The desire to see more students and other young African professionals secure funding to pursue their studies is what drove Lena Gronbach to launch her brainchild Africademics.
A German national and second-year PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town’s sociology department, Gronbach said she created the platform in 2019 after she herself struggled to get funding opportunities to further her studies.
Gronbach said it was while she was looking to secure funding that she came across a range of exciting programmes, scholarships and opportunities for African students and decided to share these with her peers.
Lack of funding opportunities for both undergraduate and post-graduate students in the Sub-Sahara region is a widespread problem on the continent. According to a 2018 UNESCO report less than 10% of young adults were enrolled at a university with most of them dropping out due to financial constraints.
In South Africa the funding crisis triggered mass student uprising under the banner of the “Fees Must Fall” movement that crippled the entire tertiary education forcing government to review its existing policy on students funding model.
Africademics is an online platform where students, early-career researchers and young professionals in and around Africa can network and share perspectives with one another. Since it started as a mere Facebook page, the platform has experienced a phenomenal growth boasting over 16 000 page likes.
Now it is also accessible via other influential platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and its own Africademics website. To date it has shared more than 1 000 scholarships opportunities including funding for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies as well as research fellowships and opportunities to study abroad.
It came as no surprise that Africademics has won Gronbach three prestigious accolades for her socially responsible initiative. She was not only rewarded for her hard work but it was also a validation of Africademics’ aims.
The first award is the annual social engagement prize conferred by The German Academic Scholarship Foundation to scholarship holders who run social initiatives. Recipients of the award receive a cash prize, a fundraising campaign through the foundation’s alumni network, a coaching weekend, a formal award ceremony in 2021 and on-going mentoring and support.
“Receiving the award has reinforced my drive for more equality and opportunities in the field of higher education,” said Gronbach.
She said she will use the prize money to expand the Africademics University Ambassador Programme, share more scholarships and opportunities, host information-sharing events and offer webinars and personal support for students who wish to apply for scholarships. Aydn Parrot, a Stellenbosch based student, has already been roped to assist with the expansion of the ambassador programme in 2021.
The second award conferred to Gronbach is the startsocial scholarship run under the patronage of German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is an annual coaching and mentoring programme for social start-ups. Every year 100 initiatives are selected for the first round of coaching, and the best projects will receive additional prizes in 2021.
The third honour she received is the Global Goals Lab where Africademics was recently announced as one of the participants. The Lab serves as a networking and qualification programme for social initiatives working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Said Gronbach: “Participating in the Global Goals Lab has given me the opportunity to connect with other social initiatives that work towards the SDGs.”
She said the current collaboration phase of the programme will enable them to expand their network, share experiences and learn from the successes (and failures) of other organisations.
“These awards have really given me the recognition and support I needed to take Africademics to the next level. Receiving so much positive and constructive feedback on my initiative and seeing the growing interest in my organisation have shown me that we are on the right path,” added Gronbach