First Movers Fellowship FAQ

Still have questions about the First Movers Fellowship Program? Check out the FAQs, hopefully they’ve been answered below.

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?

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 initial Fellowship year, 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 into 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.

The Fellowship Program is run by the Aspen Business & Society Program  (Aspen BSP) whose vision is to align business with the long-term health of society.

What is the Aspen Business & Society Program’s approach to achieving these goals?

Corporate 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.

For 20 years, Aspen BSP has convened 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 First Movers Fellowship Program transforms what we have learned from this inquiry into practice.

How long does the Fellowship last?

Each year, we announce a new class of Fellows in June. The formal phase of the Fellowship lasts approximately one year. However, we firmly believe and actively cultivate the “once a Fellow, always a Fellow” culture and community!

What are the Fellowship requirements?

  • Fellows must attend three seminars in Colorado, Maryland, and New York. Attendance at each of the four-day seminars is mandatory. Full participation is critical for building the community that is at the heart of the Fellowship experience.
  • Fellows will be expected to advance an Innovation Project during their Fellowship. This project will be based on a compelling idea the Fellow has for new products, services, management practices, or business 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.
  • Fellows are required to pay the Fellowship fee and travel costs to attend the seminars. Fellows’ companies pay the fees and travel costs for those who have been selected for this program.

What kinds of Innovation Projects do Fellows undertake?

The scope of 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 a 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 will be asked to sign a statement reflecting their commitment to meet the program requirements – including attendance at the seminars.

How does the Fellowship help Fellows develop a 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, storytelling, organizational mapping, and 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 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.”
— Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

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, management practices, or business 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 corporate 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 storytelling 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. A greater consciousness of “inner life” will 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 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.


  • 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. Fellows’ companies pay a participation fee of $27,500, payable in two installments. The first payment of $23,500 is due on July 1st. It covers program delivery costs, as well as accommodations and all meals during the three First Mover seminars in Colorado, Maryland, and New York. The second payment of $4,000 is due on February 1st the following year. This payment covers post-Fellowship programming and follow-up, including check-ins on project progress; ongoing program evaluation; and the introduction of new Fellows into the broader Aspen First Movers community.

This fee does not include 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?

First Mover Fellows are exceptional corporate social intrapreneurs who are creating new products, services, and practices at the intersection of business growth and positive social and environmental change.

Do you know a potential First Mover Fellow? We’re looking for candidates who:

  • Work in core business functions (e.g., finance, marketing, legal, etc.) of large companies, rather than CSR departments
  • Have demonstrated passion and capacity for working at the intersection of business growth and positive social and environmental change
  • Have a track record of innovation, coupled with a sense of humility about his or her accomplishments
  • Would be excited about and committed to an Aspen Institute Fellowship that requires:
    1. Attendance at three four-day seminars over one year
    2. Active engagement with peers and experts across industries
    3. The pursuit of a meaningful project that combines business profitability and social or environmental impact
    4. Joining a lifelong community of exceptional social intrapreneurs
    5. A Fellowship fee (approx. $27k)

We seek diverse nominations across industry, geography, functional responsibility, and demographics. Please note, however, that the program is restricted to employees of for-profit companies only.

For more information, download the candidate profile one-pager.

How can I nominate someone for the Fellowship?

We accept nominations year-round, however, the nomination deadline for the 2018 class is Friday, March 2nd. Know someone who would make a great candidate? Let us know!

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?

Contact the First Movers Team by email at