Africa Has a Brain Drain Problem. This Funder Aims to Change That

The MasterCard Foundation’s Scholars Program has been working to provide “access to secondary and higher education for young people who are committed to giving back to their communities,” since 2012. At the time, the foundation committed $500 million to achieve those ends, targeting “disadvantaged students from developing countries, particularly in Africa.”

And it’s looking like that initial $500 million pledge was just the beginning. According to the foundation, it’s up to $700 million in commitments and has touched the lives of over 30,000 young people. Its latest give is a $27 million scholarship program.

Working in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, the MasterCard Foundation will offer full scholarships to approximately 80 undergraduate and 120 postgraduate students from Africa. The $27 million will be spread out over seven years to “ensureaccess to education for bright young leaders who have a personal commitment to changing the world around them and improving the lives of others.” The university and its partners will work together to recruit promising students who may not have the financial means to support their higher education pursuits.

This latest effort marks the first scholars program with a European partner. When speaking of the multi-million pledge, foundation president Reeta Roy said, “I know that the University of Edinburgh will be a tremendous resource in equipping Scholars with the knowledge and skills they need to lead their communities.”

Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, the MasterCard Foundation wants to see “a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn and prosper,” and with its assets holding steady at around $8 billion, this is a funder that is definitely throwing its weight around to make the vision become a reality, starting with Africa.

Related: Who’s Giving Serious Money to Bolster Africa’s Next Generation of Tech Leaders?

There are a lot of reasons why the foundation, and other funders for that matter, are prioritizing Africa in their collective grantmaking. First, there’s poverty. According to the MasterCard Foundation, 70 percent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa (not including South Africa) are living on less than $2 a day.

Then there’s the 600 million people on the continent that are under the age of 25. History has shown us that with large percentages of unemployed young people also come a significantly increased possibility of political and civil unrest as well as higher crime rates and increasing poverty. One way to reduce these risks is to expand access to education—an approach in which the MasterCard Foundation is clearly onto.

Here’s where the foundation’s work may differ a bit from other funders focusing on access to education for students in developing countries: not only is the foundation aiming to empower these young people to pursue their education, but it’s also empowering them to return home and hopefully, become leaders in their local communities.

This commitment to community is an essential aspect of the foundation’s scholars program, which requires participating students to demonstrate that commitment “through volunteerism and community service, as well as other forms of experiential learning.” In other words, they don't want scholars who'll ended up living in London. 

Related: MasterCard Foundation Continues to Up its Funding Game In Africa

Makes sense. Africa has been suffering from a brain drain—losing well-educated people to better opportunities in developed countries—for years now. And its economy will fail to reach its full potential if its best and brightest continue emigrating elsewhere in search of better opportunities.