The ISLA Gift 2020: Meet the Winners!

Visuals by Berns at Berns Studios

The ISLA Gift 2020 has been such an amazing project to work on. In June, having seen all of the disruption students have faced to their education, plus the painful tragedies our black community have witnessed this year, I was looking for a way to do something positive and lasting to make a change. I decided to make an annual pledge to offer financial support and academic mentorship to 3 black students.

My plan was that the 3 students would receive a personal cash gift from me of £50 each towards their study costs and that I would take them under my wing and share all my academic learnings with them for a year. I wanted to really be a support and pour into them, because I know that beyond the immediate help cash can offer, a mentorship relationship can be invaluable and even more useful in the long run.

So, I created a Google Form for people to apply for it, and announced it on my social media:

And so it began.

The news spread, with students, friends, and African-Caribbean societies at Universities across the country — from KCL to Imperial, Cambridge to LSE, Leicester and UCL to Leeds and Aston, Nottingham to Bristol — all of these UCLs kindly sharing this opportunity with their students.

Applications opened on 30 June and closed on 31 July.

In all, 72 students applied.

When God has bigger Plans…

  1. First came the Sponsors & the Specialised Gifts

Meanwhile, as the news spread, the number of winner places increased too as friends said they wanted to sponsor another winner and mentor them for a year. So I created a ‘Sponsor’ role, where they could donate £50 to have their own winner to mentor for the year, in their subject specialism. And so, our additional Specialised Gifts were born, including:

  • The Tega and James Gift for Women in Economics
  • The Paula Melissa Gift for Journalism
  • The Anna Gift for STEM and Artificial Intelligence (x2)
  • The Maths & Stats Gift (x3)
  • The Jacqui Gift for women in Medicine

2. Then came the 25 Donors

We eventually began taking general donations, too, totalling £1,700 in 4 weeks, so were able to eventually offer 17 winners £100, rather than 3 winners £50. It has been INCREDIBLE! People who gave financially but weren’t able to mentor became our ‘Donors’. And so we now had 2 forms of support: ‘Sponsors’ with their own winners, and ‘Donors’ who’d given generously. They had their own Google form to sign up through and donate. In all, 25 of my friends kindly donated to the cause.

3. And then the 26 Partners

Enter the Partners. These were the opposite of Donors, in that they hadn’t necessarily been able to give financially, but boy were they down to kindly mentor and share their knowledge with a student for a year!

The Partners all committed to being available to offer one of our winners at least 1 mentorship session in their subject specialism at some point during the year ahead. Many said they were available to offer far more sessions than that. I honestly cannot put into words how thankful I am for every one of my friends.

4. And then came the 21 Gift Mentees

In all, 26 of my friends signed up to be a Partner. And so, when I had picked my 3 winners, and the Sponsors had picked their Specialised Gift Winners, and we still had around 60 applicants who hadn’t been picked, I thought, ‘Is there a way we can match some of these 60 or so applicants with some of the Partners?’ I had 26 Partners itching to mentor someone, and 60 non-winner applicants hoping to be mentored.

So I created a Google Sheet with all the 60 non-winner applicants, anonymised and grouped by subject specialism, and sent it to the Partners and gave them a week to — if they wanted to — select an applicant in their subject specialism to mentor for a year. This meant that rather than just reject applicants, we could at least offer some of them mentorship for a year with someone in their field who had hand-picked them based on their story and study subject. In all, 19 partners signed up for this, and 21 mentees were selected. We wrote to the mentees, they accepted the offer (via — you guessed it — another Google form!) and voilà. 21 applicants matched with someone to look out for them for the year. God is good.

Highlights

4 key highlights for me stand out throughout this process.

1. Two friends literally donating £250 between them from their hospital beds — one with cancer, the other with chronic depression, neither with a second thought. I am in awe of them, their kindness and selflessness. My heart is eternally grateful, E and C.

2. One of our winners, a former child refugee, who wrote to me with heartfelt thanks for the support we have been able to offer her (shared with her permission):

The moment I read this email, I could not contain my happiness, nor could my parents. Your kind and heart-warming words filled me with so much joy and actually made me quite emotional. 
Being a child refugee, having the social background that I have […] is something that I have struggled to accept and come to terms with. However, your incredibly motivating words and inclusivity have made me feel very special and cherished (to be honest starting from the application process, your goals in mind and this email). 
You don’t know how much it means to me to receive all this incredible support from yourself, the donors and partners. 
My family and I are very grateful and humbled for the opportunities you have presented me with.

One of the ISLA Gift 2020 winners

The third is the calls I had with our winners on the weekend of August 22nd-23rd. Their joy, intelligence, kindness and hearing their stories all over again? Priceless and inspiring.

And final highlight: one of our mentees, a mature student and single mama of 2 boys who’d just secured a place to study Law at Cambridge, who wrote in asking if we could support her. She shared her story with me via Facebook, and let me tell you, she is an absolute boss. As a daughter of a single mama myself, her story moved and inspired me. We were able to offer her mentorship with a fellow single mama, an older mentor, who’s also a practising Barrister. Joy.

God is beyond good. He is AWESOME!

Meet the 38 Winners and Mentees of the ISLA Gift 2020:

And so, all that to say. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the 38 winners and mentees of the ISLA Gift 2020. Please celebrate them with me, they are stars:

Congratulations once again to all Gift Winners and Gift Mentees 🥰. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible. Thank you to Berns for the incredible visuals.

This gift is an annual personal life-long commitment from me. Each year, for as long as I am able, I will offer 3 black students a personal cash gift of £50 each from me towards their study costs. I will also aim to offer them personal mentorship with me.

And each year, the offer will be announced and free to snowball into something greater, like it did this year, as far as I can manage it. It’s the least I can do to help those coming up after us.

This has been a labour of love. I have felt so out of my comfort zone at times. Ordering Award Cards, managing donations, writing endless Google Forms and Sheets, setting up calls using tools like Acuity Scheduling… Who sets up a scholarship on their own? LOL. I have learnt so much about my own tenacity, God’s favour on a good idea and how He can snowball it, the incredible calibre and sheer generosity of my friends, the kindness of the people around me, even the blessing of my network which I am now able to share with the students via the 26 Partners who are all my friends. Thankful.

Grateful beyond words and lost for words still. Cannot wait to do it all again next year. 🥰

Imani x