Business and Markets

Assessing the Impact of the First Movers Fellowship Program: 2009-2016

June 27, 2017  • First Movers Fellowship Program, Eli Malinsky, Dr. Shari Cohen & Dr. Jennifer Johnson

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Key Points

  • Companies report significant return on their investment in the Fellowship; more than 20 have selected multiple employees for the Fellowship.
  • Fellows report transformative impact in their level of confidence, their ability to advance an innovation in their companies, and their clarity of purpose in their work.
  • Fellows have launched wide-ranging innovations that have business benefits and create positive social and environmental change.
  • A growing number of Fellows are reaching beyond their company’s borders to impact the way their industry operates.


In 2009, the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program launched a Fellowship Program for First Movers—exceptional innovators in business who are creating new products, services and management practices that achieve greater profitability for their companies and positive social and environmental impacts for the world.

The goal of the program is to strengthen the capacity of these businessmen and women to innovate and lead change in their companies. The larger mission is to build a cohort of leaders who will, over time, collectively change how business is done and how business success is measured.

Since its inception in 2009, there have been 150 Fellows from 109 companies headquartered in 21 countries complete the program. These Fellows represent a wide range of industries, from retail to
automotive to technology. They also have wide ranging responsibilities within their companies, a diversity that reflects a fundamental tenet of the program: social innovation can happen
anywhere along the value chain of an enterprise.

The program includes three four-day seminars over the year, during which Fellows are provided with an innovation toolkit. The seminars serve as a laboratory for the innovation project that each Fellow is required to undertake during the Fellowship. Between seminars, Fellows participate in peer coaching groups and a series of topical calls intended to support their efforts to advance their innovation projects.

Independent evaluation has been a core component of the program. Dr. Shari Cohen, an experienced evaluator of leadership programs has worked closely with the Fellowship’s Design Team to assess the program’s impact on the Fellow and the Fellow’s company. What follows is a summary of our research from the first seven years of the program.