Schmidt Futures’ Reimagine Challenge 2020 calls on students from around the world to share their most innovative global social change ideas. Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng is calling on University of Cape Town (UCT) students to grab the opportunity – and stand the chance to win a substantial scholarship. She spoke with UCT News.
Helen Swingler (HS): The global cry for worldwide social change has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Reimagine Challenge 2020 gives UCT students a great chance to showcase their ideas to change the status quo. Please tell us more.
Mamokgethi Phakeng (MP): I recently spoke with former Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt, who told me about a brilliant new scholarship opportunity called the Reimagine Challenge 2020 that he’s running through his philanthropic initiative, Schmidt Futures. Basically, university students at all levels are invited to submit a short essay on one of two topics: Sparking a Global Movement or Community Impact from COVID. These are very topical issues. I’m excited by the idea that our students will get to engage in this global conversation. It also opens the possibility for our students – and the university – to be globally recognised for their amazing work.
“Winners will receive US$25 000 for themselves – approximately R420 000 – as well as a matching amount for their universities.”
HS: Who can apply and what is the scholarship worth?
MP: The challenge is open to all university students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. And here’s the cherry on top: the winners will receive US$25 000 for themselves – approximately R420 000 – as well as a matching amount for their universities. I think that’s amazing!
HS: The name of the scholarship is particularly apt, given the way COVID-19 has illuminated the fractures in society. It’s not business as usual.
MP: No, it’s not – and as a university executive and community we’ve been saying that for some time. This is a compelling invitation, especially as it invites our students to share their unique African perspectives and experiences. In my view – and I’ve said this often – they can compete with the best in the world. Our mission talks about African scholarship – harnessing the intellectual wealth of the global south – and we must share it.
HS: It’s a significant vote of confidence in our students and their abilities to reimagine the world.
MP: I think this is the most exciting aspect. The initiative recognises the power of students to be change agents and creative citizens. This scholarship is all about investing in our young talent and their ideas about shaping and building the future. Our students have weathered all kinds of storms as a result of COVID-19. We need their distinctive experiential insights and bright minds to relook the way the world does things. It’s a very welcome and timeous investment.
“No good idea or effort is ever wasted.”
HS: How can the UCT community support students in this challenge?
MP: Students, speak with each other and with your supervisors and HODs about your ideas and the planning process. Academic, and professional, administrative support and service staff, please encourage students to enter. Do what you can to provide conducive and appropriate thinking spaces, support and guidance as they prep their submissions.
HS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MP: Get to it! Time is tight. The deadline for entries is 25 September 2020. And good luck. I’m looking forward to hearing about the ideas our students will come up with. No good idea or effort is ever wasted.
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