i-Scholar Initiative (iSI) was inspired by a product of life experience and a passion to build a solution driven society.
As a family, we have privately made substantial investments in the career development of many young Nigerian graduates in the last few years. These were mostly personal acquaintances and mentees. We had focused mainly on scholars who aspire to advance their studies in foreign universities by mentoring and funding them for the required grad school admission standardized tests.
As a budding teenager, I realized very quickly how a lack of support system could limit or delay an access to opportunities. It was an absolute humble background in my case. I had to struggle financially through every level of education. As a university undergraduate, I divided my time between studying and farming. I depended mostly on the proceeds from my farm plus menial jobs to see myself through school. I lost my dad when I was 11. My mom became a complete dependent after she miraculously survived a life threatening sickness.
I am passionate about education. But nothing in my background was enabling enough to have realized a dream other than a resolve to stay focused. Most often, I could not afford to enroll for key exams nor buy important materials needed for career advancement. All these I had to endure as I continued to keep my eyes on the ball.
In my despair, I also watched in awe how a number of the supported folks gained speed and mileage in their career journeys. As I took time off study to farm and do menial jobs in order to gather enough money for the registration of my next exam, I also saw folks spending full percentage of the time preparing for their own exams. It was a challenge that almost killed a dream.
Then came a time the trajectory of my story completely changed. Years of sustained battle for a breakthrough eventually culminated in an award of a fully funded overseas graduate scholarship. In the euphoria of my unprecedented win, a brief self-reflection reminded me how I almost missed the application deadline due to lack of the requisite fund. The Scholarship application fee was about 20 USD, but I had to work for a long time to raise it. The cumulative value of my scholarship ran into tens of thousands of USD. However, I wouldn’t have been able to access such a huge and life changing opportunity without a chance of being able to raise the required application fee.
Similar to my experience in those struggling years, there are several other self-motivated but helpless individuals among our teaming African youths. They only need to be given a modest support for them to gain the much needed momentum in their career journeys. They need the mentoring and the fund to bridge a critical gap that has the potential to make an opportunity to be completely inaccessible to them.
On the other hands, we must think and work towards building a value driven society of our dreams. It is important that we invest in initiatives that leverage on the abundant aptitude and creativity of the younger generation for the overall growth and development of the society.
Therefore, on the 19th Day of July 2019, we decided to go public in order to broaden the opportunity for more prospective and self-motivated scholars across Nigeria. An announcement was made on Social Media welcoming applications from qualified candidates with a commitment to personally sponsor 3 scholars. This was tagged ‘Take your Graduate Record Examination (GRE) on us’.
To my pleasant surprise, friends began to identify with the vision by committing to sponsoring additional candidates. In no time, 3 jumped to 5, 10, 15 and finally 20 funded scholars. That marked the beginning of an unusual and impactful journey of iSI.
With that feat, we put in place an end to end mentoring program for the scholars. As they started applying to graduate schools after being successful in their tests, it became clear that many of their selected schools would require TOEFL in addition to GRE. With this, our partners raised additional funds to register some of the 20 scholars for TOEFL.For the expanded scope, our online handle got upgraded to ‘Take your Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) on us‘.
We began to see the real time impact of the strategic investments we made in the scholars. Over 70% of the Scholars were able secure fully funded foreign graduate programs at different universities. The remaining scholars were still at different phases of the admission process.
It is quite inspiring to see how each and every iSI stakeholder is so driven and enthusiastic by a shared passion and vision for the career advancement of these self-motivated younger generation. Therefore, to better position the initiative for sustainability and to develop the requisite capacity for the rapidly evolving growth, we decided to formalize the vision. The name (iSI, International Scholar Initiative) was birthed and officially registered with the State of Texas as a 501(C) nonprofit organization in 1Q 2020. In the same vein, a statutory governance was established by constituting the Management Committee (MC) and Board of Trustees (BoT).
We have enjoyed an unfettered support from the most dedicated and selfless people. They continue to invest their time, energy, intellect, experience, finance and more to provide the needed uplift for the scholars. With such a consistent and selfless support of our partners, iSI has been enabled to increase its funding capability in 2020. The scope has also been broadened to include non-STEM graduates by adding GMAT to the mix of funded exams.
We are more excited than ever. iSI will continue to be a rallying point for African graduates for their foreign academic pursuits. The generosity of our valued partners will remain key to harnessing the massive potentials inherent in the younger generation as the innovative solution providers. Together we can build the society of our dream.
~ Victor Ogunmola – July 2020 ~