For more than 25 years, Echoing Green has been running a fellowship application process to identify the world’s most promising, adventurous, early-stage social entrepreneurs emerging in fields including leadership, education, healthcare, and farming. More than 3,000 applications come pouring in each year from more than 100 countries competing for the 28 spots on Echoing Green’s roster, resulting in less than a 1% acceptance rate. The fellowship awards each of the recipients with money and participation in a two year leadership development program.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with VP of Fellowship Programs, Rich Leimsider, to learn about the trials and tribulations of their older antiquated system, implementing WizeHive to take it’s place, and even seeing competitors begin to copy that model (view clips from our conversation below).
Out With the Old
As their program grew, and Echoing Green saw application inflow substantially increase year after year, they initially decided to invest tens of thousands of dollars into building their own proprietary online application system. “It was incredibly customized, it was incredibly complicated, and it was a total disaster,” stated Leimsider. “The previous year it had actually stopped working twelve hours before our deadline and we had to have hundreds of phone calls and apologetic conversations, so I knew I didn’t want to deal with that again.” They threw out this system with the hopes of trading it for a new, better solution. But the question was, what exactly could be tailored to meet their needs?
Rich and his team were looking for a solution that would solve the problems that plaqued their old system. “We needed a system that allowed hundreds of application reviewers to connect to thousands of applications, and that’s what we were looking for when we found WizeHive.”
“Within probably six weeks, we had an operational system up online, and as it turned out that year we went from a thousand applications to two thousand five hundred – never had any downtime, the system was robust, it handled everything we needed it to do,” said Rich. Now that this system was set up, it was time to put it to the test.
The Application Process
With an applicant pool of nearly 3,000, it is quite an undertaking to read, review, and judge them all in a limited period of time. To narrow the original pool of applicants down to about 300 semifinalists, each application is reviewed at least three times; which equates to about 10,000 reads. That’s a lot of reads, but to take it even one step further, Rich pointed out that, “even if you spend five minutes reading each application, that’s almost 1000 hours of staff time, and we try to do that in two to three weeks, right after we receive that first round of applications.”
Each semifinalist application then gets reviewed at least ten more times. In total, over 300 volunteer readers and reviewers work to narrow down what began as 3,000 application to the final 28 fellowship awardees.
Going Above & Beyond
After a successful implementation of WizeHive, Echoing Green was able to integrate other features that they had never used before. “We’ve also been able to add features and do some new things that we hadn’t done previously,” said Rich. “The system integrates uploaded video really well, and so for the past couple of years we’ve been able to have hundreds of our applicants upload short videos of themselves, and integrate that right into the judging and the review process, which has been really wonderful, and actually kind of transformative for us.”
Not only does WizeHive allow for the addition of new features and capabilities to be implemented within a program, but it is also user-friendly to the extent that just about anyone can learn to use it quickly. “What’s great about the system is that even a new person can come on board, figure it out really quickly, and help us get started – make edits to the way the application works, make changes to the reviewing form, and also update different features and attributes for the various readers.”
When you join the WizeHive family, you aren’t just a client. “We’ve known some of the same people at WizeHive for almost four years now.” You get to know your implementation specialist and build a relationship with them. They learn all about your program, and are there to help every step of the way. Rich had only nice things to say about the group he works with at WizeHive. “We haven’t really had downtime or crashes, but we have almost every year figured out that there were things we didn’t know we needed until we really needed them very quickly and very urgently. Every time we’ve been able to get right on the phone… to help figure out how to solve the problem.”
The Most Sincere Form of Flattery
When your competitors start to imitate you, you know you must be doing something right. That’s exactly what Rich saw among some of Echoing Green’s competition. “We’re sort of in this field of supporting social entrepreneurs, these kind of early stage enterprises, and I’ve recommended WizeHive directly probably half a dozen times, but what’s particularly fun is when we start to see our competitors in the field also show up using the WizeHive product.”
A special thanks to Rich for taking the time to speak with us. To learn more about Echoing Green, visit their website at echoinggreen.org