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A mission to bolster the strength of Africa’s young people

As part of the unveiling of a new partnership between Queen’s University and the University of Gondar in Ethiopia – supported by a 10-year, USD$24-million grant from The MasterCard Foundation – the Queen’s Gazette is providing an inside look at both the University of Gondar and The MasterCard Foundation, as well as how this project was developed. In this piece, we look at the history and mission of the foundation, and its role in bringing this project together.

Visit The MasterCard Foundation website and you’ll find an abundance of stories – stories that detail the impact of the organization’s mission to give African youth with few resources the chance to succeed.

In particular, the foundation’s Scholars Program – which Queen’s has joined through its partnership with the University of Gondar in Ethiopia – aims to provide economically challenged but academically talented young people living in Sub-Saharan Africa with quality secondary and university education.

Students enrolled in The MasterCard Foundation Scholars program come from various parts of Africa and study at institutions around the world. In the above photo, Scholars studying in North America gather at a bootcamp in New York City last fall. (Jake Naughton for The MasterCard Foundation)

The stories of the Scholars describe their commitment to the future of Africa – through problem-solving on issues such as food security, politics and governance, human rights, women’s rights, and mental health awareness.

“They are truly Africa’s next-generation leaders,” says Anna Miller, Program Manager for Education and Learning at The MasterCard Foundation. “For MasterCard Foundation Scholars, this is not only an opportunity to receive a quality education, but an opportunity to be a part of a movement of young leaders who will create inclusive change that matters within their communities. They are not only selected on the basis of their academic prowess, but also on the basis of their character, and the promise they have shown as next-generation leaders who give back to their communities.”

The MasterCard Foundation Scholars – the program has reached almost 35,000 students so far – study near their homes and around the world, at partner institutions such as Duke University, the American University of Beirut, Makerere University in Uganda, University of Cape Town, and the University of Edinburgh, as well as with Canadian partners – Queen’s, University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of British Columbia. Receiving holistic financial, academic, and emotional support, the students get to pursue their academic dreams across any discipline and use what they’ve learned to give back to their communities and become role models and mentors to others.

The MasterCard Foundation’s beginning and its future

The MasterCard Foundation was created through a generous gift from Mastercard World Wide at the time of its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2006, endowed by the company with 10 per cent of the its shares. At the time of the IPO, the endowment was worth $500 million – today, its value has grown to more than $10 billion, ranking the foundation as among the largest in the world.

Completely independent from Mastercard, the foundation charts its own course and has long placed priority on Africa. Its goal is to assist people living in poverty by providing access to education, financial inclusion, and skills training. 

More stories in the Gazette on the partnership
Project overview: The MasterCard Foundation $24M grant launches 10-year, int'l project
An interview with the University of Gondar: Queen's-Gondar project an opportunity to push programming further
A Scholar's perspective: Scholar Munya Mahiya shares vision for inclusive universities

Africa has the world’s youngest population (600 million under the age of 25) and in some areas, 60 per cent of youth live below the poverty line. The foundation believes that with the right opportunities, young people can lift themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty.

"The MasterCard Foundation’s vision is for a world where all have the opportunity to learn and prosper,” explains Peter Materu, Director of Education and Learning, The MasterCard Foundation. “Core to this mission is the conviction that a person’s starting point in life should not determine his or her future. Rather, the foundation believes in the agency of individuals to change their own lives and the lives of others. We believe that this change happens only when people are equipped with the right knowledge, skills, and tools. This is what we are seeking to achieve under the Scholars Program and the Gondar/Queen’s partnership in particular."

'Queen’s is lucky to work with the University of Gondar'

Students in The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program are committed to giving back to their communities, becoming role models and mentors to others. In the above photo, students meet at a summit in Ghana last year. (Illume for The MasterCard Foundation)

Part of the Scholars Program, the Queen’s-University of Gondar 10-year project provides access to secondary and higher education for young people, many of them with disabilities or from conflict-affected regions, who are committed to giving back to their communities.

“The MasterCard Foundation was the matchmaker in this project, as they connected our team at the International Centre for the Advancement of Community Based Rehabilitation (ICACBR) with our counterparts at the University of Gondar,” says Heather Aldersey, Queen’s National Scholar and Assistant Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and the faculty project lead at Queen’s University.

Dr. Aldersey says it just happened that her team and a team at the University of Gondar submitted similar proposals to The MasterCard Foundation around the same time. While they didn’t have all the same elements, the foundation could see the “shared interest” and asked both universities to come up with some more ideas.

“It’s wonderful to be able to partner with the University of Gondar,” says Dr. Aldersey. “They are so visionary. They know what they want in Ethiopia, they know what they want in Gondar, and I think Queen’s is lucky to be able to work with them. They have included us to help in their vision for change and I think it’s a great opportunity for all involved.”

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Learn more about The MasterCard Foundation’s ongoing projects...