What defines a leader? American writer, Ken Kesey, describes leaders as being those that lead by example and not just by pointing out the way. In their respective rural communities, each and every CLEF bursary recipient is a shining example of mentorship in action.
A string of stars
2021 marks the 25th anniversary of Africa Foundation’s Community Leaders Education Fund (CLEF) that has to date awarded 915 higher education bursaries to underprivileged youth from rural areas across five African countries.
These have subsequently produced an impressive 533 graduates in a diversity of fields, from drama to astrophysics. With an exceedingly high pass rate of 98%, and 96% of students completing their degree within standard time frames, the CLEF programme and its recipients shine brightly as beacons of hope and possibility for those yet to embark on their tertiary education journey.
Times of adversity reveal the hero in us all. With COVID-19 setting a sombre scene the world over, our communities and universities certainly did not escape the dire effects of the pandemic in 2020. Students were forced into less-than-ideal remote-learning situations in often under-resourced settings.
But CLEF does not only provide partial funding support to its recipients, it also offers invaluable psycho-social assistance, a crucial touch point in these troubled times. In addition to this, students pulled together of their own volition by forming a CLEF student support network and proving themselves as diligent as ever in their pursuit of their future.
While 2020 harassed learners at high school with challenging circumstances, resilient and committed youngsters proved their mettle by excelling in their final exams, which paved the way for university acceptance and CLEF eligibility.
419 bursary applications from students in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa were short-listed to 235 interviews. In adherence with COVID-19 prescriptions, these interviews had to be conducted either virtually on Skype, or in-person, with strict social-distancing protocols in place.
From these interviews for the 2021 study year, 123 students met the selection criteria, and were awarded bursaries: 22 more bursaries than were granted in 2020, with a neat 50:50 gender split.
For the first time, 2021 saw 15 South African postgraduate bursaries awarded in recognition of this critical need for young people from RSA to continue their studies in order to differentiate and advance themselves in a saturated and intensely competitive job market.
Onwards & upwards
The Community Leaders Education Fund continues to go from strength to strength, and 2022’s ambitious goals are to support 150 graduates, including 20 post-graduate degrees. The programme also plans to expand into Mozambique.
An average of 500 annual applications continue to flow through, but with improved support from the South African Government through NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), returning second and third-year students find themselves fully funded, which frees up funds for new learners and expands the overall reach of the programme.
Outside South Africa, students are still granted bursaries on a yearly basis, provided they meet the criteria and perform well. The average cost for one bursary for one year is USD 1 700.
The words of Jack Welch, American executive and writer, ring especially true when he said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
And that is exactly what the Class of 2021 is set to do.