Happy New Year 2023! It’s been another eventful year at Samaanta Foundation, and we are so grateful to you for your help, support, and good wishes. We would not be here without you, so thank you for believing in us and our work!
Ten Years of Samaanta: A Stocktake
Remarkably, we are into our 11th year of operations! What began as a reactive attempt to help a few students in 2012 has turned into a national movement that has demonstrated that it is the lack of opportunity, not ability, which limits the potential of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The leadership team at Samaanta gathered on a retreat last month, for the first time in these ten years, to take stock of our journey so far. We wanted to celebrate our successes, reflect on our challenges, and strategize for the future. These reflections give you a flavor of where we are at and what we are thinking regarding the future.
- The growth of the Fellowship – We have continued to grow year on year, and we currently have 57 active Fellows, with each fellow receiving up to seven years of comprehensive support. Over the years, we have supported 90 fellows, including 11 Fellows who have received prestigious international scholarships. Our growth over the last decade has been built on the back of concrete evidence that our intervention is working.
- The diversity of the Fellowship – Levelling the playing field was a guiding principle behind the founding of Samaanta Foundation, and we have baked this into all our systems and processes, including our selections. We want to make sure that we are not only rewarding students for their past experiences or “merit”- which can be a function of privilege- but also their potential.We are delighted to share that we have managed to be inclusive and equitable in our Fellowship. For instance, 60% of our Fellows have been girls; 49% of our Fellows are janajatis (indigenous groups) and 13% of our Fellows are Dalits. We have recently widened our geographic reach in the last two years; currently 6% of our Fellows are Madheshis (even though we have only recruited from Madhesh over the last three years), and we are looking to increase this number in the coming years.
- The commitment to our values – The leadership team at Samaanta have all benefitted from the generosity of others in our own higher education pursuits around the world, and the principle of “paying it forward” has been our guiding ethos. We support and expect our Fellows to find ways to serve their communities and contribute to others in any way they can. The recent #onemorefellow campaign, led entirely by our Fellows, provides one example of how our Fellows are already serving, leading, and paying it forward.
- Communications, Public Relations, and Institutional Change – Samaanta Foundation has grown to become the most comprehensive higher education scholarship program in Nepal. We have been so focused on implementing the program that we haven’t been able to present and market Samaanta and its successes as loudly and as widely as we would like in order to garner the attention, recognition, and ultimately the support we believe that this work now warrants. If we were able to build a public persona and profile that was consistent with the depth and breadth of our work, we would expect to be a leading voice on higher education issues and be able to raise additional funds to expand our reach and support even more deserving Fellows.
- Institutional Fundraising – When we started Samaanta 10 years ago, we used our own funds to enrol the first batch of students and have since relied primarily on personal network of friends, family members, and well-wishers to get things going. Over the years, we have been able to secure support from some organisations such as Foundation Care for All (FCFA, Netherlands), Home Loan Experts (HLE), and Franks Family Foundation. Recently, we have also received support from Peters Creek Fund and Elizabeth Ring Mather & William Gwinn Mather Fund. Some individual contributors have also made significant donations in recent years: you know who you are! However, our current funding streams are too piecemeal at the moment, and we have not been able to secure significant funding from prominent institutional funders working on education globally.
- Pressure on Leadership – Most members of the leadership team have been involved with Samaanta from the very beginning and we have poured our blood, sweat, and tears into this, and we are committed to it. However, it is obvious to us now that this pace and intensity of engagement from the voluntary leadership group is not sustainable. We desperately need additional resources to focus more on knowledge management, more paid staff, and additional programming so that the Board can slowly transition away from daily decision-making to act as a real Board focused on oversight and governance of Samaanta’s programs.
Based on this stocktake, we have made a commitment to make progress against these ambitions:
- Funding for Impact – We want to secure enough resources – through a mixture of continued private contributions as well as institutional funds – to be able to sustain a Fellowship of 100 students at any given time. Getting to this number will allow us to both build a critical mass of changemakers and reach a wider pool of candidates in terms of equity and inclusion across gender, geography, and ethnicity.
- Impact for Change – We are also convinced that there is a limit to expanding the Fellowship. Our intervention is resource intensive by design and out of necessity, and we cannot grow to cover all those who need such support. Instead, we will focus on documenting and sharing the narratives of our fellows and our learning from this work so that we can make telling contributions to shaping the system to level the playing field.
- Community for Action – We remain committed to our values of service, leadership, and paying it forward. We have unequivocal confidence in our Fellows to live by these values, and to serve as changemakers in their homes and their communities.
Finally, building Samaanta Foundation from scratch to where it is today has been the greatest challenge and privilege of our lives. The transformation we can already see in our Fellows gives us the energy and the drive to keep going. They continue to prove that it is the lack of opportunity, not ability, which limits the potential of public-school graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. We thank each and every one of you for your support, your guidance, and of course your contributions, allowing us to polish our ambitions and reach for the stars. If you have any thoughts, questions, concerns, and/or suggestions, please do not hesitate to reach out. We continue to count on your support.
On behalf of the leadership team,