Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellowship - Apply

The 2018 Fellowship year is already underway. You can read more about this year's fellows here.

Below is the application information from the 2018 application cycle. We are not currently accepting applications for future cohorts of Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellows. More information about our programming for entrepreneur support intermediaries will be available soon.

Below: Expectations of Fellows, Eligibility Requirements, Evaluation Criteria, and more about the Fellowship Structure

Fellowship Summary

  • Fellows are emerging local leaders in the Global South supporting innovators and social entrepreneurs in low-income communities.
  • The Fellowship offers strategies and support for fellows to make their programs more innovative, collaborative, and effective.
  • Between April 2018 and April 2019 we will provide clusters of fellows from four emerging innovation ecosystems with training, travel, and community so that they can:


  • Fellows will receive training in our participatory design methodologies and exposure to relevant research and case studies from around the world in order to learn from D-Lab's and others' experience supporting innovators and entrepreneurs and creating systems change. 
  • Fellows will teach one another lessons they have learned from their own work.
  • Together fellows will generate new ideas, hypotheses, and research questions around creating and sustaining robust innovation ecosystems.


  • Fellows will be funded to gather in person two to three times during the year and will connect with each other online throughout the fellowship year, forming a community of support for one another.
  • Fellows will try out new strategies for engaging a variety of local stakeholders in their program design and execution.
  • Fellows will also be connected to potential collaborators, mentors, researchers, student interns, service providers, and funders.


  • Fellows will put their new design and collaboration skills and new ideas into practice, working together within and across their ecosystem teams to devise and conduct low-cost program pilots to engage potential users and partners, test assumptions, gather useful feedback, and refine their designs.
  • Fellows will receive guidance and small amounts of funding from the program to support these experiments.
  • Fellows will also elicit and receive feedback and support from their cohort and mentors over the course of their design iterations.

Apply to be a Fellow! (2018 Archive)

If you are interested in becoming a 2018-2019 MIT D-Lab Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellow, please fill out and submit the Request for Information form before 9 a.m. EST December 18, 2017, and encourage others who are supporting innovators and entrepreneurs in your community to do the same.

This first stage of the process is intended to help us get a sense of who is interested in the program and gather some information to help inform our decisions around regions of focus, locations of events, and curriculum design — it should not take more than an hour to complete.

Clusters of applicants from a few well-represented emerging ecosystems will be invited to submit full applications in February 2018. The final cohort of Fellows from three to five ecosystems will be chosen that month.

Below: Expectations of Fellows, Eligibility Requirements, Evaluation Criteria, and more about the Fellowship Structure


Fellows are expected to attend all three in-person convenings in their entirety. The schedules are still being finalized, but this will likely include 10-12 days in April 2018 in Boston, MA, eight days in August 2018 in an ecosystem TBD, and three days in January of 2019 in your own ecosystem. During these convenings, fellows are expected to develop and then refine designs for new collaborative pilot programs that are relevant to their primary work responsibilities. Our intent is to attract fellows for whom incorporating participatory design into new pilot programs and collaborations is a central priority, rather than a side project.

Outside of the gatherings, fellows should be prepared to incorporate the pilots that they design within the fellowship into their work. Collaboration takes time, however, so be prepared to reserve extra hours each week for communicating with collaborators, mentors, and community members. 

On top of executing the program pilots, there will be additional fellowship activities facilitated remotely between gatherings, including virtual workshops and group updates and feedback sessions. These should not average out to more than an hour each week and are likely to be clumped together less often than that. Some will be required, and some will be optional; this will be clearly indicated in circulated schedules and communications.

Fellows will also be expected to share the methods and information they learn in the fellowship with their teams and close collaborators.

Fellows are expected to honestly and thoughtfully fill out feedback and reporting surveys in a timely fashion and document their pilot programs according to the requirements circulated at the beginning of each stage of the program. These should take no more than one to two hours each month, on average.

Fellows are expected to bring to all elements of the program an open mind and an interest in collaboration, innovation, and human connection; an eagerness to support and celebrate the accomplishments of their cohort fellows; and a willingness to challenge themselves and others (including us, the program organizers); and to take and offer thoughtful, critical feedback.


We are seeking applicants whose programs/organizations/initiatives/ventures are:

  • Dedicated to training, funding, resourcing, networking, or otherwise serving local innovators and entrepreneurs*
  • Based in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, or East Asia & the Pacific
  • Working with communities or in contexts in which people earn on average less than $3 USD per day
  • Committed to social impact and inclusive innovation and design
  • At least two years old
  • Have either a proven business model or funding secured to cover core operations for at least 50% of the fellowship year

We are looking for individual fellows who are:

  • In positions with both decision-making authority and implementing responsibility for programming and budgeting for their program/initiative
  • Committed to collaborating with a variety of people within their ecosystem
  • Excited both to learn and to develop new techniques and methodologies for building their innovation ecosystem
  • Prepared to dedicate time and resources to initiate new programs or change existing programs over the course of the coming year
  • Living at least part-time in the context in which they are working
  • Committed to continuing working within the same innovation ecosystem as you are now for at least two years following the close of the fellowship

*Examples of applicants' current ecosystems-focused initiatives, programs, and organizations might include:

  • education institutions and programs 
  • incubators and accelerators
  • coworking spaces, maker-spaces, and fablabs
  • public and private sector funders
  • government and NGO development programs
  • impact-oriented product distributors and resellers
  • online networking and job-sharing platforms
  • advocacy organizations or campaigns

Evaluation Criteria

Requests for Information will be evaluated by the Innovation Ecosystem Manager, D-Lab staff, and representatives from collaborator initiatives at MIT and elsewhere. They will be weighing applications based on the following criteria:


  • Strategic coherence with D-Lab work and partners
  • Number & Diversity of strong applications
  • Potential for growth
  • The Fellow's Initiative


  • Demonstrated impact
  • Capacity for collaboration/increased impact
  • The Fellow


  • Dedication to Community
  • Enthusiasm for approach
  • Fellowship Structure 
  • Ecosystem Clusters

Three to five fellows will be selected from each of 3-5 ecosystems in developing economies around the world. Within each cluster, fellows will have the opportunity to work together to analyze their shared ecosystem, identify challenges, and collaborate on potential solutions. Fellows will also have the opportunity to collaborate with fellows from other clusters who implementing similar initiatives.

The clusters selected may be all from the same region (3 cities each in a different country in Central America, for example) or each from a different region of the world (one from Latin America, one from Sub-Saharan Africa, and one from South-East Asia, for example). This decision will be made based on feedback contained within and geographic distribution of the applications received.

Ideal applicants for this fellowship will be working within a population larger than that of a single village or small town, but operating within an innovation ecosystem that is still small enough that it struggles to successfully provide all the resources necessary for supporting new ideas and ventures. 

The ecosystems we ultimately select fellows from will be ones from which we get a range of actors applying, from the grassroots and small-scale to the larger institutional. So we highly recommend to interested applicants that you reach out to other actors within your ecosystem that you might be interested in collaborating with and encourage them to apply. 


Fellows will gather three times over the course of the year: one full-cohort gathering at MIT in Cambridge, MA, USA; a second full-cohort gathering in a robust innovation hub of the global south; and a third event in which each team will gather in its own ecosystem. 

At these events, fellows will practice collaboration and problem-solving techniques, exchange insights, and build connection with one another. Successful systems leaders and ecosystem builders will offer case studies from their experiences and coach the fellows as they identify and develop the next iteration of their new initiative to collaboratively prototype in their communities. 

All fellow expenses associated with these convenings (transportation, visas, lodging, food, materials) will be fully covered by the program. If Fellows want to add on additional travel time to these trips, they can do so at their own expense.


Between convenings, Fellows will execute one or more experiments based on the planning they do during the in-person gatherings. 

These experiments will be designed to be cost-effective tests of more extensive potential new strategies and programs to serve local innovators and entrepreneurs at some stage in their pipeline, and as exercises in lean and effective data gathering and processing. 

They will be opportunities for the Fellows to collaborate with one another and also with other like-minded individuals and institutions in their home community.

D-Lab will work with the fellows to agree upon budgets for program funding for each design cycle and will help to make connections with potential collaborators, mentors, funders, and other stakeholders.

Fellowship Timeline

                March-April 2018 — Introductions and preparations 

                           April 2018 — First Convening - Boston, MA

                    May-July 2018 — First Piloting Phase 

                       August 2018 — Remote/Regional Check-In Convening

     August-December 2018 — Second Piloting Phase

                     January 2019 — Second Convening - East Africa (location TBD)

          January-March 2019 — Next-Stage Pilot Launch

                           April 2019 — Program Wrap-up & Connection with New Fellows