The New World Social Innovation Fellows Program supports selected students — Cheng Fellows — in taking action to advance progress against a pressing social problem through social innovation. We have found that successful applicants do not always think of themselves as “social innovators”. We encourage applications from civil servants, intrapreneurs within large organizations, social entrepreneurs, activists, and changemakers with dedicated passion and clear drive to solve a defined social problem.

It is crucial for candidates to honestly consider their readiness and motivation to advance an independent social innovation effort while also pursuing an academic degree. Through a rigorous Fellowship experience, Fellows refine their understanding of a specific social problem, reflect on their personal identities and sources of power, and take action in finding their unique pathway forward, making concrete plans to continue their work post-graduation.

Application for the AY2020-2021 New World Social Innovation Fellowship has closed. The next application cycle will open in Spring 2021. If you are interested in learning more about more opportunities to support your social change effort, please sign up for SICI’s newsletters.


The New World Social Innovation Fellowship currently accepts applications from students in the following schools:

  • HKS: Applicants from HKS must graduate in Spring 2021, including the one-year Mid-Career program.
  • HBS: Applicants from HBS must graduate in Spring 2021.
  • HGSE: Applicants from HGSE must graduate in Spring 2021 or Spring 2022 (EdLD).
  • Harvard College: Applicants from Harvard College must graduate in Spring 2021 or 2022.
  • HSPH: Applicants from HSPH must graduate in Spring 2021 or Spring 2022 (DrPH).

Pairs are eligible to apply, however all applicants must meet the eligibility requirements outlined above. Each person must submit an application and will be assessed on an individual basis.

Application Timeline

  • May 1, 2020: Application opens.
  • July 12, 2020 at 11:59pm ET: Application deadline.
  • July 12 – August 3, 2020: Application review period.
    Review Process: SICI engages a community of close collaborators from across Harvard, as well as expert partners, to review Cheng applications. Throughout the summer, we will provide updates to applicants on the status of their application. Due to the volume of applicants, we do not respond to individual emails regarding application status.
    Supplemental Materials: For candidates that move forward, we may request supplemental information.
  • August 4, 2020: Finalists notified. All finalists will receive an interview request and must respond within 24 hours.
  • August 11 – 13, 2020: Finalist interviews. All interviews will take place for Zoom.
  • August 20, 2020: Decision notifications are sent. All candidates are informed of the decision regarding their application.

Application Criteria

Applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Understanding of Problem: Applicant defines a specific social problem, its root causes, and why it is important using both quantitative and qualitative measures.
  • Purpose: Applicant demonstrates passion for this social problem and the people impacted, and establishes a connection between their social innovation project and their post-graduation/career goals.
  • Positioning: Applicant articulates their role as the agent of change and why they would be effective in leading this effort.
  • Potential: Applicant proposes a feasible pathway to address the identified social problem, which is new and creative given the implementing context.
  • Innovation: Applicant demonstrates understanding of current efforts that have attempted or are currently attempting to address this social problem and articulates how their effort is different.
  • Cohort Expectations: Applicant demonstrates promise in their ability to approach innovation with a learning mindset, and build a highly connected and supportive community within the Fellowship.

Program Structure

Each year, the Social Innovation and Change Initiative invites up to 15 exceptional students to join the New World Social Innovation Fellowship. Selected for their commitment and potential to create lasting social change, students attend weekly co-curricular sessions to learn social impact frameworks, apply these lessons to their projects, and advance their work, as well as that of others in the cohort.

Selected students must attend all co-curricular sessions (one night/week) at Harvard Kennedy School’s campus for the duration of the academic year and be in good academic standing for the duration of their participation in the program. Domestic and international students are welcome to apply.