Eisenhower Fellowships is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which was founded in 1953 as a birthday gift to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, who acted as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II, had significant experience working with global leaders to achieve a common goal. As president, he believed that “peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals.” In honor of this belief, and his commitment to a more peaceful world, a group of friends and colleagues dedicated Eisenhower Fellowships to him as a way for the United States to engage its global allies in an international exchange of leaders.
More than six decades later, Eisenhower Fellowships remain committed to offering a unique fellowship experience to more than 70 mid-career leaders each year. Through a rigorous selection process, 40 to50 international Fellows are invited to create and execute an individualized travel itinerary in which they will meet with 60 to80 professionals from their field, and visit as many as eight to 10 cities in the United States. Eisenhower Fellowships also selects and works with 20 American leaders to provide similar experiences in more than 40 countries. Though the organization has evolved through decades of technological, political, and social change, it has remained relevant and fruitful in its undertaking. At the core of its operations, “Eisenhower Fellowships identifies, empowers, and connects innovative leaders through a transformative fellowship experience and lifelong engagement in a global network of dynamic change agents committed to creating a world more peaceful, prosperous, and just.”
Vice President for Programs and Operations, Erin Hillman, has seen Eisenhower Fellowships grow since her arrival to the organization more than 15 years ago. Hillman, a longtime resident of the Philadelphia area, received her B.A. from La Salle University, and her M.Ed. from Temple University. She then took her interests in education and development to Sichuan, China, where she worked with the Peace Corps for two years. During her time abroad, she initiated a college teacher training program, and developed valuable Chinese language skills. Upon her return to the United States, she came across a posting on Idealist which detailed an opening at Eisenhower Fellowships for a Program Officer. Her education, language skills, and leadership experience made her a well-suited candidate for the position. Since 2000, Erin has served Eisenhower Fellowships in many capacities: not only as Program Officer for International Programs, but also as Director of the USA Program, Senior Director of Fellowships, and most recently, as Vice President for Programs and Operations.
In her current role, Erin must confront the many obstacles of leading a complex and constantly evolving organization. One of her greatest challenges is finding a way to concretely measure the impact of Eisenhower Fellowships’ programs. While it is easy to track the outputs of the organization (i.e. Eisenhower Fellowships has worked with nearly 2,400 leaders from more than 100 countries), it is more difficult to track the progress they make on achieving intangible outcomes (such as creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world). She seeks to collaborate with her fellow staff members and former Eisenhower Fellows to find creative ways to recognize and harness “positive, measurable, [and] tangible impact.”
As part of her work with Eisenhower Fellowships, Erin also does a significant amount of international travel to keep up with expanding programs and a growing network of former Fellows. To date, she has returned to China more than 20 times to foster Eisenhower Fellowships’ recruitment of Chinese leaders for the Multi-Nation Program, and in initiating the brand new Zhi-Xing China Eisenhower Fellowship Program. In a trip to Vietnam in 2014, Erin noted that she was inspired by the enthusiasm and sincerity with which the Fellows engaged her. Eisenhower Fellows are given a unique opportunity to step away from their lives and expand their social and professional networks. For many, however, they return home to a very small network of former Fellows, and sometimes have to travel great distances to meet someone with this shared experience. In an effort to keep the bonds of fellowship alive, and to increase awareness of the great work being done by these Fellows, Erin feels that it is imperative for Eisenhower Fellowships to develop a better system for engaging its former Fellows. Though face-to-face interactions are ideal, and Erin travels often to visit colleagues abroad, Eisenhower Fellowships is working to create a more efficient way for alumni to keep in touch.
These challenges keep Erin on her toes. In a world which is rapidly changing, Eisenhower Fellowships, too, must find a way to adapt and evolve. According to Erin, when she began her time at Eisenhower Fellowships in 2000, the organization was not very well known in Philadelphia. Today, it has become an outward-facing entity; open to collaboration, and looking to increase its visibility. For this reason, Eisenhower Fellowships is about to launch its first strategic plan in 15 years. During the planning process, Erin and her colleagues hope to collaborate with board members and former Fellows to find innovative solutions to their most pressing issues. This will allow Eisenhower Fellowships to enter a new era of excellence, in which it can more accurately and effectively measure its programs, better engage its global network of Fellows, and increase access to its online application system so that more people can apply for fellowships.
Erin attributes much of her success to a vast network of support from current and former Eisenhower Fellows. Most recently, she was inspired by 2016 Multi-Nation Program Fellow Farzana Yaqoob. Farzana is the Minister for Social Welfare and Women’s Development in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan’s highly militarized boarder with India. During her time in the United States, she met with professionals to learn more about conflict resolution strategies and ways in which she could further her work in providing women with access to education and healthcare. Erin notes that, for women to succeed in their careers, they must surround themselves with role models, such as Farzana. Erin has also experienced tremendous support from Eisenhower Fellowships’ longstanding commitment to diversity, and has been with the organization long enough to see its first Women’s Leadership Program in 2014. Her advice for young women is to “always show up and be the best prepared person at the table.” She also believes that, in order for women to succeed, they must lift each other up, and surround themselves with inspiring women and men who will help them achieve their goals.
Erin is immensely proud of what she has been able to accomplish with Eisenhower Fellowships. Not only has she grown as a leader, but she has been exposed to exceptional people from all professions and regions of the globe. One of her crowning achievements at Eisenhower Fellowships has been to construct programs in a way that leaders from conflicting nations work together to create peaceful bonds. More often than not, she says that Fellows from India and Pakistan, and Israel and Palestine find that they have more in common than that which divides them. This provides her with an endless well of inspiration from which she draws her will to continue working towards “a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world.”
As steward to Eisenhower Fellowships’ legacy, Erin Hillman remains involved in many of the decisions that will shape its future. She is optimistic that the strategic planning process will invite positive change to the organization, and looks forward to challenging her colleagues and former Fellows to think of creative solutions to its most pressing issues. Looking forward, Erin will continue to be one of Eisenhower Fellowships’ most sincere and loyal agents, and will undoubtedly take great part in propelling the organization