through the entire application form first. Enter and save your background information, then spend time offline composing your responses to the essay questions. When you are ready to submit, copy and paste your responses into the online form. Acumen is not responsible for any lost text, so save early and save often.
- Apply early. Start well in advance to avoid any last-minute technical difficulties or connectivity problems. We do not accept applications after the deadline.
Q: What are the technology requirements for accessing and completing the application?
To apply to the Acumen Fellowship, applicants will need a stable internet connection as the application is meant to be completed on an online platform. Additionally, we highly recommend applying through a laptop as the mobile experience is not recommended. All application documents and components must be submitted through the online portal. We highly recommend using Google Chrome or Firefox as your browser.
If you experience issues submitting any element of your application, please try submitting your application from a different browser, computer, or a different location with stronger internet connectivity.
Late submissions due to internet/technology issues will not be accepted so we encourage you to submit your application well in advance before the deadline. If you continue experiencing issues, please contact the Acumen Academy team via email@example.com.
Q: What if I have trouble completing or submitting my application?
To submit your application, you’ll need to check that the deadline hasn’t yet passed. Then, you'll need to complete all required tasks within your application. Finally, you’ll need to confirm that you’re responding to all the mandatory questions and that the files you’ve uploaded are meeting the requirements.
Following this, you should be able to submit your application without encountering any issues. See SMApply “Completing an Application FAQ” and if you keep facing issues contact the Acumen Academy team via the regional team email address (that you’ll find inside the application form) or firstname.lastname@example.org sharing your email address and screenshot of the issue you’re facing.
Q: Will I get notified after my application has been submitted?
Yes. Our system automatically sends a confirmation email once your initial application has been submitted. If you do not receive one immediately after submitting your application, please check your email settings to make sure that our emails are not caught in your spam filter. We will send emails through the following domains: email@example.com, @acumenacademy.org, and @acumen.org
Q: Can I edit my application after it’s been submitted?
No, this is not possible. However, it is possible to save your application before submitting, and return to it later for editing. Make sure you double check all elements of your application before it is submitted. We cannot accept edits or changes after the fact, either through the platform or by email.
Q: Are recommendation letters required?
No. However, during the later stages of the selection process, we will ask you to provide the contact information of two professional references that we can reach out to, if you make it to the final stage of the selection process. Your references should be people with whom you have worked closely. They should not be family, friends, or spouses.
Program Details and Expectations
Q: Does the Fellowship provide funding, or additional benefits?
While the Fellowship is fully-funded for Fellow Candidates, we don’t provide any funding or additional benefits as part of the program. Some of our regions provide need-based funding for the Selection Conference. This will be communicated to the participants if they are selected for the Selection Conference.
Q: What is the attendance policy? What if I need to miss a seminar?
The program has a 100% attendance requirement, and all selected Fellow Candidates must attend all program meetings (seminars) and complete assignments between seminars or face possible removal from the program. We make exceptions for emergencies on a case-by-case basis.
Q: What’s meant by residential Immersives and workshops?
Residential Immersives are held over 5 to 6 days. If in-person, locations are selected based on the accessibility for the cohort as a whole. Fellows are expected to stay at the residential location for the entire duration, even if they are located in the same city where the Immersive is being held. Immersives include interactive discussions, individual reflection, and peer coaching.
A workshop series includes several online assignments that span over 16 weeks between residential Immersives. They typically require ~6 hours per week and include group discussions, individual assignments, and peer coaching. A 1-hour group session will be scheduled weekly, and the remaining tasks can be scheduled and completed independently.
Q: What are the Moral Leadership Principles?
As part of your Fellowship journey, you will be grounded in The 12 Principles of Moral Leadership, developed from over 20 years working with leaders who are improving how the poor, the vulnerable, and the earth are treated.The Principles, inspired by Acumen Founder, Jaqueline Novogratz are as follows:
- Cultivate Moral Imagination
- Listen to Voices Unheard
- Hold Opposing Values in Tension
- Tell Stories That Matter
- Explore Identities
- Redefine Success
- Use Markets for Good
- Partner with Humility and Audacity
- Avoid the Conformity Trap
- Accompany Each Other
- Embrace the Beautiful Struggle
- Practice Courage
Q: Is internet connectivity a requirement to participate in the program?
Yes. The primary method of communication regarding logistics and other important information is email. Assignments between seminars will be provided via an online learning platform. Therefore, all Fellows must have regular and reliable internet access that allows the downloading and uploading of documents as well as audio and video files.
Q: What’s meant by an in-person/virtual immersive?
In-person/virtual immersives are held over 3-5 days and can be either in-person or virtual. These seminars include interactive discussions, individual reflection, peer coaching, and informal relationship building. There is typically pre-work (of 8 hours) for each seminar that is to be completed 2 weeks beforehand in order to prepare for and make the most of the immersive learning experience. Fellows are expected to be fully present for the seminars (typically 5 hours a day) and ensure there are no competing commitments during this time.
Each program will communicate whether the seminars are virtual or in-person, and if in person, the locations are selected based on the accessibility for the cohort as a whole. Fellows are expected to stay at the residential location for the entire duration, even if they are located in the same city where the immersive is being held.
Q: Where will the different seminars and meetings for the program be held?
The seminars are typically held in or around major cities across the program region. In the past, they have been held in:
- East Africa Program: Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali, and Dar es Salaam
- India Program: Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mysore
- Pakistan Program: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Murree, Peshawar, and Bahawalpur
- West Africa Program: Lagos and Accra
- Colombia Program: Bogota, Cali, Medellín, Ráquira, and Sasaima
- Malaysia Program: Kuala Lumpur, Pahang and Perak
Individuals will be notified on the exact dates and logistics of the seminars upon being selected as a Fellow.
Beyond the Fellowship
Q: What post-Fellowship support is made available?
Once you complete the program, you are invited into a community that we call the Foundry. Each regional Foundry team member curates and creates opportunities to further your learning and access resources to help you grow your impact. There are also activities and opportunities that are made available worldwide to members. Opportunities may include access to funding (by application or referral), mentorship and coaching, and pro-bono services like consulting. You will be added to the Foundry newsletters and gain access to the Foundry Dashboard where these opportunities are listed.
Q: Do I automatically qualify for grant funding or an investment if I participate in the Fellows Program?
No. While the Foundry is eligible to apply for our Angels Program, there is a separate application process. The Acumen Fellowship is completely independent of our investment activities. If you are interested in learning more about Acumen’s investment criteria, click here.
Q: Is post-Fellowship job placement provided?
Q: I want to start the Fellowship in my country, is this possible?
We are currently exploring different ways to bring Acumen Academy’s programming to different regions around the world. Expanding to new geographies requires funding and local partnerships. It's a process that takes a while, unfortunately, but we are working on it. If you know of organizations that might sponsor courses or programming, please let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I might not be in West Africa next year. Should I still apply?
Our Fellowship requires you to fully participate in the seminars that will happen throughout the year. Some Immersives will require in-person participation and we will only be able to fund your travel to and from a city within the country. International travel will not be provided. If you believe that you will be able to attend all seminars, we would encourage you to apply.
If you plan to be away from your country/region next year to move on from the initiative you have been working on, then we encourage you to apply in the future when you are back in the region/the country.
Q: Which costs does the program cover?
Once you are selected as an Acumen Fellow Candidate, Acumen covers all program-related expenses during the Fellowship. This includes all costs associated with the seminars including lodging, food, transportation, and visas.
Q: Do I have to be a resident of the region/country to which I am applying? (For example, Indian to apply to the India Fellows Program?)
Yes. We seek applications from residents of the country/region. Depending on our local team’s capacity, we do make exceptions for applicants who demonstrate a concrete connection to the region/country (ie. long-term employment, and/or focus of the social impact initiative project).
Q: Do I need to be currently involved in a social impact organization/initiative?
Yes. The Fellow Candidates we seek are individuals who are currently leading initiatives or working full-time in organizations aimed at creating social impact and eradicating poverty.
We know that the path of social impact is long, and often it is a great challenge to just begin. If you have taken the courageous step of just beginning on your social impact journey, you have an idea that you are hoping to work on, or you want to develop an idea, we offer many other learning opportunities through Acumen Academy, our online school for social change, that may interest you
Q: Who is the Acumen Fellowship designed for?
The Acumen Fellowship is designed for builders working on social impact across a variety of sectors and regions. Throughout the Fellowship, participants:
- Gain frameworks and tools to shift mindsets and perspectives
- Practice Moral Leadership knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors
- Build social capital and a supportive cohort
- Develop a deeper understanding of systems, their role within them and how to shift them
- Drive change towards solving problems of poverty and building a world based on dignity