Kristi Ward

Staff Note: Designing your Bush Fellowship plan

September 13, 2023

By Kristina Ward, program operations officer

The Bush Fellowship is unique because it’s not about projects, it’s about people. It’s an investment in accomplished leaders with extraordinary track records who are ready to leap forward in their leadership. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus on building the skills and capacities needed to be more effective in leading change. As folks start thinking about their leadership growth, we are often asked: What does it mean to design your own Bush Fellowship plan?

To make the most of the Bush Fellowship, first reflect on what you need to have an even greater impact with and across communities. At its heart, the Fellowship invites you to strengthen your leadership in ways that may be beyond what you have ever imagined.

We’re offering three insights to help you think about designing your Fellowship plan. Use these suggestions as a guide as you consider how you will grow as a leader to realize your vision for change in the region.

Be clear about the change that is needed in your community — and the role you could play in leading that change. A Fellowship plan can only be made once you have clarity on the large-scale change that is needed in your community. As you think about your Bush Fellowship plan, explain the big vision you have for your community. Now is the time to dream big, even if you have dismissed that vision as unrealistic in the past. Once you can name the change you are aiming for, you can then determine how to grow your leadership to support that change. Remember, you’re not only thinking about today, but how to be better positioned in the next five, ten or forty years to bring those changes to life. Some questions to consider are:

  • What does the future you’re working to create look like?
  • How would you describe the bold vision you have for your community?
  • What are you doing today to help make that change happen?
  • How can you build on connections and experiences you already have?
  • What could be possible if you take the vision you have for your community a step further?
  • What will you need to learn and how will you need to grow to provide the leadership needed to accomplish that vision?

Focus on the growth you need to benefit your community.  We’ve heard from many leaders that having the opportunity to dream big about what’s possible through their leadership and design a plan focused exclusively on their own growth is unfamiliar, and perhaps uncomfortable. While it might feel uncomfortable to focus so much on yourself, that doesn't mean it's selfish. The Bush Fellowship funds your leadership growth so that you can make a big impact with your community.

We encourage you to read this reflection by 2019 Bush Fellow, Maria Medina. She explains how the Bush Fellowship application challenged her own narratives about leadership and how she worked through thinking and talking about her leadership as an individual. She shares:

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through the Bush Fellowship experience and my own personal leadership journey, a lesson I want to share with you, is that we cannot create collective power and transformation for the betterment of our communities without turning inward, reflecting deeply and going through a journey of self-transformation.

What each Bush Fellow needs to transform into the leader they wish to become is different. As you step out of what’s familiar — whatever that may be for you — think about what you hope will be different in you, as a leader, after your Bush Fellowship experience. Transforming yourself through a Fellowship is all in service of your ability to lead change with your community.

Imagine what’s possible and the ways to get there. Fellowships are designed for maximum flexibility because each Bush Fellow’s journey is unique. Keep in mind that a Bush Fellowship invests in your personal leadership growth — it does not fund projects. As you describe your vision and imagine what’s possible, ask yourself:

  • How will you build the skills, connections and experiences you need to accomplish your vision?
  • How do you need to grow to be an even more equitable leader?
  • What skills and experiences do you need to inspire individuals? To transform systems?
  • What do you need to be healthy and whole so you can lead large-scale change for decades to come?

Imagine the impact you can have by taking intentional time to nurture your ability to lead change! Thinking bigger about your leadership growth will help bring your bold vision for community change into reality.