The Mastercard Foundation celebrates the decennial anniversary of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. Launched in 2012, the Program began as a $500 million initiative to develop the next generation of leaders who would drive social and economic transformation.
The Program identifies talented young people from economically disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities, primarily in Africa, and supports their secondary and higher education as well as leadership development. Initially, the Program aimed to support 15,000 young people. Over the last decade, the Mastercard Foundation has deployed $1.7 billion through the initiative to benefit nearly 40,000 young people, over 72 percent of whom are young women. To date, 18,544 young people have graduated from secondary and higher education.
“Through a network of extraordinary partners, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is enabling thousands of bright and deserving young people to access quality education and develop as leaders who give back to their communities and help to improve the lives of others. Mastercard Foundation Scholars and Alumni are leaders and innovators; activists and entrepreneurs; tackling everything from climate change to health inequity. Their collective impact will be felt for generations to come,” says Reeta Roy, President and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation.
According to a 2020/2021 survey of a sample of Alumni from the Program, 87 percent of secondary-school graduates and 71 percent of university graduates are employed. Where Alumni have become entrepreneurs, they have collectively created over 16,000 jobs.
In addition, 40 percent of university graduates say they are now supporting the education of their siblings. Importantly, Mastercard Foundation Scholars unanimously express a strong commitment to giving back to their communities, which is a core principle of the Program. During their education, each person creates or participates in a project, which address a specific challenge in their communities.
“Throughout my journey as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, it has always been about being a better version of yourself so that you can go back to your community and help others,” says Joanna Gunab who is now a medical doctor practicing in Northern Ghana. Joana, a young woman living with a disability, also runs an initiative to support students with basic school necessities.
Another Alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, Faith Kipkemboi, is driving transformation in her native Kenya. She founded a community-based organization, Cactus Mama, to deliver evidence-based, high-quality, and affordable mental health services in remote areas, especially for women. “We hope to create a better Kenya; a healthier Kenya,” she says.
The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program began with a strong focus on secondary education, working with partners such as CAMFED, BRAC, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the African Leadership Academy (ALA), and the Equity Group Foundation (Wings to Fly) to provide young people with access to high school and improve completion rates —particularly for girls.
As more African countries adopt free secondary education policies, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program has focused its attention on higher education, where tertiary enrollment rates across the continent remain low. At the same time, the Mastercard Foundation is continuing to improve quality, relevance, and inclusion in secondary education to prepare young people for the world of work.
“Our partnership with the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is exceptional and has enabled us to fulfill our vision for the post-secondary school years,” says Ann Cotton, Founder and Trustee of CAMFED International. “Every child matters and the Foundation looks at justice in the broadest possible sense, from the most impoverished [and] marginalized child to the most powerful institution with whom they work. And there is authenticity at every point on that trajectory.”
The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program has grown into a network of over 40 pan-African and global partners working together to drive inclusion in education. African organizations represent more than 45 percent of this network.
Over the next decade, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program will double its reach to support a total of 100,000 young people, 70 percent of whom will be young women. It will also dedicate more attention to the inclusion of disabled and forcibly displaced young people.
Moving forward, the Mastercard Foundation will also continue to support the network of higher education partners to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in ways that enable dignified work for young people in Africa. This is in line with the Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy, which aims to enable 30 million young people across the continent to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.