The Fisher Family Summer Fellows Program on Democracy and Development is a training program hosted annually by Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Launched in 2005 and formerly known as the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program, the program brings together a group of approximately 28-30 mid-career practitioners from transitioning countries who are working to advance democratic practices and economic and legal reform in contexts where freedom, human development, and good governance are fragile or at risk. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, our program participants are selected from among hundreds of applicants every year for the significant contributions they have already made to their societies and their potential to make an even greater impact with some help from Stanford.
The Summer Fellows alumni network includes 449 alumni from 97 developing democracies worldwide. Their professional backgrounds are as diverse as the problems they confront in their home countries, but the one common feature is their commitment to building sound structures of democracy and development. The regions of Eurasia, which includes the former Soviet Union and Central Asia, along with Africa, constitute almost half of our alumni network. Women represent 47% of the network, and the program is always looking to identify strong female leaders working to advance change in their local communities.
Previous Summer Fellows have served as presidential advisors, senators, attorneys general, lawyers, journalists, civic activists, entrepreneurs, judges, think-tank directors, and influential members of the international development community.
The dates for the 2024 Fisher Family Summer Fellows Program are Sunday, July 21 – Friday, August 9, 2024. Applicants are required to participate for the entire duration of the fellowship program. They must be sure that they can be absent from their professional obligations during that time and must make a commitment to attend the full program upon acceptance.
*Please note these dates may evolve based on the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
This program is aimed at mid-career practitioners working actively in the fields of democracy, development, and the rule of law. Applicants can be working as policy-makers, academics, legal professionals, social entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs, and leaders of civil society organizations (such as representatives of trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, the media, business and professional associations). In their present capacity, applicants should play important and influential roles in their country's political, economic, and social development. Participants should have demonstrated professional and personal achievements in a relevant sector of democracy, development, and the rule of law.
Each year we strive to recruit a diverse group of 25 to 30 individuals who are at the right stage in their professional trajectory to benefit from rigorous academic training to enhance their potential to promote democratic change in their home countries. Successful applicants will have academic credentials necessary to participate and contribute to the six-hour seminars each day and tackle advanced academic readings to complement the classroom-based curriculum. Ninety-nine percent of our alumni hold a bachelor's degree at the time of their participation in the program but this is not a requirement for admission to the program.
A working knowledge of English is an important prerequisite for participation in the program. It is expected that each fellow has a solid command of written and spoken English to fully benefit and participate in the program.
Due to the large volume of applications we receive each year to the fellowship program, we take our selection criteria very seriously. Please review the criteria below very carefully before submitting your application to the program. If you do not meet these criteria your application will not be reviewed.
- This is not an academic fellowship but is meant for practitioners only. We value practical experience over academic credentials, and we admit scholars only to the extent that they are active in government, public policy, civil society, economic development and rule of law. They should hold leadership roles in their respective sector.
- Applicants must be mid-career practitioners and have at least 10 to 12 years of experience to qualify for the fellowship. Those with more experience are much more competitive in the selection process.
- Candidates must be from and currently reside in a country where democracy is not well entrenched. Candidates residing outside their home country due to war or conflict may be granted exceptions. Applicants will not be accepted from countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and member states of the European Union.
- Candidates must be at least 28 years of age at the start of the fellowship in July 2024. The average age of our fellows at the time of the program is 38.
- Candidates must be actively working in the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law. We do not accept candidates who are in the midst of full-time university degree programs.
- Candidates must have a solid command of written and spoken English. All program materials and sessions are in English. Participants will also be required to give a 7-minute "TED"-style talk during the three-week program regarding their work and motivation. English language proficiency is very important in order to benefit and contribute to the program dialogue.
The program's interdisciplinary faculty includes leading political scientists, lawyers, and economists pioneering innovative research and analysis in the fields of democracy, development, and the rule of law. Faculty engage the fellows to test their theories, exchange ideas and learn first-hand about the challenges activists face in places where democracy is under threat. CDDRL's Fisher Family Summer Fellows Program core faculty includes:
Our program curriculum combines four different session styles, which include:
- Academic sessions provide a framework and theory to understand democratic development taught by interdisciplinary faculty from across Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Sessions examine political development, democratic transitions, and the relationship of law to economic development, public administration, administrative law, transitional justice, food security, and global health policy, among others. Lectures are accompanied by a set of academic readings drawn from books and journals that participants are asked to complete before each lecture.
- Case study workshops are rooted in real-world stories and scenarios of specific policy reforms that have taken place in developing countries. Rather than serve as examples of “best practices” or “how-to” guides, the cases are designed to encourage participants to think critically about the key decisions that have led to policy reforms. They are written from the perspective of decision-makers who have designed or executed specific policies, and they demonstrate how effective public officials think and act strategically. They show how these leaders address technical obstacles while simultaneously taking into careful consideration the political, cultural, and social constraints to reforms. The cases we use for teaching can be found in our case study library.
- "TED"-style talks allow fellows to tell their stories to the group to uncover more about their work, personal life, and struggles to overcome injustice and advance democracy. These talks begin in the first week of the program and conclude by the second week, allowing fellows a chance to connect on a personal level and develop peer connections early in the program. Fellows are asked to begin preparing their "TED"-style talk in advance of the fellowship program. You can watch select "TED"-style talks from our fellows here.
- Guest lectures feature prominent figures in public service, the technology industry, and the philanthropic community who provide a practitioner’s perspective for our fellows and allow them to make strategic connections to these organizations.
Stanford asks all applicants to be prepared to contribute towards the cost of their participation in the fellowship if they are selected. Typically this comes in the form of a fellow covering round-trip airfare to the Program. Stanford will pay for accommodations, meals, and transportation costs for the duration of the Program. In the past, some fellows have asked their employers to subsidize their travel to Stanford based on the benefits that the training will contribute towards their professional and organizational advancement. Fellows may also choose to fundraise for these costs after selection decisions are issued in April 2024.
A small travel fund is available for fellows who under no circumstances can support their travel or need to apply for a partial subsidy. Priority for accessing the travel fund will be given based on need, and destinations from which airline fares to California are exorbitant.
We are unable to provide funding for families to accompany fellows to Stanford for the program or to accommodate them during the program's duration. It is against Stanford policy to house children under the age of 18 years on campus, so any fellow traveling with family would have to locate and self-fund off-campus housing.
We do not recommend that families accompany fellows to the Program as it distracts participants from the bonding and network-building experience that is integral to the Program.
In order to apply to the Fisher Family Summer Fellows Program, please create an account through our online portal. The application form is available once you log in and will be available through the deadline, January 14, 2024. Due to the volume of applications, we strongly suggest that you submit the application form as soon as possible. You will be asked to contact two references to furnish letters of recommendation to support your candidacy for the program. A complete application package will be due no later than Sunday, January 14, 2024.
Applicants will be informed of their selection for the program by April 2024. Please do not email us concerning your application status before that time, as the program team will be very busy processing and reviewing files.
All application materials must be submitted in English. Applicants should be sensitive to word count and not exceed any of the stated word count limits in the narrative sections of the form, as you will automatically be cut off.
Please remember that you are always able to save and return to your work at any time by clicking on the "Save Draft" button. We encourage you to save your work often during the application process, so you do not jeopardize losing your material.
The application contains the following sections:
- Applicant Information
- Academics & Career Information
- Essay Questions
- English Language Proficiency
- Video Submission
- Financial Information
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Certification
Sections 3, 4, 6, and 8 require the most attention from applicants. More detailed instructions are provided below.
The Fisher Family Summer Fellows program uses the WizeHive application system to manage all incoming applications. This system is widely employed by other fellowship programs and should be easy to use. Here are some guidelines to take note of when using the application system:
- You can save your work at any time and return to the form at your convenience. You do not need to complete the application form in one sitting. It is strongly suggested that you save your work often by clicking on the "Save Draft" button at the end of the page.
- Once you submit your application form you can no longer return to make any changes. Please review all your work before clicking the "Submit" button at the end of the application form.
- The system will notify you by email during the following stages in the application submission process:
1. When your application form has been received.
2. When letters of recommendation have been submitted on your behalf.
3. Once your application file is complete, with a minimum of two letters of recommendation.
Please prepare a resume or curriculum vitae to upload with the application form. The document should be in English and a minimum of one page, and no longer than three pages in length. We will not accept CV’s longer than 3 pages or in other languages.
The document must be formatted in MS Word Document (.doc) or Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf), all other file types will not be accepted. The resume should list in order of priority the following:
- Your professional experience with your most recent position listed first, and dates of employment
- Your educational credentials, including all degrees earned
- Awards and honors, if applicable
- Publications, if applicable (please do not include an exhaustive list)
The maximum file size is 300 MB. Please note that once you submit the application you will not be able to make any changes. We ask that you carefully review the form before submitting.
We suggest that you draft your responses in a word processing document and then copy and paste them into the application form. In drafting your responses, please try and avoid overly technical language and explain acronyms so that your ideas can be easily understandable to people who are not working in your field of expertise.
If appropriate, please feel free to provide some brief country-based context or historical reference, so the reviewers have a sense of how your work is impacting the current state of democratic development in your country of origin.
Our application system has a word count limit and will track your word count on the form. It is important that you be concise in answering questions. Please focus on the most important points that you want to convey.
- What is the current state of democracy, development, and the rule of law in your home country, and how is your organization supporting democratic development? (150 words maximum)
- Describe your current role in your organization and your general responsibilities (please do not cut and paste from your CV here, but provide a general description of your work) (150 words maximum)
- How many years have you been actively working in the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law, and how would you describe your impact? (150 words maximum).
- On a personal level, what inspires you to do the work that you do? (150 words maximum).
- Why are you interested in applying to our fellowship program? In other words, why is this fellowship important to you at this stage of your professional and personal development? (150 words maximum).
- Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? How does this fellowship help you to achieve your goals? (150 words maximum).
- How would a friend or family member describe you? What personal characteristics or qualities would they use? (150 words maximum).
- Have you participated in academic or professional fellowship programs in the past? If so, which ones and how is this fellowship program different? (150 words maximum).
- One of the components of the FFSF Program is the presentation of a "TED"-style talk. Please provide the title of the talk you would present if selected and a paragraph description of why you are selecting this topic and the major themes you would cover.
In 2 minutes or less (less is better than more!) please give us your “elevator pitch” for why you should be selected as a 2024 Fisher Family Summer Fellow. Use this opportunity to think creatively about how you can stand out among the other applicants. In other words — why you and why now?
Recording Instructions: You can use a webcam, cell phone, or video camera to record yourself presenting your response. Please prepare, rehearse, and time your comments before submitting the final video product. Please follow these instructions and do not exceed 2 minutes for your video.
Important Submission Details:
- All videos should be titled with your full name.
- Maximum size is 600 MB.
- Formats are MP4 and MOV only.
- Upload the video directly to the application form below.
If you have trouble with uploading the video please put in a help ticket with the application system.
Candidates will need to request at least two but no more than three letters of recommendation to support their application to the program. Any application with fewer than two letters will be judged as incomplete and not considered in the selection process.
In the main menu of the application portal, you should click on the field "Letters of Recommendation." Please identify and enter two or three recommenders to complete letters of recommendation on your behalf.
At least one of the recommenders should be your current supervisor in your place of employment. If an alumnus of the program has nominated you to apply, we strongly suggest that you ask them to draft a letter of recommendation on your behalf. We take nominations from our alumni very seriously, and they are reviewed favorably in the selection process. Please do not ask family or friends to draft letters of recommendation; they should be from professional associates who can speak to your experience and the impact of your work in advancing democratic change.
Once you enter the names and contact information for your referees the system will automatically send them instructions for completing the letter of recommendation. The instructions will include the program criteria, guidelines on writing the letter, the recommended format, and the link for upload. You will have the option of adding a personal note to the email generated to your referees. It is your responsibility to follow up with referees to inform them that you would like them to complete the recommendation. The letters of recommendation weigh heavily in the review process, so it is strongly suggested that you provide as much direction to your referees as possible so they can write a letter that relates your professional experience to the program goals. Referees will receive an email confirming their letter has been received.
All recommendation letters must be received by January 14, 2024, to be considered part of your application file. Applications with less than two letters of recommendation will be marked as incomplete and not reviewed.
Checking the Status of Your Letters of Recommendation
All letters of recommendation are due by January 14, 2024. It is the applicant's responsibility to follow up on the status of your letters of recommendation. You can access the application portal at any time to inquire about the status of your letters of recommendation and follow up with your recommenders directly to remind them of the January 14 deadline. You will receive an email when your letters of recommendation have been uploaded to the system.
Within the online system, when your letter of recommendation has been uploaded and received by the system, you will see the following message next to the Status field:
"Your letter of recommendation has been received from this recommender and is complete. No further action for the applicant is required at this time."
If your letter of recommendation has not been uploaded to the system you will see the following message next to the Status field:
"This person has been contacted, but no letter of recommendation has been received as of today."
The program team will not answer any requests concerning the status of your letters or recommendation.
The letter of recommendation is due by Sunday, January 14, 2024. Referees should upload the letter via a link that will be provided to them by email.
Format for Letters of Recommendation:
- Letters must be submitted in English
- Written on official organization letterhead
- Be signed with your name, official position, and contact information
- Be formatted in MS Word Document (.doc) or Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf), all other file types will not be accepted.
- Uploaded as one file (please do not try to upload individual pages)
Letter of Recommendation Guidelines
- The length of time you have known the applicant and the context of your relationship to the applicant.
- Your opinion of his or her background, qualifications, accomplishments, and experiences as they relate to the field of democratic development.
- Reflect on the candidate's English language comprehension
- Your views on the suitability of the applicant for a fellowship of this academic nature.
- How their work has impacted the field(s) of democracy, development, and the rule of law.
- Any other information you feel is important to share concerning the candidate.
- Please indicate if you are an alumnus/alumna of this program and why you believe the candidate is a strong fit for the fellowship based on your experience.
CDDRL invites emerging political, civil society, and business leaders from transitional countries to apply to participate in its 19th annual Summer Fellows Program. The deadline for the application form and two letters of recommendation is 5:00 pm PST on Sunday, January 14, 2024.