A Social Impact Opportunity for Mid-Career Professionals: The FUSE Executive Fellows Program

May 10, 2019
Wilford Pinkney, Jr. a current FUSE Fellow in St. Louis, Missouri

The FUSE Corps Executive Fellowship is for mid-career professionals with 15+ years of private sector experience who are looking to transition their careers for greater social impact. Each carefully crafted fellowship focuses on achieving lasting impact and exposing local governments to innovative approaches. Each Fellow is paired one-on-one with an experienced executive coach and a “host champion” within local government. In addition, FUSE Fellows participate in an elite leadership training program that was developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company, Stanford Institute of Design (d. school) and Harvard Kennedy School. Fellows receive a $90,000 stipend in their FUSE Corps placement.

Wilford Pinkney, Jr. is a doctoral candidate in political science at the Graduate Center, City University New York (CUNY) and a current FUSE Fellow who learned about the fellowship through ProFellow last year. He is working to design a comprehensive plan for reform in the St. Louis pretrial detention process, including realistic alternatives to bail and bonds. He gave us an inside look into what his fellowship experience has been like.

1. What type of information would have been helpful to you when you were considering your fellowship options?

I did not know much about fellowships when I started looking. I was encouraged to look for a fellowship as part of my doctoral studies. However, it was not clear to me how a fellowship could benefit me academically or professionally. Before beginning my search, it would have been helpful to have answers to the following questions:

  • What should the motivation be for pursuing a fellowship (i.e. professional development or service)?
  • What are the different types of fellowships available to someone like myself, and what are the benefits of each?
  • Because I already had extensive professional experience, what would I gain from doing a fellowship?
  • How do I compare and evaluate fellowships?
  • How will my fellowship experience help me identify professional opportunities after it ends?
  • What will be expected of me during a fellowship?

2. Why did you choose to pursue a fellowship at this point in your career?

The executive officer of my doctoral program suggested I do a fellowship. Although I took her up on the recommendation, I can honestly say I did not know why. It was not clear to me how a fellowship could help a mid-career professional. I saw fellowships as something for younger people with less professional experience. But as I started my research, I came to believe the experience might connect me with professional networks that could help me achieve my goal of becoming an effective senior executive. I am passionate about finding answers to the problems that plague urban communities, and I realized a fellowship could help me have an impact on policy at the highest level.

3. How did you learn about the FUSE Executive Fellowships?

I learned about FUSE Executive Fellowships through ProFellow, which I discovered through a Google search. ProFellow does a great job of breaking fellowship opportunities into categories. I immediately focused on the mid-career professional fellowships and came across the FUSE Corps website. As I read about the organization and its projects, I felt like I had found what I was looking for. Becoming a FUSE executive fellow would allow me to play a leadership role in promoting system-level changes aimed at addressing problems plaguing communities that are most in need.

4. What interested you about the FUSE Executive Fellowship?

The projects focus on organizational change and social impact. My professional experience includes work in law enforcement, higher education, not-for-profit consulting, as well as national and international technical assistance and training related to access to justice. I always felt that my diverse professional experience was often seen as a weakness. However, FUSE wants experienced, innovative problem solvers who can work with cross-sector stakeholders. So now that perceived weakness has turned into a strength. FUSE’s focus on systemic change and social impact aligned with the work I was already doing on a smaller scale. I liked the timeline of one year, because it would allow me to take a deeper dive and have more of an impact than my previous work, which lasted only a couple of weeks. I also liked that the fellowship offered executive coaching and sessions that provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.

5. What are your primary fellowship goals and responsibilities?

My primary goal is to work with cross-sector stakeholders to design comprehensive bail reform that reduces the number of people held in pretrial detention.

6. What have you gained from the fellowship?

I have gained invaluable experience working on a national issue in a city that has played a central role in the conversation surrounding that issue. The experience has taught me more about myself and my ability to be a changemaker. I have learned how to lead systemic change across multiple agencies and organizations in the public and private sectors. It has also confirmed many of the strengths that I thought I had and helped me develop new ones.

7. How has your fellowship influenced your thinking about your future plans?

It has made me more determined to pursue my goal of being a senior executive in the public or private sector. I would like to focus on policy or strategic initiatives. The fellowship also provided opportunities for me to publish my thoughts about my work and organizational change in general, and I would like to continue writing about my professional experiences.

8. What advice would you give to someone who is currently considering a FUSE Executive Fellowship?

Make sure you know who you are and have an idea of what you are looking for. Be open to being outside of your comfort zone. You may not have experience in a certain area, but your skill set may still be applicable. The process of becoming a fellow can move relatively quickly once you start interviewing. Be open-minded, flexible, and confident. Things will not go the way you plan. Being successful in a fellowship is all about relationships and situational awareness. So, meet people where they are, and be aware of the personal and political dynamics of a place. When setting goals, make sure they are realistic for the people and the place. You will feel like you are not getting enough done, but you are accomplishing more than you realize.

Wilford Pinkney, Jr. has nearly three decades of experience in policy development, operations, and organizational development in the criminal justice and education sectors. He has taught public policy at the graduate level and recently worked with Caribbean government agencies to strengthen criminal justice sector institutions. Wilford holds an MPA from New York University, an MA in political science from CUNY and a BS in organizational management from Mercy College. He is currently a doctoral candidate in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where he specializes in public policy and American politics.

Interested in applying to the FUSE Executive Fellows Program? Bookmark it to your ProFellow account! Also, if you enjoyed this interview, you may also want to read our interview with Fuse Executive Fellow Sean Doss.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.