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Most Happy Fellows: Early Outcomes from the WIFP

February 1, 2013 3 minute Read by Catherine Freeman

No, this blog has nothing to do with the classic Broadway musical or with a contented troupe of men. Far removed from those topics, its focus is 14 Egyptian women who, in February 2012, made the long journey to the U.S. to begin a potential life-changing experience—participation in the George W. Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program (WIFP).  In many countries, the voices of women as leaders and reformers historically have been muted by suppressive cultures and traditions. To enable those voices to be heard in impactful ways, the WIFP strives to prepare women around the world to become effective leaders and change agents in their communities. The program begins with an initial four-week learning experience in the U.S., after which participants return to their native countries to apply what they learned and continue their personal growth activities. My perceptions of the WIFP are through the eyes of a program evaluator. Ultimately, the primary evaluation interest will be the impacts of the program on societal changes in the women’s home countries. If positive changes are to occur, however, first and foremost the program must be delivered effectively. Thus, the initial evaluation study (jointly conducted by Southern Methodist University and Johns Hopkins University) focused on implementation of the U.S. component as experienced by the Fellows and other stakeholders. Encouragingly, our findings leave little doubt that the program began on very solid footing.  All planned activities and experiences took place, and with few exceptions, received rave reviews by participants. Specifically, the Fellows indicated strong satisfaction with how the program experiences prepared them for success in their careers, becoming leaders in their communities, and engaging in continuous personal growth.  The Fellows, in particular, noted the effectiveness of early sessions by SMU faculty in providing a strong foundation for skills to be developed during the remaining weeks. The faculty members and program mentors, in turn, rated the Fellows are high in motivation, commitment, and potential to succeed as leaders. The evaluation results also identified several activities that needed fine-tuning. For example, the Fellows’ desired to have greater access to their mentors and more reflection time during the very busy U.S. schedule. Some also noted cultural discomforts associated with eating meals while listening to speakers.  But, overall, our findings left little doubt that the Fellows returned to Egypt highly motivated and substantially more prepared to function as leaders, communicators, and promoters of civil society. Will the Fellows remain happy and productive during the “in country” phase of WIFP?  Stay tuned for future evaluation results.

This post was written by Catherine E. Freeman, PhD., Director of Evaluation and Research at the George W. Bush Institute.