This year, Max Bell School at McGill University has attracted not one, but two Mastercard Foundation Scholars, Fanuel Sbhatu Gebremeske and Juma Omala. Hailing respectively from Ethiopia and Kenya, and brimming with talent and leadership potential, these two scholars are all about building resilient communities. Read why they are moving halfway across the world to join the Max Bell School’s third cohort of Master of Public Policy students.
In pursuit of justice beyond law: Fanuel Sbhatu Gebremeskel
With a Bachelor of Laws from Mekelle University in Ethiopia, Fanuel has long been devoted to equity in the justice system. “Normally, in Ethiopia, the legal system discriminates against indigent people, poor people, people with disabilities, people who are illiterate, women, and children. I’d like to make a difference in providing access to justice for these vulnerable members of society.”
To that end, he could have continued his studies by pursuing a master's degree in law, but Fanuel recognized that law is not the only way to achieve the reforms he wants for Ethiopia. “I’ve been working as a law teacher for about three years now, and I’ve always wanted to pursue further studies because I want to participate in the leadership of civil society organizations.”
When he saw the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at McGill, he knew it would be the ideal way to continue his mission for justice. “It’s absolutely necessary to understand and analyze the public policies that are impacting our lives,” he explained. “As far as access to justice is concerned, studying at McGill will help me understand the specific policy issues that are creating these inequalities.”
He’s really excited about joining the Max Bell School. “I’m looking forward to learning from my fellow students, who come from so many different countries and backgrounds.”
An innovator for health and equity: Juma Omala
Over 1,600 kilometres away, in Nairobi, Kenya, Juma Omala is also preparing to uproot and move to Montreal.
With a Bachelor of Science in Community Resource Management from Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, Juma has worked to advance youth empowerment, equity, public health, and sexual and reproductive rights in Kenya.
He’s always thinking about how he can meaningfully contribute to his community. To this end, he founded BoldStep Initiative, an organization that seeks to increase employment opportunities for young people. “I formed BoldStep because I saw that the young people I interacted with were going through an education system that didn’t prepare them to take on the real world.”
Prior to founding BoldStep, Juma had an experience that shifted his paradigm on community service. “A turning point for me was when I was selected for the Young African Leaders Initiative,” a networking and education program established in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama. “When I joined that program,” he continued, “my whole perspective changed on how to think about my community’s challenges and how young people can come up with effective solutions to solve them.
With an eye to public health, Juma is now returning to school for a Master of Public Policy degree. “I want to ground myself in health research, especially research on health inequities that kids face, because your health trajectory starts when you’re very young,” he said. “I want to have conversations about these topics with experts, and with students from other parts of the world.”
When deciding which university to attend, McGill stood out. “I know it’s going to be intense, but I like to be challenged to think and do things differently. And my Max Bell School education will empower me to understand the complexities of health inequalities and contribute to addressing them at the policy level.”
A warm welcome
Chris Ragan, director of the Max Bell School, is thrilled that Fanuel and Juma will be joining the Max Bell School:
“We are so proud to welcome Fanuel and Juma into our third cohort of MPP students. To have two Mastercard Foundation Scholars, as members of the next generation of African leaders, decide to join the Max Bell School is a testament to the talent we are attracting from around the globe.”
Tips for prospective students
When asked to provide advice to any prospective Mastercard Foundation Scholarship applicants, Fanuel emphasized that perseverance is key in the scholarship application process.
“The Mastercard Foundation Scholarship wasn’t the first scholarship I applied for; I’ve been rejected three or four times before. No matter what, you need to be persistent.”
In pursuing his studies, Juma was undeterred by the difficult economic circumstances of his upbringing: “Growing up poor showed me how people are barred from a lot of opportunities based on their socioeconomic status. There were countless times when I couldn’t pay my school fees, so I had to be away from school. At the same time, my friends from well-off families remained continuously in school.”
These barriers galvanized his drive to fight inequality, pushed him to put intense effort into his studies, and motivated him to seize every opportunity he could. All that hard work has unlocked his next chapter: a master’s degree at the Max Bell School. And he can’t wait to get started.