Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Gates Cambridge Scholars: Making an Impact

March 13, 2013

The first ever joint event between Gates Cambridge and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was held at London's Institute of Directors on Thursday, February 28th highlighted our shared values and vision and strengthened the bond between these two organisations.

Professor Robert Lethbridge, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, reminded us of Bill Gates’ last visit to Cambridge in 2009, where Gates explained his vision. By doing so, he reminded us of the serious responsibility we have as beneficiaries of this scholarship to be leaders in improving the lives of others: 

“The Foundation could have spent the money on the utterly pragmatic, durable and urgent task of saving literally thousands of lives, children’s lives, in countries endemically ravaged by poverty and disease. Instead of alleviating human misery, all those dollars, as Bill insisted, were to fund ideas, which could make a no less but long term difference in the future.”

Gates Cambridge’s intellectual dynamism was woven into its founding mission, which was as Lethbridge stated “visionary in its understanding of interdisciplinarity and the mutually enriching intellectual perspectives afforded by the academic context in which we work.” Gates’ investment in ideas and brainpower is tangible every day in the Gates Cambridge Scholars' Common Room.

Ideas inspired by chance encounters in this room and through Scholar-led activities have already led to creative and innovative new initiatives. 

A prominent theme amongst Gates Cambridge Alumni, a number of whom attended the event, is a desire to engage with the public. It is as if we have all recognised this privilege bestowed upon us confers a reciprocal responsibility to provide similar opportunities to others.

For example, Alex Kamins and Andra Adams, both scientists, have just founded an educational NGO called Geronimo. They believe that higher education sometimes fails to teach students the skills necessary to be successful in the job market. So they are designing a residential programme that equips students with skills such as leadership, entrepreneurship and creative thinking. Alex says that: “Gates Cambridge was what gave me the courage to take this leap.” She drew inspiration from other Scholars who have already started NGOs. They provided advice and encouragement that inspired her to take this bold step to pursue her biggest challenge yet.

Another Gates Cambridge partnership began in 2011 when Robyn Scott and Hamish Forsyth co-founded OneLeap, a social enterprise that provides an online platform to connect innovators directly to funders. Anyone on OneLeap can pay a modest fee, which goes to the recipient’s favourite charities, to get their short pitch directly in front of investors, advisors, employers or clients. 

Gates Cambridge has also taken the lead amongst UK scholarships with the Global Scholars Symposium, a three-day conference that brings together students for cross-disciplinary discussions with prominent leaders to discuss global problems and how we can apply creative solutions to these issues.

This year, we are privileged to host his Holiness the Dalai Lama, David Suzuki, Wanjira Maathai, and several other inspiring speakers. Participation in this conference in past years inspired me to continue looking outwards beyond my field to think about what we as young individuals can do to make the world a better place. 

Creating more opportunities to bring together Scholars from different fields will hopefully inspire academics to look outwards beyond publication counts and grant writing to see how their research can be applied to solving real world problems. 

 The Gates Cambridge experience is truly life changing for many of us. Our career choices and priorities become more outwardly focused towards opportunities where we feel we can make the greatest positive impact on the world. Interactions with fellow Scholars, who hail from almost 100 countries and practically every discipline, broaden our understanding of the world and our role within it. 

Andrew Asten, who is studying International Relations, states that being a Gates Cambridge Scholar, “surrounded him with brilliant scientists for the first time in his career.” This challenged him to “come to grips with the necessary role of quality research in public policy.”

Although the Gates Cambridge programme is 12 years old, Gates Cambridge Alumni have already been making an impact on the world, working to improve the lives of others through research, advocacy, entrepreneurship and education. 

Gates Cambridge is an incredible opportunity and responsibility – to be a part of its impact on the world is both humbling and exciting.

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