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I’m a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. In around 5 months time I’ll transition to Alumni, as a Fellowship has a limit of 3 years.

On the first day of my Fellowship I wrote a piece about the road ahead. Reading it back this morning, it reminded me of those early days, excited to get stuck in, gifted with a fantastic funding opportunity to unlock access to open conservation technologies and a green light to get started. No excuses – I was a Fellow, and all those frustrations of consuming closed, expensive and bespoke tools and solutions could now be a thing of the past. This was my chance to make the difference I’d always talked about.

It took 2 and a half years of my Fellowship to unlock access to open source GPS, Cellular and Argos biologging technologies

You come to realise that a Fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation is an ever evolving journey – one where you never quite know if the path you choose for your projects, ideas and hopes will be the correct one, but soon come to realise that that’s the whole point. It’s the time, and chance, to experiment. To try new things, take calculated risks and to make a dent. It’s also a relationship and certainly not a grant. If you succeed, you get to celebrate. If you fail, you still get to celebrate. Someone somewhere will benefit from understanding why you failed and build from that.  That’s also why openness is so key. As the Foundation states, “it’s an experiment in philanthropy” and openness means that everyone gets to share the work a Fellow undertakes as we each share the knowledge, source code and experiences as part of the Fellowship.

My advice to others is to also not to look at a Fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation as a journey you’ll have to make alone. One of the hidden wins is what we call a “Gathering”. Twice annually the Foundation will scout for a venue that can cater for both Fellows, Alumni and the core team (that’s 30 odd people). You’ll spend the week talking about your challenges, wins, frustrations, opportunities, you name it – each Fellow gets a session and it’s an amazing way to get honest advice and support from others who have either been there before (Alumni) or have had the exact same issues and are happy to talk through them.

My Fellowship took me to both poles, working on penguin conservation with Penguin Watch and polar bear detection with WWF

If you’re thinking of becoming a Fellow, take note that the application process is changing to have a single yearly intake. On average 1 -3 applicants get offered a Fellowship, but there have also been occasions where there have been no new Fellows. That’s because the Foundation is continuously looking for ideas (from you) that they feel will make a real difference. Sometimes they get a raft of similar applications that cover ideas they’ve explored before, so don’t be put off if you don’t get accepted. I didn’t get accepted when I first applied as there were a few flaws in my vision and approach. The advice and feedback from the Foundation helped me to re-think my strategy and to tweak my methods, and on my second application, I was honoured to be awarded a Fellowship.

3 years later, this morning I woke on a river boat moored on the Ganges River, Bangladesh. I’m here to track plastic waste leaving the delta for the National Geographic Society, and to achieve that I’m using a customised version of a green sea turtle tag that I’ve spent the last 2 and half years as a Fellow developing. My Fellowship gave me the time, funding and support I needed to not only unlock access to open conservation technologies, but to put down roots and build relationships with other conservation organisations, scientists and people who believed in what I was trying to create.

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Learn more about the Shuttleworth Foundation or apply to become a Fellow. The next round closes Nov 3rd.