Business and Society Program

First Movers Fellowship FAQs

The First Movers Fellowship is offered by the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program whose mission is to equip business leaders for the 21st century with a new management paradigm – the vision and knowledge to integrate corporate profitability and social value.

What are the goals of the program?

What is Aspen BSP’s approach to achieving these goals?

How long does the Fellowship last?

What are the Fellowship requirements?

What kinds of projects do Fellows undertake?

What is the focus of the seminars?

Is attendance at all of the seminars mandatory?

How does the Fellowship help Fellows develop capacity to innovate?

How are leadership skills acquired during the Fellowship?

How is reflection built into the Fellowship?

How is a sense of community developed in the Fellowship program?

Is there a financial cost to the Fellowship?

What qualifications are you looking for in the candidates?

How can I nominate someone for the Fellowship?

How can I apply for the Fellowship?

For more information, who do I contact?

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What are the goals of the program?

The program is designed as a leadership development opportunity for the Fellows and an organizational development strategy for the companies that send Fellows to the program.

By the end of the program Fellows will have:

  • Envisioned and begun to implement a game changing innovation within their firm.
  • Developed skills to socialize innovative ideas within complex systems.
  • Connected to a community of innovators who will remain a lifelong source of encouragement, collaboration and support.
  • Developed strategies for tapping in to their personal passions and purpose to fuel their commitment as change makers.

Participating companies that help their Fellows work on projects of strategic significance and that integrate lessons from the fellowship into their own leadership development efforts will also benefit. They can expect to achieve higher levels of integration of financial and social value as core strategic priorities as a result of their involvement in the fellowship program.

Aspen BSP’s vision: Over the longer term a critical mass of innovators will help ensure that the business community lives up to its full potential as a vehicle for positive social change.

What is Aspen BSP’s approach to achieving these goals?

Social intrapreneurs can be found in many companies -- large and small, and across industries. We believe that these innovators have the potential to develop the ideas and approaches that will help their own companies, and the business community as a whole, live up to its full potential as a vehicle for positive social change. But realizing their potential requires investment and nurturing. By identifying these First Movers, offering them the skills to be as effective as possible, connecting them with others to fuel their passion and courage, and learning from their experiences, we will generate a critical mass of business leaders who, over the longer term, will help companies integrate social value, along with financial value, as core strategic priorities.

Over the past 15 years, Aspen BSP has convened leadership development experts from around the world to consider what kind of leaders we need to lead companies that integrate profitability and social and environmental value – and how we can develop leaders with this vision and ability. The new First Movers Fellowship program transforms what we have learned from this decade-long inquiry into practice.

How long does the Fellowship last?

The formal phase of the Fellowship lasts approximately one year. The 2013 class of Fellows was announced in June, 2013 and will complete the formal phase of the fellowship in May, 2014.

What are the Fellowship requirements?

  • Fellows must attend three seminars. The first will be from July 17 - 20, 2014 at the Aspen Meadows in Aspen, Colorado. The second is scheduled for November 18 - 21, 2014 to be held on the Wye River in Maryland. The third will be in April 21 - April 24, 2015 outside New York, New York. Attendance is mandatory. Full participation is critical for building the community that is at the heart of the fellowship experience.
  • Fellows will be expected to complete an innovation project during their Fellowship. This project will be based on a compelling idea the Fellow has for new products, services, business processes or models that can be implemented in his or her company. The innovation should help the company move toward greater strategic integration of a critical social or environmental objective.
  • Fellows must identify two thought partners – generally from within their own companies – who will work with them throughout the fellowship period. These individuals should be selected based on their ability to help the Fellow achieve his/her project goals.
  • Fellows are also asked to commit to supporting other Fellows as they work to achieve their own goals.
  • Between seminars, Fellows will be expected to achieve and report on project progress, participate in conference calls, stay in communication with the program staff and other Fellows, meet periodically with their thought partners and participate in program evaluation surveys and interviews.

What kinds of projects do Fellows undertake?

The scope for these projects is very broad. The common element is that each project emerges from an innovative idea for helping a company achieve financial success and positive social and environmental progress. Fellows’ projects have ranged from providing access to sanitation for low-income households in Ghana, to reducing the reliance of fleet vehicles on petroleum-based fuels, to developing best practice privacy and information values to ensure ethical use of personal data. (Click here to see additional information about the Fellows’ projects.)

What is the focus of the seminars?

The agendas for the seminars are structured around four core themes: Innovation. Leadership. Reflection. Community. We believe that First Movers will be better able to envision and implement game changing innovations within their firms if they have greater capacity to innovate, lead and reflect and if they have the support of others who share their commitment to change. Members of the First Mover Design Team – who design and facilitate the seminars – are leading experts in each of these areas and weave together programs for each seminar that focus on these themes.

Is attendance at all of the seminars mandatory?

Yes. Fellows gather as a class just three times during the fellowship period, and it is critical that all Fellows attend each seminar. Attendance is one way for the Fellows to demonstrate their commitment to the group. The community that emerges during the fellowship is a critical component of the program. While together, the Fellows develop deep friendships, uncover opportunities for collaboration and provide mutual support. The bonds established during these seminars are likely to hold long after the official phase of the fellowship is over. Candidates for the fellowship will be asked to sign a statement reflecting their commitment to meet the requirements of the fellowship – including attendance at the seminars.

How does the Fellowship help Fellows develop capacity to innovate?

Sessions at all three of the seminars are dedicated to teaching and practicing various innovation skills.

During the seminars, Fellows learn and practice various innovation tools/methods, including problem reframing, prototyping, project planning, story telling, organizational mapping, identifying and applying success measures. They are also introduced to the concept of design thinking as one broad framework for thinking about innovation. Design thinking, as defined by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, is “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

In the course of the fellowship year Fellows use these skills to carry out their projects. They:

  • Identify and implement an innovative project to work on during their tenure as a Fellow to turn a compelling idea into reality by developing new products, services, business processes or models.
  • Develop project objectives and plans.
  • Identify project success measures.
  • Identify and collaborate with two thought partners within their companies during the fellowship period.
  • Report on project progress to thought partners and others within their companies and to the community of Fellows.

How are leadership skills acquired during the Fellowship?

The professional life of a social intrapreneur can be a lonely one. Often these individuals are working against corporate norms and accepted habits of practice. They realize that their success in implementing innovations within their firms can come only by engaging with others. Consequently, the seminars help fellows explore ways to build political and social capital within their organizations and gain support from key individuals.

This process requires exceptional leadership skills – humility, conviction, sensitivity to others, an ability to create narratives that help others see the possibilities that come with proposed change.

During the seminars Fellows will:

  • Map the innovation “ecosystems” of their organizations to get a clearer picture of how innovative change happens within their companies.
  • Develop strategies for bringing others on board, scaling up pilots and using prototypes as levers for large scale change.
  • Read about successful leadership practices.
  • Tap into the strengths and strategies embedded in their own past successes.
  • Study and practice story telling and Giving Voice to Values strategies.
  • Work with thought partners who help them build support for change.

How is reflection built into the Fellowship?

Reflective practices allow Fellows to explore and strengthen their own spiritual and psychological foundation. Greater consciousness of their “inner life” help them connect their business practices with their most deeply held aspirations for humanity and embolden them to act.

Throughout the Fellowship, Fellows:

  • Explore their own personal values and the relationship these values have to their work. They are asked to be respectful and inquisitive about the perspectives of others in the group.
  • Maintain personal journals, share stories with other Fellows and discuss ways of managing time to ensure there is space for reflection in their daily lives.
  • Examine texts (poetry, essays) as a means to examine personal and professional values and measures of success.

How is a sense of community developed in the Fellowship program?

One of the critical characteristics we are looking for in fellowship candidates is a collaborative spirit. We select Fellows who are eager to achieve their own goals and to work hard to help others achieve theirs.

Fellows will find themselves in the midst of a diverse group of business people who are accomplished, daring and humble, people who are as eager to learn as they are to teach. The group serves as a source of inspiration, mutual support and collaboration.

Fellows:

  • Listen to each other’s stories.
  • Coach each other on overcoming challenges.
  • Open up their networks.
  • Share joys and challenges and over time weave connections that will bind them in friendship well beyond the conclusion of the fellowship period.

Is there a financial cost to the Fellowship?

Yes. There is a participation fee of $23,500 which covers all the onsite costs for the seminars including housing and meals, program facilitation, staff support, and materials. Fellows also pay their own travel costs to attend the seminars. Fellows’ companies pay the fees and travel costs for those who have been selected for this program.

What qualifications are you looking for in the candidates?

We seek exceptional business professionals who are recognized as top talent in their companies. Successful candidates will have demonstrated passion and capacity for working at the intersection of business growth and positive social and environmental change. Most will work in core business functions within their companies: finance, marketing, design, leadership and organizational development, etc. They should, indeed, be FIRST MOVERS: extraordinary institutional entrepreneurs who have the vision, tenacity, and courage to achieve remarkable changes in business practice and impact.

We are looking for candidates from diverse backgrounds in terms of industry, functional responsibility, race, religion, gender and location.

In selecting Fellows, we consider each candidate's:

  • Track record of innovation, coupled with a sense of humility about his or her accomplishments.
  • Compelling idea about a next stage innovation project to undertake during the Fellowship. We are looking for innovation projects that are ambitious, feasible, and closely aligned with the core strategic priorities of his or her company.
  • Enthusiasm for learning from others, supporting other Fellows in their work and collaborating with colleagues in their own companies to leverage their own learning and accomplishments.
  • Comfort with a program that is largely self-directed and one that invites self-reflection.
  • Ability to meet the requirements of the Fellowship (attending the seminars, working with thought partners, and paying the Fellowship fee).
  • Access to executive decision makers in his or her company.
  • Fluency in English.

Candidates from non-profit organizations will not be considered.

How can I nominate someone for the Fellowship?

Nominations are now closed for the 2014 Class of Fellows.

How can I apply for the Fellowship?

We do not accept self-nominations to the Fellowship. All candidates must be nominated by colleagues, business or academic leaders.

For more information, who do I contact?

Garrett Barr, Program Coordinator, First Movers Fellowship at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, who can be reached at +1 (212) 895-8011 or garrett.barr@aspeninst.org.