Welcome to the Mandela Washington Fellowship online review of the 2018 application questions.
We commence today’s review of Question one with the kind contribution of the following past fellows and reviewers:
Patience N. Agwenjang– Cameroon
Lucinda Mary Athieno– Uganda
Witika MK (Bwalya Maketo)- Zambia
Chola Lungu-Mutoni РZambia
Pauline Muthoni– Kenya
Adepeju Jaiyeoba– Nigeria
Esther Mark– Nigeria
Isaiah Owolabi- Nigeria
Tola Oni– Nigeria
Janet Gbam– Nigeria
Essay Question 1.
Please give a brief description of your professional background and current work. Why have you chosen this work?
Question Component
The question has three components:
1. Your professional background
2. What you do currently
3. Why you do what you do.
A. Your professional background:
Here, you should talk about where you are coming from, what you studied in schools for what you qualified as. Trust me, a line is sufficient for this. Remember, you’ve got just 150 words.
B. Your current work.
Not everyone does the same thing they studied professionally. So here, you talk about your current job. What do you do there? How you have been able to impact lives through this current job you hold. You should be meeting a need here and contributing towards something. Talk about it.
C. Why you do what you do.
What drives you? Why do you do what you do? Why are you passionate about it? Why is this your life work? Those are questions you must answer before proceeding with responding to this part of the question.
Your WHY must connect A and B together. If you are into an entirely different job from your professional background, explain why you switched to the new job. What motivated you to do the switch? This is a problem solving focused question and you must state in your response the lapses you are hoping your work will solve or the problem your work aims to resolve. If you have success stories, you could mention one or two here.
I know you are thinking all in 150 words? Trust me, it’s very possible! Let me give you an example, let’s assume you work on helping teenage girls return to school, you could say something like:
“Girls like Mary who gave birth at 15, disowned by her parents and left to suffer is the reason why I do what I do. By providing shelter for 40 teenage Mums and ensuring they get support to return to school, we are making change happen for them.”
The above is less than 50 words but in it you have succeeded in
1. Giving examples of your success story.
2. Mentioning your impact.
3. Tell a story people can easily connect to.
Never waste words!!
Key things to pay attention to in this question are:
1. Provide justifications: If your current work continues in the line of your professional work, ensure a seamless flow in your writing. For example, if you studied psychology in school and now currently work or run a foundation that deals with mental health awareness, it will be nice to provide some justification for your decision to chose mental health as the area of focus. You could tell a story about how the suicide of an otherwise happy and cheerful family member made you decide to focus on mental health or any other reasons you may have.
Connect the dots.
2. Explain transitions: where your professional work is different from your current work, explain your transition. For example, I studied law and even though I’m still a lawyer, I also work in the field of maternal and child health. My transition was necessitated by the death of a close friend at childbirth who put a face behind all the statistics of maternal deaths I had been seeing.
3. Don’t waste words. Remember you have just 150 words to answer this question. If you have a story around your work, your drive and motivation, please share it here. Application markers are not robots, they like to also connect to your stories and understand your drive.
Need some more guide?
Witika gives a practical example of how to answer this question versus how NOT to answer below:
“I am a Teacher employed by the Ministry of Education. I have been teaching English Language and Literature at Park lands Secondary school since 2012 and previously at Naboye High School in 2011.I chose this career because I feel being able to guide learners through the different disciplines taught in school institutions takes a lot of passion and self-giving for the greater good of another human being, a passion which I believe I possess.Growing up I really admired my English Language teacher in High School, and the patience she had towards her students so I aspired to be like her.I too wanted to become as passionate a teacher as she was. It is this passion I have for teaching as a profession, that played a major role in my establishment of the Zambian Women With Skills Organisation (ZWWS).Which is more or less an appendage of what am already doing.”
An example of how you SHOULD NOT answer this question:
“I am a teacher Employed by the Ministry of Education with 5 years experience. I initially wanted to pursue a different career but because I couldn’t make the cut in University for my prefered career choice, I opted to settle for the next option at my disposal. Although I love teaching, I wasn’t really interested in standing in front of a group of learners every day. My settling into this career was because I had to look around to see what else I could pursue at University. I guess I really just fell into this career field because it was the only thing out there available at the time for someone with my degree. I really didn’t plan it that way.”
I hope you all found this elaborate and helpful. See you again on Friday for the review of question 2. All the very best everyone 

Compiled by Adepeju Jaiyeoba, Founder, Mothers Delivery Kit and Brown Button Foundation.

Subscribe to our newsletter!
Clicking "Subscribe me" is successful, even if you don't see any confirmation here