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?
How has the Fellowship program been impacted by Covid-19?
The Aspen First Movers Fellowship is a leadership development program and innovation lab for corporate social intrapreneurs – people inside of large companies who are creating new products, services and practices that generate meaningful business value and measurable social impact.
Since 2009, the Aspen First Movers Fellowship Program has strengthened the capacity of social intrapreneurs to lead change within their company and industry. Collectively, the Fellowship seeks to build a community of corporate social intrapreneurs that will redefine how business is done and how success is measured.
Through the program, Fellows will:
- Gain knowledge of how to lead without – and beyond – formal authority
- Build skills and capacity to generate and advance new ideas
- Regularly take time to connect their work to their broader sense of purpose
- Build and leverage internal and external networks of support
The program is also an organizational development strategy for the companies that sponsor Fellows. Among other benefits, companies gain:
- Greater innovation expertise
- Leadership development
- New business opportunities, both through a Fellows’ project
- Access to new networks in the Fellowship community and Aspen Institute
The Fellowship Program is run by the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program (Aspen BSP) whose mission is to align business decisions with the long-term health of society.
For over 20 years, the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program has convened experts from around the world to consider what kind of leaders are needed 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.
We believe that corporate social intrapreneurs 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. The Fellowship seeks to strengthen the will and capacity of these change agents by 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.
A new class of Fellows is announced each June and Fellows attend their first seminar in July. The formal phase of the Fellowship lasts approximately one year. However, we strongly believe that “once a Fellow, always a Fellow” and cultivate a culture and community based on that philosophy. There is a strong network of Fellows that stays connected well beyond each class’ individual Fellowship year.
Candidates will be asked to sign a statement reflecting their commitment to meet the program requirements, including:
- Attendance at three four-day seminars during the Fellowship year. Full participation in these seminars is mandatory and is critical for cultivating the strong community on which the program is based.
- Fellows advance a Next Stage Innovation Project that moves their company toward greater strategic integration of business success and positive social or environmental impact. Fellows conceive of these projects based on their ideas for new products, services, management practices, or business models that can be implemented in his or her company.
- Fellows must identify 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.
- Between seminars, Fellows will be expected to achieve and report on project progress, participate in webinars and conference calls, meet periodically with their Thought Partners, engage in structured peer coaching groups, and participate in evaluation surveys.
- Fellows commit to supporting other Fellows as they work to achieve their own goals.
- Fellows’ sponsoring companies are required to pay the Fellowship fee and travel costs to attend the seminars.
The scope of these projects is very broad, but all projects emerge 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.)
Seminar agendas are structured around four core themes: innovation, leadership, reflection, and 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, reflect and build and leverage networks who support 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. Additional experts are invited to deliver subject-specific modules.
Yes. Fellows gather as a class just three times during the Fellowship year and it is critical that all Fellows attend each seminar. Full participation in these seminars is mandatory and critical for cultivating the strong community on which the program is based.
Attendance is one way for Fellows to demonstrate their commitment to the group. While together, 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 Fellowship year is over.
Sessions at all three of the seminars are dedicated to teaching and practicing various innovation skills.
During the seminars, Fellows enhance their existing innovation skills by learning and practicing a range of innovation tools and methods, including design thinking. In doing so, First Movers refine their own project ideas while equipping themselves for long-term success.
Among other tools, the Fellowship experience helps participants to:
- Frame and reframe problems
- Pilot and prototype new innovations
- Pursue small wins on the road to success
- Identify appropriate measures of success
- Map innovation ecosystems inside of their companies
Corporate social intrapreneurs must navigate the corporate ecosystem to influence change without formal authority. This process requires exceptional leadership skills – vision, humility, conviction, sensitivity to others, and perseverance.
The Fellowship experience helps participants to:
- Use storytelling as a technique for influence
- Build the business case for their projects
- Leverage insights from psychology and behavioral economics to understand how people change
- Learn to lead by asking rather than telling
- Strengthen their leadership identity and profile
Leaning into 70 years of Aspen Institute practice, the First Movers seminar gives Fellows the opportunity to step back from the day-to-day, reconnect with their core purpose and develop a reflective practice that will serve their well-being for decades to come. Effective corporate social intrapreneurs are in it for the long haul; a meaningful reflective practice helps them to stay the course and have the courage to act.
Among other tools, the Fellowship experience helps participants to:
- Step away from the day-to-day to connect meaningfully with themselves and their work
- Tap into the strengths and strategies embedded in their own past successes
- Explore and acquire new reflective practices, including meditation and journaling
- Examine texts (poetry, essays) as a means to examine personal and professional values and measures of success.
- Identify areas of personal imbalance and develop strategies for boosting well-being
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.
Beyond each class, the Aspen Institute brings the full weight of its institutional connections and alumni network to each of the participating Fellows.
The Fellowship experience helps participants to:
- Build strong relationships with other Fellows for support and collaboration
- Learn new techniques of peer consulting for personal leadership and project challenges
- Identify and engage thought partners inside their company
- Develop a broad network through the Aspen First Movers alumni network
Yes. Fellows’ companies pay a participation fee of $30,000, payable in two installments. It covers program delivery costs, as well as accommodations and all meals during the three First Mover seminars in Colorado, Arizona, and New York. It also covers post-Fellowship 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.
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? Great candidates:
- Work inside of large, for-profit companies (not government, start-ups or non-profits)
- Work in core business functions (e.g., finance, marketing, legal, etc.) of large companies, rather than sustainability, social impact, and 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
- Come from a diversity of backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, functional expertise, and more.
- Would be excited about and committed to an Aspen Institute Fellowship that requires:
- Attendance at three four-day seminars over one year
- Active engagement with peers and experts across industries
- The pursuit of a meaningful project that combines business profitability and social or environmental impact
- Joining a lifelong community of exceptional social intrapreneurs
- A Fellowship fee
We seek diverse nominations across industry, geography, functional responsibility, and demographics.
For more information, download the overview.
We accept nominations year-round and each application cycle has a nomination deadline in the Fall. Candidates nominated at any point before that deadline will be considered for the following year’s class.
Know someone who would make a great candidate? Let us know!
We do not accept self-nominations to the Fellowship. All candidates must be nominated by colleagues, business leaders, or academic leaders.
Contact the First Movers Team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barring significant changes to health and safety guidelines, the 2022 class and all future Fellowship classes are expected to meet in person and will take appropriate precautions. When confirming participation in the Fellowship, accepted candidates commit to attending all three seminars in person.
The goals of the Fellowship remain the same. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of corporate leaders who are innovating at the intersection of business success and social and environmental impact. In short, corporate social intrapreneurs are more important than ever.