An Inside View into the Morgridge Acceleration Program (MAP) Fellowship Experience

Jul 21, 2021
Dani Hedlund mentored a MAP fellow who helped create a curriculum for the critically-acclaimed literary journal F(r)iction

The Morgridge Acceleration Program (MAP) Fellowship matches emerging social impact leaders with nonprofit executives to drive positive impact while leveling up their skill sets and deepening their professional networks. Each MAP Fellow is paired with a MAP Mentor who they collaborate with directly over six months to build a sustainable, creative solution to an executive-level challenge. While creatively engineering maximum impact for nonprofit organizations, Fellows gain elite mentorship, executive coaching, networking opportunities, travel, and access to a tight-knit group of supportive peers. 

 All expenses and experiences associated with the MAP Fellowship are fully funded.

We talked to Dani Hedlund, a MAP Mentor who founded the Brink Literacy Project, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1. What inspired you to be a mentor for the MAP Fellowship?

Mentorship has always been a key element of our ethos at the Brink Literacy Project, but I must confess that before Tony Cohn, the founder of the Morgridge Acceleration Program (MAP) Fellowship, approached us about getting involved, I’d been well out of the mentorship game. 

You see, although our 40+ staffers spend most of their time mentoring students and emerging storytellers, as CEO, my world had been largely cut off from mentorship beyond my own leadership team. But of course, when leaders of any organization get caught up in the day-to-day work, we forget what incredible innovation can come from working with new, energetic minds.

Thus, when Tony asked if there was a big picture project our nonprofit wanted to tackle—but we never had the time or the resources—I started to get very excited. Not only did the MAP fellowship offer us the space and means to tackle a new project, but the most exciting part is they’d help us find a fellow with just the skill set we needed. Working together, our organization’s leadership and this new bright mind would spend six months creating something new.

For our particular project, we’d long been asked by our community to create a curriculum so our critically-acclaimed literary journal, F(r)iction, could be taught in classrooms. This was something we were extremely excited to explore—and we knew there was a demand for it—but finding an education specialist with the very particular skills and knowledge to adapt the curriculum for the US and UK university and high school systems was beyond our nonprofit’s reach.

Until MAP.

As a member of the first cohort, we weren’t quite sure how successful this fellowship would be, especially when Covid shut down the world only days after selecting our fellow. Little did I know what a game changer the next six months would be…

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship? 

I simply couldn’t sing the praises of the MAP Fellowship louder or with more enthusiasm. Tony and the MAP family found me the perfect fellow in Jessi Parra, an incredible education specialist from the Smithsonian Zoo. 

Although her background wasn’t officially on the literary side, Jessi’s a voracious reader and has an incredibly acute analytical mind. Our original hopes were to spend the six months of the fellowship creating a curriculum and laying a plan to roll it out in 2021/2022. However, when Covid hit, the demand for teachers to bring in content exciting enough to engage remote learners drastically changed our timeframe.

Instead of cowering from this challenge, Jessi and the MAP team helped us pivot, condensing a ridiculous amount of work (roughly 18 months) into a third of the time. Because of that hard work, we started running pilots within months of the fellowship start!

Not only did this widely increase our nonprofit’s impact, but it also created a long-term revenue stream for the charity, and we were able to secure funding to expand the program before the fellowship was even done! None of that would have been possible without the incredible proof of concept Jessi and the MAP team helped us form.

And beyond that, the MAP program resparked the old flame of mentorship in the nonprofit as a whole. Jessi’s enthusiasm and passion were an utter joy, and I signed up for a new cohort the moment Tony whispered of the opportunity. Watching Jessi grow with us—and now far beyond us—has been such a joy, and I look forward to being there to support her incredible passion and mind for her entire career.

3. What tips would you give applicants to the MAP Fellowship? 

This fellowship program is very different from others on the market because fellows work with leaders at the top of their organizations. This is not a go-get-us-coffee internship or a learn-from-watching-the-masters-work. This fellowship allows budding leaders to work alongside seasoned executives—not as lackies, but as powerful voices at the table.

Thus, when I look for applicants, my first priority is to find someone with the ability to work and think independently. Although work experience is obviously key, a self-starter personality and a lot of get-up-and-go is the real prize.

For example, in our new season with MAP, we’re looking for someone to help us get a literary podcast off the ground. Again, we aren’t looking for a grunt worker. That would be such a waste of this amazing network and opportunity! We want someone who can help us create an innovative new program that will elevate our work while also courting hundreds of thousands of new readers! We have access to the world’s biggest storytellers, but we need the strategy to take that talent and launch it into the stratosphere!

That’s no small task, so we’ll be looking for someone with enough experience to help us walk the line between too-wild and just-wild-enough to rock! 

That latter bit, for me, has always been the secret sauce of the MAP fellowship. Not only is MAP creating a system to create strong partnerships between industry leaders and the next generation of movers and shakers, they aren’t pushing for the same old solutions. 

This is a place for innovation. For diverse people with diverse ideas to come together to make something great, something different.

It’s this innovation, this search for something new, that the leadership of MAP fosters. They crave programs that haven’t been done before. And through their incredible mentorship of the entire program, they help turn those big ideas into long-term solutions. In short, MAP is a real game changer for the nonprofits and individuals lucky enough to be included, and I can’t wait to bring another inspiring young professional into the fold!

Dani Hedlund founded Brink Literacy Project at the age of nineteen to champion new and diverse stories. In addition to leading Brink as CEO, she is also the editor-in-chief of Brink’s critically-acclaimed publication, F(r)iction, one of the fastest-growing literary magazines in the world. She travels the globe, working to increase literacy rates, empower underserved communities through storytelling, and elevate their stories into the national conversation in order to spur large-scale cultural and political change.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Morgridge Acceleration Program (MAP) Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

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