MasterCard Foundation scholarships bring students from African countries to UC Berkeley

Aisha Kingongo is one of the seven students from Africa who receives a full-ride scholarship to UC Berkeley courtesy of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. The program aims to boost the enrollment of African students at UC Berkeley.
Jan Flatley-Feldman/Courtesy
Aisha Kingongo is one of the seven students from Africa who receives a full-ride scholarship to UC Berkeley courtesy of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. The program aims to boost the enrollment of African students at UC Berkeley.

Over the next eight years, 113 students from sub-Saharan Africa will be awarded full-ride scholarships to UC Berkeley thanks to a program recently launched by the MasterCard Foundation.

Announced at a United Nations special session on Sept. 26, the  MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program aims to provide disadvantaged students from sub-Saharan Africa with educational opportunities they would not have otherwise had access to by sending them to esteemed postsecondary schools internationally. This year, seven students are attending UC Berkeley through the program.

For the last few decades, UC Berkeley has had an average of less than 30 students from African countries each academic year, said Martha Saavedra, associate and interim director of UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, which will administer the scholars program. The campus administration hopes the program will increase that number.

“It has become exceedingly difficult to get poorer African students to the U.S. in the last 25 years, as all the scholarship funds for them have dried up and incomes in Africa are among the lowest in the world,” said David K. Leonard, professorial fellow of governance at the University of Sussex’s Institute of Development Studies and former dean of international and area studies at UC Berkeley.

This year’s scholarship recipients include Temilola Salako,  Naa Barkor Pierre, Dotun Fatade, Narissa Allibhai, Aisha Kigongo, Lilian Kabelle and Gift Opar.
Scholarship recipients are chosen based on academic excellence, economic disadvantage and devotion to giving back, said Saavedra.

Allibhai, a campus graduate student who grew up in Kenya, said that the scholarship has allowed her to study at her “top-choice” university.  Just a couple months into her program at the UC Berkeley master’s of development practice program, she said Cal has already shown her new ways to look at the problems facing her home country.

“It’s different when you see it with your own eyes,” Allibhai said.

In statement released Sept. 26, MasterCard Foundation CEO Reeta Roy said the purpose of the program is to provide students with the skills necessary to confront the problems their communities face.

“An education does more than liberate people from poverty, it is the foundation of social and economic progress,” Roy said in the statement.

Saavedra said that the program will also help further cultivate a partnership between UC Berkeley and Africa, both by increasing the proportion of African students on campus and by connecting students with Berkeley alumni who are already working in the region.”

UC Berkeley senior Ife Akaa, who was born in Nigeria and is president of Berkeley’s organization of African students, said while the scholars program is an amazing opportunity, in the context of these kinds of programs, it is important not to portray Africans as helpless.

Along with UC Berkeley, other schools were selected to take part in the $500 million program include American University of Beirut, Arizona State University, Ashesi University, Duke University, EARTH University, Michigan State University, Stanford University,  Wellesley College and the African Leadership Academy.

“We at Berkeley have long fostered a concern for quality higher education for Africa and for access to it by women and the poor,” Leonard said.

Contact Alex Berryhill at [email protected].