Today, we review question 2 of the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2018 application questions with the kind contributions of the following fellows:
Patience N. Agwenjang– Cameroon
Lucinda Mary Athieno– Uganda
Witika Mk(Bwalya Maketo)- Zambia
Helina Stiphanos- Ethiopia
Pauline Muthoni– Kenya
Adepeju Jaiyeoba– Nigeria
Esther Mark– Nigeria
Owolabi Tobi Isaiah- Nigeria
Tola Oni– Nigeria
Janet Gbam Gbam- Nigeria
The Question:
2. Describe a specific instance or time when you made a mistake or encountered a set back that sparked a period of personal growth or understanding. What did you learn?
A. Component of the Question:
1. Describe a time you made a mistake or encountered a setback.
2. That mistake or setback must have sparked a period of personal growth or understanding.
3. Tell the application marker what you learnt.
1. This is NOT the part where you respond by saying you have never encountered any problem or set back before because you are easy going and gentle. If you say so, it simply means you are not growing!
2. This is also not where you blame everyone else but yourself. If you do so, it means you do not like taking responsibility and responsibility taking is one of the hallmarks of a good leader. Focus on your role in the mistake or setback and involvement in the whole situation
3. This is not the part where you now take all the ridiculous blame in a bid to attempt to impress the examiner. You must be reasonable and maintain a balance.
Measure your response to this question against, firmness, reasonableness, logically and the flexibility or freedom to make mistakes.
4. Tales like how you lost money because you held it in your hands instead of in your pocket and learnt how important it is to keep money in pockets don’t cut it here.
5. This is NOT the part to write about several of your mistakes just to impress the examiner to show you are human. This is an application not a confession series before the Priest. Focus on a mistake and weave your lessons from it.
6. The examiners want to see your ability to bounce back from setbacks, pick up lessons and forge ahead and if you cannot show this in clear terms, you may leave them wondering how much of a good leader you are.
7. Be careful of the lessons you will be drawing from your example. An example of a bad lesson might be, ‘I learnt not to trust in family and friends” or “I learnt that all men are scum that’s why I’ve refused to get married till date”. An example of a good lesson could be ‘I learnt it is highly important to document organization activities, it is important to train my staff and volunteers on community mobilization, it is important to learn about financial management before starting a business.” Etc
Now let’s move to the Question proper:
A. Describe a time you made a mistake or encountered a set back.
To answer this question the best stories to use are those you have learnt in the course of building your business or organizations because it flows from all you have written in the previous question or stories that taught you life lessons which you have now put to use as an adult.
Let me give you an example:
1. Professional story example
When I started Mothers Delivery Kit, not being a mother yet, I knew maternity pads were to be used in the kits but didn’t give it much thoughts. I launched the first kit samples with pads that had adhesive tapes only for midwives and pregnant women to complain that the pads with adhesive tapes will not be useful for them in stopping or controlling postpartum hemorrhage. This stopped our production for a while and sales dropped. I collected feedback from early adopters and worked on them to launch a new kit type with pads that didn’t have adhesive tapes.
I learnt two things from this experience:
a. Nothing for the people in the sector you work with without them. Your assumptions are not enough, you must validate them.
b. Feedbacks are critical to growth. The feedback we received has spurred growth for myself and the organisation.
2. Life lessons example:
Remember our teenage mum example when reviewing question one? Let’s push it a bit further here. Let’s assume you got pregnant in school and had to drop out. You could say something like:
“In 2001 I got pregnant at the age of 15 and faced bitter disappointment from my family who disowned me. I knew I made a mistake but I was determined to take responsibility and not let this mistake weigh me down. I dropped out of school, worked menial jobs, saved up for months, returned to school, put my baby in daycare and started my organisation to educate other young teenage mums. Today I’m an example that inspires them to keep pushing and never give up.
If there’s any key lesson I’ve learnt from this experience, it is that your mistakes don’t define you. Only YOU defines YOU!
As you tell your story in this question remember to state how it became a setback or mistake. What role did you play in it. What stage of your life were you in, at that point?
The story you decide to tell, should have a way of linking to the first answer you gave. This is to allow the synergy to flow. It is about connecting the dots so that in all five answers you will be giving, a central theme should be evident.
B. How the mistake or setback sparked personal growth or understanding.
This may include having a better character, more enduring qualities, or helping you see life from another perspective or angle.It may have even pushed you to start up something, or work more efficiently.
C. What you learned from the experience.
From encountering the setback or making a mistake, to going through the process of ‘’recovery’’ and ‘understanding’, there must be a lesson(s) you must have learned. No experience is a waste. You either win, or learn from the experience. So how did you win in this situation? What lesson has been sunk into your subconscious that you now live by? A leader must learn from every experience. Show that experience and more importantly, how that knowledge is helping you to navigate life as you go about your daily activities.
We are done with today’s review. Please don’t forget to show some love to ALL our reviewers. See you again on Monday when we review question 3.
Don’t forget tomorrow’s facebook live session on the application questions review at 7am Nigerian time.
All the very best everyone!

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