Application Details: Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellowship

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 March 2018 and March 2019 we will provide clusters of fellows from three to five different 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.

Learn more about the fellowship goals, strategy, methodology, and structure.

Apply to be a Fellow!

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 Other Ways to Engage

Expectations of Fellows

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.

Eligibility Requirements

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 over 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 continue 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, makerspaces 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 Ecosytem Manager, D-Lab staff, and representatives from collaborator initiatives at MIT and elsewhere. They will be weighing applications based on the following criteria:

The Ecosystem

  • Strategic coherence with D-Lab work and partners
  • Number & Diversity of strong applications
  • Potential for growth

The Fellow's Initiative

  • Alignment with fellowship goals
  • Demonstrated impact
  • Capacity for collaboration/increased impact

The Fellow

  • Capacity for leadership
  • Dedication to Community
  • Enthusiasm for approach

If You're Not a Fellow

If you are an innovation ecosystem builder in a developing economy, and you are either not able to apply to the fellowship at this time or not selected to join the coming year’s cohort, you are invited to join the network we are building for ecosystem builders looking to collaborate and problem-solve together. In addition to providing platforms for the members of the network to communicate with one another, we will be inviting network members to join virtual workshops offered as part of the fellowship and attend relevant fellowship and fellow events in their area. Network members may even have the opportunity to collaborate with local fellows on initiatives happening in their area. If you are interested, please fill out this form!