First Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program Alumni Survey Provides Snapshot of Post-Grad Life

Program that started in 2012 now has more than 12,000 alumni

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program equips young people with the knowledge and skills they need to become the next generation of transformative leaders. Many already are, and passionate about giving back to their communities, they are among the change agents ushering in a new era of inclusive prosperity across the African continent. Scholars are innovative, resilient, and growing in number. The Program, which began in 2012 with 145 students has today grown into a community of more than 12,000 alumni.  

In June 2020, the Scholars Program launched its first ever alumni survey. As a Foundation we were keen to reconnect with Scholars, and eager to learn more about the alumni experience: their transitions after graduation, the types of activities they were seeking from their alumni community, and, given COVID-19, their experiences living through a global pandemic.   

Nearly 4,000 alumni responded to the survey–an estimated 30 percent response rate–which is rather impressive for a first-time e-survey, no less one conducted during a pandemic. The insights gleaned are proving invaluable: informing program design, identifying areas for research, and highlighting Scholars’ resource needs. Through this exercise, we have also learned how to build future surveys: ones that are shorter, multilingual, and weigh the experiences of secondary and tertiary alumni equally.  While there were a number of highlights, below are the top five key takeaways from the 2020 Alumni Survey.  

An overview of the respondents 

Of the 3733 survey respondents: 

  • 59 percent were women, versus 40 percent men and 1 percent other –this means slightly more men than women responded to the survey, since 70 percent of scholars and alumni are women 
  • 63 percent were secondary level alumni versus 37 percent who were tertiary. This represents a higher response among tertiary alumni than secondary (we estimate the overall scholars and alumni population is 23 percent tertiary). 
  • Most survey respondents were in Eastern Africa and the response rate from Western Africa was lower than expected, with few secondary-level alumni from Ghana taking part 
  • Most respondents were between 19 and 28 years old

Most alumni felt their work was dignified and fulfilling, but they still experience challenges around their incomes 

When asked if they felt respected and that their work is reputable and has purpose. They are less satisfied with their incomes.

We asked alumni what the biggest enablers and barriers were for transitioning to work. The three biggest enablers were employers, friends, and social media. This finding demonstrates the ways alumni are successfully leveraging their networks and social capital. The three biggest barriers were finding a well-paying job, finding a job for which they were trained, and finding a job where they would most like to live. For the entrepreneurs, the three biggest barriers to starting their own ventures were financing, access to the market, and building a team. 

Alumni are doing many different things at once 

Breakdown of post-scholarship transitions of respondents from tertiary education is as follows: 50% are employed, 40% started an enterprise, 30% indicated they were in training, 23% are unemployed. Breakdown of post-scholarship transitions of respondents from tertiary education is as follows: 11% are employed, 48% started an enterprise, 76% indicated they were in training, 4% are unemployed.

Alumni are energetic, transformative young leaders who are performing multiple activities at once – like pursuing a master’s degree while becoming an entrepreneur. Perhaps, the biggest surprise was just how many alumni have started their own ventures. The alumni surveyed have created more than 3,500 jobs through their ventures. Remarkably, 31 of them employ over 25 people. The two alumni groups with the highest rates of entrepreneurship were refugees and those with experiences of displacement (64 percent) and alumni living with disabilities (60 percent).   

Other full-time activities being performed by Scholars include caring for family members, volunteering, travelling, and working on a personal project. A subset of respondents were asked whether they were spent a significant amount of time on creative, athletic, or other pursuits and 36 percent shared their passion projects ranging from vegan cooking channels, to poetry, marathon training, and photography. 

Covid-19 has been challenging for alumni, particularly to their economic well-being and mental health 

COVID-19 was incredibly disruptive to alumni – employment opportunities fell through, training programs were cancelled and delayed, and business ventures were disrupted by the changing economic climate. In June, alumni were less concerned about their health and the health of their families, but the financial consequences on themselves and their family were considerable:  

  • Twenty one percent of those who responded said their health had been affected by COVID-19  
  • Ninety six percent of the respondents say the COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their family’s ability to meet their financial needs. Ninety three percent indicated an impact on their own finances. 

In the open-ended responses about COVID-19 it became clear that the most significant health toll was related to mental health and well-being. Virtually all respondents shared experiences of isolation, worry, and frustration. As the pandemic continues and the effects of COVID-19 evolve, it will be important to observe and work to understand the health and economic implications of the pandemic for alumni. 

“I am a health worker. My family and friends are scared for me as a frontliner. And others do not want me around them because I may get infected and expose them to it.” 

The Scholars Program improved the quality of life for alumni

Of the those who responded, more than 70% said that the Program had improved their social circumstances, almost 50% indicated that their economic circumstances had been improved, and more than 35% said that it had improved their family’s economic circumstances.

Most alumni felt their circumstances had improved as a result of the Scholars ProgramOverall, they shared that the Scholars Program had a positive impact on their lives and their families. Their communities, employers, and peers also have a very positive view of Scholars.  

I never lacked anything for the first time in my life which was very heartwarming and reassuring of my capabilities to be the best I can be. I didn’t encounter big challenges, they were not something I couldn’t handle without a second party “ 

Alumni were also asked what experiences they valued most, both while in the Program and post-graduation.  Tertiary alumni appreciated the Scholars community, opportunities to participate in give-back activities, and leadership training. After graduation the focus shifted, with alumni placing high value on internships, networking, and career guidance. Secondary alumni valued mentorship, leadership training, and career guidance, both during and after their programs. 

Alumni are eager to connect, especially for career-related activities 

 Overall, alumni expressed the most interest in networking, professional development, and leadership training. There was also interest in conferences, entrepreneurship competitions, and casual meet-ups, although not as much.

We were pleased to learn that alumni wish to remain connected to the Scholars community after they graduate. While both secondary and tertiary Scholars are enthusiastic about career-related activities, university-level alumni are interested in networking and professional development, while secondary school alumni are looking for leadership development. “Other’” activities of interest were better mental health support, sporting activities, and group give-back activities. Throughout the survey many alumni expressed looking for venture funding opportunities and programs that help address this gap in funding business ventures. 

However, alumni noted that there were barriers to staying connected. Often, they did know that events were taking place, and when they did the timing or location was inconvenient. We also heard challenges related to technology or internet. It’s important that we how best to connect to the alumni in future, as we prepare to administer the next survey. Most alumni found out about this survey via email, WhatsApp and Facebook.  

What’s next? 

Survey insights are informing our work in the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program and we hope to stay in touch with alumni and exceed that 30 percent response rate! 

For now, we encourage all Mastercard Foundation alumni (not just Scholars!) to join the Baobab Platform – this is heart of the alumni network and where opportunities to learn, connect, and transition to work are shared. Interested in joining the Mastercard Foundation alumni network. Please learn more here.   

Methodology & Limitations  

The online survey was developed in collaboration with Mastercard Foundation staff in the Scholars Program, Impact Team, and the Youth Engagement team with input from Scholars, Alumni, and partners, particularly the Learning Partnership Advisory Group. The survey contained 119 predominately multiple-choice questions – though not all Alumni were asked all questions. All secondary-level Alumni as well as any 2016-19 tertiary-level Alumni participating in The Imprint of Education study (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa) were asked a reduced set of questions. The survey was sent to all Scholars Program Alumni for whom the Foundation had email addresses (2864) and shared via social media implementing partner networks, the Baobab Platform, and Alumni networks. The survey was open from 4-26 June and received 5291 responses of which 3733 were verified alumni. Results were analyzed by Mastercard Foundation staff and consultants in Excel and R. To maintain confidentiality, data cell sizes below 5 were merged or suppressed in the analysis. The estimated response rate for 2019 and earlier alumni is 20%. Data on graduation numbers for 2020 are not yet available.  

Key survey limitations include incomplete contact information for Alumni (only 2800 email addresses), limiting outreach; access issues because the survey was online and required a Wi-Fi connected device to complete; the length and complexity and language (English-only) of the survey; and challenges typical of alumni surveys, which frequently have extremely low response rates, particularly from less engaged Alumni.