The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA, launched in 2012, prepares scholars from disadvantaged backgrounds to create social and economic change by connecting promising young leaders to outstanding universities, and offering sustained and holistic support throughout their tertiary education and beyond. Since 2012, we have supported 215 students from across sub-Saharan Africa to access higher education.
We only receive on average 100 applications per year and hover around a 50% acceptance rate. These numbers may seem off-kilter to highly competitive scholarship programs, but this is completely by design. The program model is anchored in partnerships with local recruitment partners who nominate eligible students to us.
Our recruitment partner base is currently made up of thirteen organizations from around sub-Saharan Africa that range from an after-school enrichment program, to a traditional high school, to an intensive 16-month long gap year. Relying on partners (sometimes referred to as a closed application model) reduces the number of applications a scholarship program receives but can ensure quality of the applicants, as all applicants have already been vetted by the partner organizations.
Over the next two months, we will share our insight into forming deep and meaningful partnerships in recruitment.
Here are three reasons why a partnership model works for our scholarship program:
1) They do the hard work for us: Our recruitment partners often have an admissions or competitive process for students to get into that program, meaning that once the students applications come to us, much of the hard work has been done. We are certain that when an organization like Bridge2Rwanda sends applicants to us, they are thoroughly vetted both academically and personally.
Bridge2Rwanda receives on average 1,200 applications per year, and this past year they selected only 2-3% of those applicants. They spend countless hours reading applications, interviewing candidates and selecting a final group; and the final result is a cohort of30-40 that is academically competent, socially aware, and chalk full of leadership potential. When Bridge2Rwanda nominates students to the Mastercard Program at ALA, we know that we do not have to vet for academics or finances, and that Bridge2Rwanda did much of the heavy lifting for us in their own application cycle. In interviewing these candidates, we can focus on vision for the future and purpose.
2) They focus on character: When recruiting, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at ALA is not just looking for students who can cope in university academically, but we are looking for scholars who care about others around them, are respectful, and contribute to their greater community. Imagine Scholar, an after-school enrichment program based in Nkomazi, South Africa, is an example of one of our recruitment partners that places an emphasis on character development.
Imagine Scholar runs a seven month application process, one that focuses largely on character. They try to filter out arrogance or those who use their intelligence to belittle others by observing body language while perspective scholars interact with one another and by paying attention to those who speak over their peers. They are trying to build a cohort that genuinely cares about one another and those who will enhance others experiences in the program. Once students are in the program, they receive constant feedback on blind spots or weaknesses, which is used as a tool for continued learning and refinement. This focus on character, and not just solely academics, aligns with our mission of developing principled and upstanding citizens.
3) They have a highly contextual understanding of their student’s backgrounds: Reading an application and meeting a potential scholar for an hour long interview provides valuable insight, but there are certain aspects of an applicant’s personality or background that does not come across on paper or in a short interview. For that reason, we chose to partner with organizations that have a depth of knowledge of the students they are nominating to us. These organizations are able to provide color commentary into the applicants family, academic background and personality that otherwise we would not have access to.
The School of St. Jude, a recruitment partner based in Arusha, Tanzania, is a K-12 school; and they frequently send us applicants from students who have been at their school for 13 years. School of St. Jude can speak to the academic ability of the scholars; but perhaps more important to the leadership and growth of the scholar over the years. Did the scholar start off quiet and then blossom in grade 5? Did they have a personal issue that affected one semester in Form 2? We appreciate this background knowledge and during our admissions cycle, we tend to mine information from the recruitment partners on the individual context of applicants, including what teachers say about them, what makes them stand out in the community and any challenges they have incurred. We tend to have very candid relationships with our recruitment partners, to voice out any concerns or ask any questions, to ensure we are selecting the right scholars and we find that this leads to a very healthy, collegial relationship.
Forming deep and meaningful partnerships is mutually beneficial for students, partner organizations and scholarship programs or universities. The program is invested in their growth and development of our partners, and the recruitment partners are equally invested in the development on the scholarship program, as they directly impact from the program.