Odunayo Sanya, executive secretary of MTN Foundation, in this interview with Amaka Anagor-Ewuzie spoke on the impact of the Foundation’s scholarship initiative to the overall grooming of skilled workforce in the country. Excerpts:
What is the reason for investing in the promotion of MTN Foundation’s scholarship initiative?
Education is big for us at MTN, and I can say the ‘Why’ for us is simply to have a sustainable impact on Nigerian youths. We are continuously collaborating with the government to ensure we can bridge the gap in the nation’s education system. As an organisation, we are interested in our youths’ success and know that access to quality education provides them with tools to be the best version of themselves.
This year, we gave out scholarships to 360 new scholars and reinstated 651 previous scholarships. Over the years, we have completed scholarships for over 4,000 scholars in Nigeria. This initiative was established with the belief that every individual regardless of background or socioeconomic status deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams through education, which has a profound impact on shaping minds, fostering innovation, and driving societal change.
The annual scholarships recognise and reward high-performing students in Nigerian public tertiary institutions. The scholarships are usually given to three categories of students – undergraduates in science and technology-related courses, blind students in any field of study and the top 10 candidates of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) in Nigeria. Through this initiative, 4,590 Nigerian students have received scholarships valued at N3 billion in the last 12 years.
Why is the scholarship streamlined to just Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, as well as blind students?
We understand that for Nigeria to compete with other countries on a global scale, there is a need to invest in Science, Technology, and Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education and encourage young Nigerians to create solutions through the knowledge acquired, which is why our focus is on promoting STEM education in Nigeria.
This does not mean that we are relegating other courses of study. We have initiatives targeted at young creatives like the Theatre Production, MUSON scholarship and our continuous collaboration with the Life in My City Arts Festival and the BEETA awards.
For the blind scholarship, one thing you should know is that MTN is an equal opportunity organisation because we believe in providing equal opportunity as well. The foundation pioneered the blind scholarship, and I think we are the only organisation still doing this for the blind in public universities.
Are there plans to expand the scope of the scholarship beyond promoting STEM education and aiding blind students?
For now, the answer is no. The Foundation has different initiatives that cover, music, culture, arts, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, and all these initiatives are targeted at empowering and developing young Nigerians. So, for now, the scholarship is mainly targeted at STEM and blind students.
The MTN scholarship has been in existence for 13 years now, what would you say has been the greatest achievement?
For us at the Foundation, our greatest achievement really is the success stories of our scholars. We constantly have our scholars graduate with great results. In fact, one of the blind scholars reached out to me recently and shared that he had recently graduated with a first class in his department.
Therefore, we are always happy knowing that with our scholarship, we are able to improve lives and create opportunities for people, which is an achievement for us.
How easy is it for students to access and get the scholarship?
It is very easy and straightforward. Annually we have a ‘Call-for-application’ that we announce across various big, medium and small platforms to drive awareness across all states in Nigeria. The applications are then streamlined based on the eligibility criteria. After which the top applicants are invited to take a test. Those who ace it get selected. It is a straightforward and transparent process.
For us at MTN Foundation, everything we do is about excellence. So, it is a scholarship of excellence because the selection process allows each candidate to prove themselves worthy to get the scholarship. It is available to each recipient as long as he or she maintains a CGPA of 3.5 for the next three years until they leave school.
Does the Foundation have a structured alumni community?
Definitely, we do. Our alumni onboarding begins even before the scholar’s graduate. During their final year, we organise a ‘skill-up’ programme, an employability workshop in partnership with our ecosystem partners to equip them with skills that will help them thrive and stand out in the job market.
Upon graduation, they are inducted into the alumni community, where they have the opportunity to network and also get guidance as they desire.
What should we expect from the scholarship initiative and even the MTN Foundation as a whole?
We hope to increase the number of scholarships we give out annually. This is more than a scholarship programme; it is a platform for continuous development. It is a promise that we make to each recipient to stand by them and provide guidance and support as they continue to push boundaries.
For the Foundation, we hope to keep impacting the lives of Nigerians through strategic initiatives and launching sustainable initiatives.
The Foundation commenced operation in 2004 and by 2024 it will be 20 years in Nigeria, what would you say has been the greatest achievement and impact over the years?
I would say the greatest achievement for us is being able to impact lives. When people share their stories with us, it makes us know that indeed we are truly making a sustainable impact.
For instance, we have stories of people who could barely afford their university school fees, and they win the MTN scholarship, and they are able to complete their education and some even go ahead to become leaders in their different fields. Almost 20 years now and we have these impact stories across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory in Nigeria.