What is the Emerging Leaders Program?

The Washington Ireland Program’s vision is for a peaceful and prosperous future for Northern Ireland and Ireland. However The legacy of division continues to impact many people across the island of Ireland. solving these issues will take creativity and courage from committed leaders.

To help develop leaders who are equipped to lead around the evolving nature of these challenges, we created our Emerging Leaders Program. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024,  WIP's Emerging Leaders Program is renowned as an inspiring year-long program of personal development, policy debate, community service, and public discussion. The Program is open to full-time students enrolled in a Higher Education course and who consider Northern Ireland or Ireland to be home.


A life-changing opportunity

“WIP gave me a sense of what was possible, allowed me time to reflect on what was important, and to learn about different ways to achieve meaningful change.
It clarified my own views and gave me insights into perspectives I’d never before considered.

WIP ignited my love of Northern Ireland, a part of this island I’d previously only read about has now become my other home.”

Maria Ni Fhlatharta, Founding Member – Disabled Women Ireland and Director – Disability Rights Fund.

“WIP gave me the confidence and the ambition to start my own business and dive full on into my passion for startups & technology.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career before WIP and being on the program taught me that having options is nice but if you want to really make a dent in the universe you need to commit to something, whatever that might be.”

Finn Murphy, Partner, Frontline Ventures.

How does it work?

Each year we select 30 emerging leaders who have shown the commitment, passion, and ability to spark change in communities across the island of Ireland. We actively seek people who have a track record of service and leadership within the community and the maturity and ability to deal with differences and diverse views in a positive way.

Where and when does it take place?

The Emerging Leaders Program takes place in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Washington DC. It also includes a week-long study visit to New York City, where participants get to learn from well-known leaders from a range of sectors.

Applications open in October of each year, interviews are held in January, and our first orientation weekends usually take place in early April. More information on our application process can be found here.

Each year we receive up to 500 applications for the Program. It is a competitive process and we encourage you to read our application tips before completing your application form.

In Washington DC

Each summer, the Program includes a high-profile eight-week work placement in Washington DC. We aim to match our work placements to the student’s skills and interests. Previous placements have included Capitol Hill Offices, businesses, PR firms, research laboratories, non-profits, and advocacy organizations. Our students also visit with WIP’s service partners to learn about service in a US setting and the challenges they face in Washington DC around issues including homelessness and disadvantaged young people. Our participants stay with a host family while in the United States, and for many students, this is one of the highlights of their program. We match our students with host families based on mutual interests, personality match, distance from work placements, pet preferences, and allergy requirements.

In Northern Ireland and Ireland

At home in Northern Ireland and Ireland, our students are supported to develop their leadership skills through a variety of challenging experiences while learning directly from those in local and global leadership positions. The service aspects of our program curriculum also expose them to complex needs in their communities and those of others.

Upon return home, each class completes a debriefing program, allowing them to reflect on their experiences and identify how they are going to tackle issues of importance to them and create opportunities for other people. They continue to work with each other to develop policy papers, aimed at generating new ideas and advocating for systemic change in Northern Ireland and Ireland.


Our alum community includes over 950 people, many of whom have gone on to become well-known political, business, community, and civic figures.

They include Leo Varadkar (WIP 2000), the youngest Taoiseach in Ireland’s history; Claire Sugden (WIP 2010), who was appointed at the age of 29 as Northern Ireland’s Minister for Justice; and other rising stars including artist Adrian Margey (WIP 2005), Queen’s University Belfast Heaney Fellow Tara McEvoy (WIP 2014), and tech entrepreneur Aidan Corbett (WIP 2005).

Our diverse alum community is invited to stay connected with each other and the Washington Ireland Program. You can find out more about how to do this and our upcoming events on our Alum page.

Meet the WIP Class of 2024

What the Emerging Leadership Program offers

Leadership development

Our Emerging Leaders Program offers a range of unique development opportunities. Our curriculum is designed to hone participants’ leadership skills through experiential learning, exposure to local and global leaders, and service components that address needs seen in many communities.

Summer semester experience

Each student is offered a high-profile work placement. Aligning with their interests and skills, opportunities range from Capitol Hill Offices, businesses, PR firms, research laboratories to non-profits and advocacy organizations, offering enjoyable and challenging learning and insights.

Community service insight

Each participant takes part in regular visits to service partners in Washington DC, granting an invaluable insight into service within a US setting and allowing them to learn and contribute to efforts to combat difficult issues, including homelessness and disadvantaged young people.

Peer learning

We place a great emphasis on peer learning and encouraging our students to challenge perspectives, engage in debates, and collaboratively create policy papers that can deliver the peaceful and prosperous future for Ireland and Northern Ireland that we wish to see.

Host family community

Living with WIP’s host families offers the opportunity for a cultural exchange, for personal growth and understanding, and the chance to make lifelong friendships.
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
C.S. Lewis
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
C.S. Lewis

Who are we looking for?

WIP is looking for emerging leaders who are committed to serving others. People who are adaptable, dynamic, and ready to jump into the fast-paced and challenging environment that is our Emerging Leaders Program.

We have four key applicant characteristics our successful participants demonstrate over and over again:

Leadership experience

Can you demonstrate you have the character, skills, and experience to be a leader? We need you to tell us how you have demonstrated your leadership skills or have shown the initiative to take a formal or informal leadership role, large or small. We believe leadership can be demonstrated in many ways, including roles you may undertake in connection with your sporting commitments, student societies, caring responsibilities, and part-time employment.

Dedicated to Service

A track record of service is one of the core principles of WIP (along with leadership). Have you shown a commitment to service and others? This can be through sports, volunteer work, or perhaps you have played an active role in a community or service project. Many of our students have caring responsibilities within the home.


Are you confident you can take care of yourself in a foreign country away from home, family, and other support structures? Tell us why on your application form. We’d also love to hear examples of how you are confident you will be able to be thoughtful and respectful of others, and a positive ambassador for the Washington Ireland Program.

Committed to dealing with difference

We need our participants to be committed to working with people with diverse views, backgrounds, and political perspectives so they can develop constructive and mutually supportive relationships. If you can do that, and seek to understand and learn from others, then we want to hear from you.

Is there a fee to participate?

WIP is a registered charity and thanks to our generous supporters we invest $16,000 in the development of each student who comes on the Emerging Leaders Program.  

While the Program is heavily subsidized by our generous supporters, WIP asks that our students make a £1,250/€1,400/$1,550 contribution towards their costs.

WIP believes financial barriers should not stop students from participating in our Programs. WIP provides several scholarships to students each year who are not in a position to make a financial contribution towards their costs. Students will also need to pay an interview fee (currently $160) to the US Embassy to secure their visa.

What’s included?

In addition to organizing the leadership program and work placement, WIP will also provide students with:

  • Return flights from Dublin to Washington
  • Host family accommodation for their eight weeks in the US
  • Health Insurance (existing medical conditions are not covered)
  • Additional visa processing fees
  • A stipend to cover their weekly public transport costs (please note stipends do not cover all living costs)


WIP believes financial barriers should not stop students from participating in our Programs. To support this, WIP provides several scholarships to students each year who are not in a position to make a financial contribution towards their costs.  Over the past three years, half of the students who participated in our Emerging Leaders Program received a scholarship.

Emerging Leaders Program FAQs

Application Process

We are delighted you are considering applying for the Emerging Leaders Program with the Washington Ireland Program. We value the time you put into your application and we work to ensure everyone who applies is treated with respect.

We can receive up to 500 applications each year for our Program and the selection process is highly competitive, with less than 10% of applicants securing a place.

We want to make sure you can write the best application possible, and so we encourage you to take the time to explore our website and social channels, and to chat to some of our alums.

Outlined right is the selection process, and we also have a few additional tips to help you write a great application.

1. Self Selection

Through our website, social media and our on-campus events we aim to give you a clear understanding of the purpose and practicalities of the Washington Ireland Program. We hope this will enable you to make an informed decision about whether WIP is for you in 2025.

2. Application

The WIP application focuses on essay-style questions that encourage you to describe your leadership experience and service track record so far. There are four questions with answers limited to 250 words or less. Applicants are asked to upload two CVs outlining their service commitments and leadership credentials. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer all applicants an interview, and less than a quarter of our applicants make it to interview. General written feedback will be posted on the WIP website after the application deadline.

3. Interview

Students participate in a formal, face-to-face interview scheduled in Belfast or Dublin before January. Each student is interviewed individually by a panel and completes a small group-based interview with other candidates. Each student is assessed based on their individual performance and how they performed in the group interview.

The WIP Emerging Leaders Class of 2025 will then be selected from applicants who complete the interview.  Those who are not selected are offered the opportunity to have a phone call with a WIP staff member to get personal feedback on their interview performance.

Application Tips

3 Key Themes

The WIP application asks you a range of different questions to attempt to understand who you are and what is important to you. The questions focus on three key themes.

Leadership Potential

this does not require you to have been the captain of your football team or president of your student society (though that’s great!) The leadership qualities WIP is looking for often involve an individual who is passionate about something and is doing something active about that passion.

Commitment to Service

WIP looks for people with a history of service and doing things for others. This can be service within your family, community, or organization. You need to demonstrate a track record of doing something that benefits others, rather than yourself, over the long term.

Dealing with Difference

This is the crux of the Washington Ireland Program experience. WIP looks for passionate and curious students, but mostly students who are willing to open themselves up to new ideas and to learn from others who are from different backgrounds. Demonstrating respect for diversity, willingness to learn from others with whom you disagree, and being a good team player are attributes that are important in a WIP student.

Answer all parts of the question

Answering each part of the question is important to achieve a high score. There are no trick questions. Pivoting towards something else you want to talk about actually detracts from what we need to hear about. Review what you have written to ensure your answer addresses each part of the question.

Give yourself enough time

Many applications come in on the last possible day. In previous years, it was clear that some were rushed. This could be seen in spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and short or abruptly ended essays. Plan ahead and give yourself enough time to complete the application thoroughly, allowing enough time to review and edit it.

Speak from your own experience

The examples used are an important part of strong essay responses. Consider whether your example speaks to the skill, experience, or characteristic you are trying to demonstrate. Also, consider how recent and how common your example is. Is this an experience shared by most of your peers? Was it a long-term commitment?

Don’t be afraid to expand on the experiences and skills you’ve outlined in your leadership and service resumes in essay questions.  This can help build a clearer picture of the substantial and important roles you have taken on. It also helps build a common thread of commitment throughout your application and makes sure that your answers are consistent in quality.

Reflect on your experience / example

While your example is important, it does not speak for itself. We want you to reflect on the significance of those experiences, share why they were meaningful to you, and how they illustrate the point that you are making.

Don’t be generic

Each year WIP receives between 300 and 500 applications and selects around 75 of those for interviews. Your immediate priority is to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is to highlight experiences that are both interesting and unique to you. It may somewhere you have worked, a project you have completed, an event you organized, or an organization you are associated with. Think about what you have to offer, that no one else has.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your weaknesses and failures

WIP doesn’t aim to find a group of perfect students, rather we seek out individuals who are willing to try new things and learn from others. We are interested in people who are willing to embrace their weaknesses and learn how to improve on them. A perfect way of doing this is talking about a time when you didn’t succeed or things didn’t go your way. Write about the experience, explain where you went wrong, and if you were to do it again, what you would do differently.

Pick your examples carefully

We are looking for potential as well as experience. There will be areas where you do not have much of a background yet – that is okay. Be forthright about the experience you do have; don’t belittle it or try to make it into something more than it is. Claim your experience and reflect honestly on it.

Let our website guide you

Before you start your application, you should thoroughly read the WIP website and get a good understanding of what the aims of the program are and what exactly is involved in the WIP experience. You should pay particular attention to the WIP values in the “About us” section.

Check out our WIP Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages which can give you supplementary information about the program.

Don’t be afraid to apply again

Many WIP Alumni applied at least once or twice (or more) before they were successfully accepted into the Washington Ireland Program. A previous unsuccessful application will not be held against you. It demonstrates a strong commitment to WIP, as well as an admirable ability to deal with failure. Just don’t attempt to submit the same application again – learn from where you might have gone wrong last time and write a fresh application informed by the tips shared here.

Speak to Alumni

One of the best ways of learning about anything is to speak to those who have been through the process before. Reach out to people you know who have been on WIP in the past and ask them for advice or help with your application. If you would like to be put in contact with an Alum from your College or Institution, get in contact with WIP (details below) and we can link you up with someone.

Get in contact!

Contact application@wiprogram.org if you have any questions about your application.

Good luck!

And if you have any questions about your application please email application@wiprogram.org

Be yourself. It is not like any other application or interview process. They do not want to see perfectly scripted interview answers memorized, they want to see the real you. What makes you passionate, what makes you tick, and what makes you want to give your 100% all to change.

Aine Crossan

Be honest and don’t doubt yourself. Every single person in the class on day one will admit they either didn’t think they’d get it or they don’t think they belong there. Impostor syndrome affects us all but if you are a generally driven person and are passionate about something, make sure that comes across.

Matt Toland

If you have applied before don’t let that discourage you from doing it a second time. Look back over your old application and think about how you can improve it. What new experiences do you have? What more have you learned about yourself?

Mark Finn