Day -24: Why sponsor a UWCSEA scholarship?

One of my passions in life has been supporting the UWC Movement generally and the UWCSEA Scholar program specifically.   Why is this important?

The UWC Movement was founded by the visionary educator Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who left Germany between WWI and WWII.    Kurt was a creative genius, highly entrepreneurial but at the same time flawed as an individual.   At any one point he was passionate about “the right way to educate boys” (he didn’t care much for girl’s education, which was one of his flaws).   However, his beliefs shifted over time, leaving supporters of one vision of “how to do it” disillusioned with his subsequent reformations.   You may have seen Kurt Hahn in the final two episodes of Season 2 of the Crown, where the young Prince Philip attended and thrived at Gordonstoun School in Scotland; his son Prince Charles attended and was completely miserable in the Spartan setting.

The UWC movement was a brilliant, liberal, hopeful idea that reflected his new thinking about the importance of breaking down the nationalist tendencies of mid-century governments.   The idealism it reflected was in the same vein as the establishment of the United Nations; that we needed students to think about global needs, committed to service, and committed to personal development.

His passion led to the establishment of a school called Atlantic College on the coast of Wales.   One of his first innovations was the International Baccalaureate (IB); he had the gumption to set it up and the political muscle to get Oxford and Cambridge to recognize it as an alternative to the A Levels (think about how hard that must have been).   In addition, he raised funds from wealthy patrons so that the school could offer a free education to talented “scholars” from all over the world.   The school would be a true melting pot.  Ability to pay would no longer be a consideration.

Of note, Kurt Hahn and UWC fell out over time, and I must say I admire Desmond Hoare (The Atlantic College Head of College) for staying resolute on a key principle.   In 1967 the Atlantic College became coeducational.   As a big believer in the importance of embracing diversity, one must applaud UWC’s embrace of half of humanity.

When the British decided to abandon their naval base and facilities in Singapore Lee Kuan Yew asked some of his British counterparts to help set up an international school in the former facilities for the British armed forces.   With the help of Lord Mountbatten, the second UWC, UWC SE Asia, was established in 1971.   Without the funding that had been directed at the Atlantic College, UWCSEA relied primarily on fee-paying students and used a portion of these fees to admit a small number of scholars.

Every time I have met a scholar I have left extremely moved.   Many of these kids have faced desperate situations and often through sheer personal effort, have risen from the heap.   A good example is this video on Sreylin    

The picture above is a current scholar from Tanzania who happens to be the first “Ormiston Family Scholarship” awardee.   I hope to meet her in August when we plan a celebratory dinner with some of the scholars in Singapore.

The first scholar I met was a young Cambodian boy who was about to graduate.   He was an orphan; he lived with an uncle and contributed to the family’s meager income by scavenging at a garbage dump.   It’s hard to imagine a worse situation — no parents, living off the earnings from a Cambodian garbage dump with the tropical heat.   He had no future.   Fortunately UWCSEA has a small school in Cambodia that is supported primarily by UWC graduates in their gap year.   They provide replacement income for the kids (so their families do not lose the income stream) and then provide the kids a very basic education.   In this case they recognized that this child was very intelligent; he was provided with a UWCSEA Scholarship, came to Singapore, and five years later graduated with an IB.   He went on to a university education in the United States.   I think of the difference between the enormous wasted potential of a garbage dump scavenger and a university graduate passionate about helping other children in Cambodia.

Twelve years ago I took a one year sabbatical from Bain & Company (thank you Bain) and worked on three major non-profit initiatives, one of which was the UWCSEA second campus.   My main motivation was as follows.   If I worked all year to raise money for UWCSEA and was able to raise $5 million, it would be enough for ~2-3 scholars.   If I helped set up a second campus, with the revenue model in place we could create a perpetuity of 30-35 scholars.

So now we have a little more than 100 scholars at UWCSEA.   Of course, there is always a possibility at some point of having a third campus.   But my guess is the main way we will get to 200 scholars is to create 100 endowed scholarships.   It’s a daunting goal, but every journey starts with one turn of the pedal.

Wednesday 9 May 2018 Training:   Easy day.   My bicycle was in the shop having handlebars and stem replaced.   I took a Grab Taxi to the shop and rode home — about 6 kilometers.

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