Tips for a successful Mandela Rhodes Scholarship application
The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship (MRS), bestowed by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation (MRF) is a fully-funded and the most prestigious scholarship for Young African leaders (18–29 years) in Africa, based on the legacies and principles of Nelson Mandela and Cecil Rhodes. The 4 primary principles and pillars are Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Reconciliation, and Education. Thus, prospective candidates must DEEPLY reflect on these big 4 and how they embody them in their life journey. I highly recommend this link to help in deepening your reflection and introspection before filling the application.
To be successful in the application, there are documents that you need to prepare. The idea is to be very diligent, thorough and reflective in preparing them, for them to be authentic and top-notch and also reflect the ideals of MRF. Below are some tips you need in preparing each of them:
The application requires 3 recommendation letters for each applicant and you can`t be able to submit without your 3 recommenders submitting first. So while you are preparing your other documents, start your application on the http//www.mandelarhodes.org/scholarship/apply/ and register your referees on time, with their emails (preferably their work email addresses). Kindly note that this is prone to change in the future. Very important: one of your recommenders must be a lecturer that had taught you in your undergraduate days. When I did mine in 2018, I used academic (a Ph.D. holder), professional (my direct boss at the workplace and the Executive Director), and mentorship (a Professor) referees.
According to MRF, a good recommendation letter ought to “reflect the character, intellect, strengths, and areas of development of the applicant”. So how can your referees capture these? Make sure that your referees know you in terms of your Leadership, Education, Entrepreneurship and Reconciliation attribute — it is your job to acquaint yourself with them and make them understand these. The recommendation letter of each referee is unique because the letter is also testimony and the reflections of your referee on your character, actions and their unique relationships with you.
With examples and anecdotes, your academic recommendation letter could say about your general education, brilliant grades, how your assignments, term papers, and seminars stood out — let them be specific about these and how they stood out. How you tutored and organized class tutorials and led group assignments and seminars. How during a specific class (let them input the modules and courses), you were bold to form a divergent opinion(s) and reconcile a real-life scenario (probably of your country`s or Africa`s development) within your field to a theory.
It could also show your attitude to corrections and pushbacks; how you reconcile and react to diverse opinions during class debates. Also, it could show how you can multi-task, juggle student leadership, and think out of the box in solving problems. These can be shown via how you initiated partnerships, organized online and offline workshops, volunteered, excursions, etc while you are in school, and generally added extra value.
Finally, the letter should show how (inclusive of the new skills and experiences that) MRS would help you attain in higher academic pinnacle and development. This person has known and mentored you for years during your study and even after your study and can form an opinion about you — that is the idea.
This same process follows for your professional recommendation letter and the last one. Let these referees keep emphasizing on when and how you demonstrated leadership, and equally used education, reconciliation (how you solve conflict), creativity and innovation (entrepreneurship) to add extra value (and probably earned money) to yourself, your community, classroom, workplace and individuals around you. Finally, how the MRS will help to make you a better effective leader in your community and country.
MRF`s CV is mostly limited to 3 pages (which can change in the future), and it is expected to include applicant`s activities, achievements, and interests from high school onwards. I would recommend the European Union`s Europass CV structure which helps you to create a comprehensive and detailed CV. Use the structure and not the template because MRF likes your documents as plain as possible. Key: I first created my CV on Europass before I re-created an MSWord version.
Since you have limited space, focus on fewer work experiences (inclusive of volunteering) that showed high leadership, expertise, and impact. For example, with my strategic communication and policy research and analysis skills which had enabled me to analyze national and sub-national budgets, governance and social development policies in Nigeria, key work experience in my CV showed that I was a volunteer policy researcher and analyst for a coalition of CSOs in a particular sub-national youth development bill and policy in Nigeria. This is aside my job role as the Communications and Stakeholder Engagements Lead in a leading governance policy think tank and NGO in Nigeria. Inclusive is my experience as the founder of a youth-led NGO that works for the social and educational inclusion and development of street and rural children, women-led households, youth and the disabled in Nigeria. These 3 were solid enough to demonstrate leadership, expertise, and impact.
The Managerial skills section was where I reflected my activities from high school. You have to be creative here. So you are free to add the managerial and leadership skills that you have acquired, starting from high school, to undergraduate and even in your place of work. An example, I began volunteering early, from my high school. So I said: “Thirteen (13) years multi-sectorial volunteer experience (that began from High School — MDGs school club)”. If you had held leadership positions in secondary school and undergraduate, add the skills you got from them here. Again, your space is getting smaller, so be cautious.
The Honours and Awards section should also reflect the awards and recognitions that you have been bestowed from High school till now. For high achievers that have plenty, do not add everything. My strategy was the ones that had international, national, high reputation, early leadership, institutional and community development outlook. For example, as a World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shaper, under Uyo hub — Nigeria, I stated that I was a 2017 Selected Inductee, which is an honor. If you were a School Prefect or/and Best Graduating in your High school or/and given academic/leadership award in your university, please, find a place to add it (perfect examples).
My observation — MRF has a certain penchant for those that demonstrate strong analytical and writing skills. Maybe because the greater part of your scholarship is filled with academics. In a way, they want to know that you are mentally fit. So if you have previous works (related to your field or general development of your country and Africa) that you have written/co-written and published, this gives you a certain edge. Don`t be shy to cite these works in the Publication section of your CV (with their links). If you don`t have, be not discouraged.
Your referees could be the same folks (though not compulsory) that are writing your recommendation letters. Make sure that your CV reflects some of your activities in your statement.
2021 question: Reflect on a polarizing issue or event in your country and the steps that the respective communities could take to move towards one another. Contextualize the issue/polarizing event, who the relevant stakeholders/communities affected are and provide your analysis of the issue and possible resolutions.
Note: essay question changes every year. In 2018, the question focused on leadership.
Writing your essay, there is no right or wrong way as most times, the idea behind essay-writing is to show your thought process, how you develop an argument, and how you present your arguments. This year`s essay is focused on Reconciliation; the essence is for MRF to see how you reason on issues of Reconciliation, using an example of a conflict in your country or community. The key to this essay is to aim for CAPTIVATING, GOOD SUMMARY and CLARITY. In the words of Chimamanda Adichie — an internationally acclaimed novelist — “let your writing be as clear as a windowpane”. You won`t be there to explain to MRF what you wrote. But as well, let it answer sufficiently the question. Use short sentences. Let these questions guide your essay:
· What is the specific polarizing issue?
· What is the history of the issue?
· Who are the actors and what are their positions? — This is where you demonstrate the polarity of the issue.
· Why is it a problem? — Impacts and consequences of the issue to social, economic, political, and environmental development of your community, country, and Africa in general. You may look out for the views of others in the issue (and cite them). Also here, relate it to the wider Africa. Search similar issues in the continent or globally and their negative impacts on the continent`s development.
· What were the previous solutions and why are these solutions wrong as they are yet to solve the problem?
· What are your solutions, views and thoughts about these issues?
· Your conclusion
The gift that I will give you on Reconciliation is that for reconciliation to happen, you need to find a middle ground, and agreed upon by all the actors. It is not one-sided as you cannot impose it. Sometimes, it comes with social justice, restitution, punishment, and restoration.
Strictly stick to the word count. Preferably, use journalistic writing style which enables you to use references without being mandated to add a reference list. Look for a better writer and editor to read and edit your essay after you are done. Use Grammarly app too for editing.
Personal Statement: Upload a Personal Statement that contains a summary of your life story, why you are applying for the Scholarship, as well as your vision for the future. You must limit your response to 500 words.
This is the most vital part of your application. This is the clincher. Believe me; I cried the most part while writing mine because it took me to the part of my life that I always deliberately repress. You need to demonstrate how you embody the 4 pillars of MRF here. Like the essay, captivating, good summary and clarity are the keys. You need to write in an active manner showing what you have gone through, where you are and where you aspire to be. For example, in my statement, I demonstrated that despite my travails (which I elaborated), the little opportunity I had in accessing basic education up to undergraduate level, co-enabled by my entrepreneurial activities, I used the knowledge to initiate engagements and development programs that helped to ameliorate leadership, education and reconciliation challenges in my community. Use simple words and less ambiguous sentences and statements to paint a captivating picture which will be irresistible to MRF from the first introductory sentence. Highly important in your statement is your vision of what you want to achieve and how the scholarship will help you achieve it. Let this vision be S.M.A.R.T. and clear.