New Study Highlights Long-Term Benefits for Emerging Local Leaders and their Communities in Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico of 12-Year, $420 million, Social Justice Fellowship Program
Study also points to challenges posed by local social and political realities, limited labor markets, discrimination limiting alumni’s ability to effect social change
MEXICO CITY, November 16, 2017 — Attaining advanced degrees through the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) has helped boost the individual lives and social justice careers of many members of Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico’s most disadvantaged communities, according to new research released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The research looks at the long-term impact of IFP, a pioneering decade-long program that opened pathways to higher education for 4,305 social justice leaders from the world’s most vulnerable populations in 22 countries around the world.
“The Fellowships helped reach leaders from communities that are normally absent from higher education, and particularly fellows from indigenous backgrounds,” said Hilary Pennington, Vice President of Education, Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “In many cases, fellows were the first people in their families, or even communities, to have opportunities for advanced studies.”
Leaders, Contexts, and Complexities is the third report in a landmark 10-year study of the fellowships program. Drawing on discussions with 268 IFP alumni and other stakeholders, the report goes beneath the surface of conventional evaluation to reveal how political, economic, and social obstacles can limit opportunities to their ability to further social change.
“Our approach goes beyond the self-reported accounts of the program beneficiaries, and goes directly to the communities that have been affected,” explained Mirka Martel, IIE’s Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. “Very few studies can present data from this perspective.”
Advancing social change
The results from the fieldwork in Latin America provide myriad examples of the ways alumni are serving in these leadership roles, most often in academia, government, and civil-society organizations. They are directing research centers, serving as vice ministers of education, and leading organizations that work on a wide range of social justice issues such as cultural preservation, indigenous and human rights, and youth development.
Flora Gutiérrez Gutiérrez grew up in a very remote town in the Zapoteca region of Oaxaca, where she struggled to pursue her education. Despite the challenges she faced along the way – including poverty and racism – Flora’s passion for education led her to apply for an IFP fellowship, which she used to complete a Master’s degree in Criminal Law at the National Institute on Criminal Sciences, Mexico. Today, she practices and uses law to defend indigenous and women’s rights, has created important indigenous women lawyers’ networks, and was elected as a substitute congresswoman at the National Congress.
“I grew up working to help support my family – in the community I come from, we all had to work. But I was lucky because my father, who did not know how to read or write, valued our education above all else,” explains Flora. “Later in life, the IFP scholarship provided me with the security and strength I needed to pursue my Master’s degree, and for the first time in my life I was able to focus entirely on my studies. My degree provided me with the professional skills I need to keep and today helping other indigenous women defend their rights and flourish.”
IFP alumna Flora Gutiérrez Gutiérrez speaks to residents of the town of Santa Inés del Monte, Oaxaca, at the launch of a public works project.
In Guatemala, a cluster of alumnae have become the first indigenous women to ever join the faculty of their university’s School of Social Work, gaining a unique perspective on the link between education and social justice while using tools acquired through IFP to advance various social advocacy objectives.
The study found that one of the most common spaces where Latin American alumni have advanced social justice at the societal level is in the academia and education. In a survey of alumni from Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico conducted in 2015, 71% of respondents reported that they were working as professors, teachers, and researchers.
Affirmative action in Brazil
In Brazil the introduction of racial quotas in the higher education and government sectors, as well as the growing black pride movement have created an environment that alumni have leveraged to advance their work in educational spaces.
Maria Isabel De Assis – known as Mabel – is an Afro-Brazilian woman born in the peripheral neighborhood of Brasilândia, in São Paulo. Her hometown is a territory that has been stigmatized by violence and concentrations of poverty, providing few educational or professional opportunities for aspiring scholars. The IFP provided Mabel with the boost she needed to further her career and work with Afro-Brazilians from communities such as her own. She seeks to encourage women, students, civil servants and academics that cross her path to take charge of their lives despite all the adversities they face. In 2016, she helped set-up the SOS Racism hotline, an official channel to denounce and investigate cases of racism, while also offering social assistance, psychological support and legal referrals.
“I have dedicated my life to giving voice to Afro-Brazilian women, portraying and sharing their lives, sufferings and achievements with society,” explains Mabel. “The IFP’s support during my master’s program allowed me to acquire the theoretical and practical skills I needed to reach even more women, and opened the door for me as a professor.”
Local environments matter
Guatemalan IFP alumna Ramona Pérez Romero works to encourage political engagement among youth in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. She received a Master’s in Women’s Studies from the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica.
Amid alumni’s achievements, the study also found that home country contexts in the three countries have at times limited the extent to which some alumni have been able to advance their careers, their organizations, and social progress in their communities. Some alumni have faced significant difficulties, particularly because of continued discrimination and disappointing labor markets. This discrimination manifested itself in two main ways, either impeding their ability to find work or, even when they were working, preventing them from advancing the kind of social justice programs and initiatives they had been building up.
“These findings have implications for funders and policy-makers in the Fellows’ home countries and communities. While higher education prepares individuals to become leaders and make positive contributions, additional barriers need to be addressed in order to enable them to be more effective agents of change,” says IIE’s Martel. “Leadership programs with a social justice focus must take into consideration the recipient population, and their context and identity.”
A Guatemalan alumna noted that although higher education has allowed her to “participate in academic and or political discussions that interest me because of my identity and struggle as an indigenous woman,” she has still had to contend with prejudice and discrimination: “Many times, I have to justify or clarify that I studied a Ph.D., and deal with the mistrust of other professionals that feel threatened by my work.”
About IFP and the Alumni Tracking Study
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 discriminated against on account 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 excel in postgraduate studies and return home to improve conditions in their communities.
This report is third in the IFP Alumni Tracking Study series. The first report, Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impacts of Higher Education, was released in April 2016 and highlighted survey findings from over 1,860 alumni from 22 countries where the program was implemented. In March 2017, IIE released Social Justice Leaders in Action: IFP Impacts in Asia, a qualitative account of IFP impacts among alumni in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, based on interviews and focus groups with 274 alumni and community stakeholders.
For nearly a century, IIE has been a world leader in international education. We work to build more peaceful and equitable societies by advancing scholarship, building economies and promoting access to opportunity. As a not-for-profit with 19 offices and affiliates worldwide, IIE collaborates with a range of corporate, government and foundation partners across the globe to design and manage scholarship, study abroad, workforce training and leadership development programs.
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.
IFP in Brazil:
- The fellowship supported 302 fellows, more than any other country in Latin America.
- The program focused on recruiting Afro-Brazilian and indigenous fellows, economically disadvantaged individuals, and those who had few educational opportunities. As a result, 74% of alumni were Afro-Brazilian or indigenous, and just over half were born in the North, Northeast, and Central West.
- More Brazilian fellows stayed in-country than any other IFP country, with 86 percent remaining in Brazil.
- Sixty-eight percent of fellows were women.
IFP in Guatemala:
- The fellowship supported 126 fellows.
- Just over 60 percent of fellows are indigenous, representing communities of Mayan origin in particular.
- In contrast with Brazil, all fellows pursued their degrees outside Guatemala, most often in Spain (42%) and Mexico (22%).
- Fifty-five percent of fellows were women.
IFP in Mexico
- The fellowship supported 224 fellows.
- The program determined that the most disadvantaged communities by almost every measure—including access to higher education—were members of Mexico’s indigenous groups. As such, the program supported fellows from 38 of Mexico’s 62 official indigenous groups.
- Thirty-nine percent of fellows studied in Mexico, while the other 61% studied primarily in Spain and Chile, as well as elsewhere in Latin America, Europe, and the United States.
- Forty percent of fellows were women.
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