The Emerson Collective Fellowship: An Impactful Pathway for Social Change Agents

Social change starts with passionate individuals who devote their careers to tackling society’s biggest problems. The Emerson Collective Fellowship provides an exceptional opportunity for such change-makers to accelerate their impact.

Background on the Emerson Collective

Founded in 2004 by philanthropist and impact investor Laurene Powell Jobs, the Emerson Collective is a social change organization dedicated to funding efforts that advance human rights, justice, and opportunity. With a focus on education, immigration reform, environmental protection, and other critical issues, the Emerson Collective utilizes strategies like advocacy, donations, and impact investing to catalyze reform.

The organization operates with the vision that, with care, insight, and determination, societies can be strengthened in a way that protects human dignity and elevates human potential. This driving philosophy is evident both in the issues the Emerson Collective supports and in the fellowships it offers to rising leaders in the field of social progress.

An Overview of the Emerson Collective Fellowship Program

The Emerson Collective Fellowship program aims to equip exceptional individuals with the skills, networks, and experience needed to drive meaningful progress on today’s most pressing problems. Each year, 15-20 fellows are selected to participate in a two-year initiative centered around hands-on project work, leadership development, and professional support.

Eligibility and Focus Areas

To be eligible, applicants must hold a graduate or professional degree or have equivalent experience in fields related to the Emerson Collective’s mission areas. These include (but are not limited to) education, immigration, environment, media/technology, civic engagement, criminal justice reform, and economic opportunity. Candidates from underrepresented communities are strongly encouraged to apply.

Project Work and Placements

Fellows are matched with impact organizations or social enterprises aligned with the Emerson Collective’s vision and strategies. Through these host placements, fellows gain real-world experience developing and executing high-impact projects. Placements have included roles at non-profits, advocacy groups, think tanks and start-ups working on issues like education access, climate solutions, and immigrant rights.

Leadership Development

In addition to on-the-job learning, fellows participate in leadership training, convenings, and coaching sessions led by experts in the social change space. Curricula cover topics such as systems change strategy, partnership building, cross-sector collaboration, communications and storytelling, and more. This rounded development equips fellows to take on rising positions of influence within their fields.

Network and Support

The fellowship also build a community of practice among the cohort. Fellows gain lifelong peers who are also dedicated to positive change. Additionally, the Emerson Collective provides ongoing professional guidance, connections to funders and collaborators, and opportunities for fellows to showcase their work and influence the organization’s long-term impact strategies.

The Application and Selection Process

The fellowship is highly selective, with around a 5% acceptance rate. Applicants must demonstrate a strong track record of achieving impact, as well as leadership potential and commitment to inclusive, collaborative solutions. Here are more details on the multi-step selection process:

Application Materials

Applicants submit a resume/CV, cover letter, writing sample, and references addressing their relevant experience and future goals/vision. Candidates must clearly articulate how participating in the fellowship will elevate their impact.

Screening Interviews

Top applicants advance to preliminary phone interviews assessing their fit, qualifications, and motivation further. Feedback helps candidates strengthen their full proposals.

Proposals and Interviews

Finalists craft proposals for a specific high-impact project they could execute through a fellowship placement. Candidates then participate in in-depth panel interviews to discuss their ideas.

Selection and Matching

A committee reviews all materials holistically to select the incoming cohort. Placements are strategically matched to fellows’ backgrounds, ideas, and the vision/needs of host organizations.

Cohort Onboarding

Once selected, fellows participate in an orientation process to prepare them for their placements and the fellowship experience overall. The program kicks off with a retreat focused on relationship-building and leadership development.

Fellowship Impacts and Outcomes

By supporting rising leaders through hands-on experience, training, and connections, the Emerson Collective Fellowship catalyzes new waves of impact. Here are some highlights of past fellows’ achievements:

  • Several have gone on to found their own non-profits and social enterprises addressing issues like climate literacy, workforce development, and immigrant access to healthcare and education.
  • Many have risen to leadership roles within established organizations like community foundations, advocacy non-profits, government agencies, and social change consultancies where they direct high-dollar programming.
  • Fellows’ projects during the program have influenced policy reforms, engaged millions of constituents in civic action, expanded educational access programs to new districts, and more.
  • The program has built an active network of over 200 fellows now collaborating across sectors to tackle problems with diverse perspectives and coordinated strategies.
  • Grads consistently cite the fellowship experience and Emerson Collective’s ongoing mentorship as transformative catalysts that equipped and empowered them to raise their leadership potential and scale of impact.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses some questions commonly asked about the Emerson Collective Fellowship:

What is the time commitment for fellows?

The fellowship is a full-time, two-year commitment. Fellows are expected to dedicate at least 40 hours per week to their host placement project work and leadership development activities with the collective.

Do fellows receive a stipend or salary?

Yes, fellows are provided with a generous living stipend allowing them to fully focus on the fellowship without additional employment. The stipend amount varies depending on years of experience and location of placement.

What types of projects have past fellows executed?

Example projects include developing K-12 curricula on civics and climate, launching statewide voter registration drives, creating education access programs for DREAMers, piloting green job training initiatives, researching criminal justice reforms, and more.

Can international applicants qualify?

Yes, while the large majority of past fellows have been based in the US, the program has supported candidates from other countries who demonstrated how their proposed work could drive a positive impact domestically or globally.

How competitive is acceptance into the program?

Over the past five years, the Emerson Collective Fellowship has averaged around a 5% acceptance rate with over 1,000 applicants annually for 15-20 spots. Candidates must demonstrate truly exceptional qualifications, ideas, and leadership potential to be selected.

What attributes have led to fellow selection?

Top attributes include: a proven track record of achieving results, a bold and innovative proposed project, demonstrated commitment to collaboration, strong written and verbal communication skills, and passion for creating lasting social change through equitable and inclusive approaches.


The Emerson Collective Fellowship is a uniquely impactful opportunity for emerging leaders dedicated to solving humanity’s greatest challenges. By providing fellows with unmatched experience, skills training, networks, and resources, the program has fueled new waves of innovative work and boosted countless careers that spread hope and drive progress. For motivated change agents poised to take their abilities to the next level, the Emerson Collective Fellowship could prove a transformational catalyst. 

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