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Imagine you are a young African student accepted for a full-ride scholarship to study at a university. Your selection was prompted by your passion to change the continent in which you were born. At the end of your time in school, you will be one of several thousand students who can call themselves a MasterCard Foundation Scholar and you will be charged to positively impact Africa by making a difference in your field, be it health, engineering or political science. What resources would you need to be successful? Would you need a network that makes a continent with 1 billion inhabitants seem like a village? How about a mentor who has navigated the transition from completing a bachelor degree in the United States to successfully landing his or her first job in Kenya? Or maybe an opportunity to take a programming course online so that your give back solutions can be delivered electronically as the technology infrastructure grows in Africa? As part of the special projects unit at Arizona State University, I have the unique privilege to be on the team designing a lifelong learning platform to deliver the resources MasterCard Foundation Scholars and Alumni will need most.
In the Office of University Initiatives, we practice a user-focused, iterative approach often dubbed design thinking because, the truth is, the only way to really know what the MasterCard Foundation Scholars will need is to ask them. From the beginning of the year, we have incorporated current MasterCard Foundation Scholars into our design process. The team has conducted a number of interviews and workshops with current Scholars around the globe to gain insights to what Scholars need for their future success. Additionally, we conducted two mini-pilots that delivered transformative leadership content and case studies via an online platform or daily text messages to Scholars in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. From these experiences, the team generated many lessons learned that we are incorporating into our proposal to The MasterCard Foundation for the full launch of the platform. By including the Scholars early and continually in the design process, we are ensuring a product better aligned with Scholars’ needs.
By 2020, The MasterCard Foundation will have invested $500 million into the education of 15,000 secondary and tertiary students. These individuals are hoped to be the leaders of the generation that will change Africa. The Scholars I have interacted with either through the mini-pilot or The MasterCard Scholars Program here at Arizona State University are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Their passion and accomplishments indicate their readiness to respond to the call, and through the Scholars Program they will receive the training to be substantial contributors in their field. Still, I can’t help but think about how lonely 15,000 young people dispersed among 1,000,000,000 on the continent will feel to them. They will need support and encouragement to feel empowered to be changemakers. They will need a tool that overrides geographical, financial and technological barriers, which, let’s be perfectly honest, is not a simple task. Luckily, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, Sun Devils see challenges as opportunities, and the opportunity to equip the MasterCard Foundation Scholars has made my time here as an Innovation Fellow very meaningful to me.