KenSAP (Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project) has secured admissions for 179 Kenyan students to top-tier universities in North America through its program since inception, making it one of the largest scholarship programs in the region.
To date, KenSAP has secured admission at such institutions as Harvard (19 students), Yale (12 students) and Princeton (11 students) among others, all with full scholarships from the universities, while attracting very little attention in Kenya beyond the campuses of the high schools from which it draws its students.
Speaking about the program ahead of a planned fundraising event in Nairobi, KenSAP’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, John Manners said that they are hoping to attract more attention to supplement the donations they have received from American and Canadian sponsors. “We think we have a good story to tell, and we are seeking to sustain our efforts to support the needy students and maintain this astonishing success rate with top American universities, having placed 100% of our students since 2006 – a record unmatched anywhere in Africa” Manners added.
Recently KenSAP expanded its initial regional focus to take in students from across the whole of Kenya, enrolling students from more than 30 different counties in the past three years. The scholars have made great strides in adjusting to new culture and the success rate has been overwhelming: out of 179 students placed, 173 have already graduated, or are on track for timely graduation – a success rate greater than that of any of the highly competitive universities that KenSAP students join.
According to KenSAP’s managing director, Alan Davidson, the program selects about fifteen students annually from hundreds of aspiring candidates. The results of the previous year’s KCSE are the starting point; all candidates must have achieved a very high minimum score (an AGP of 77 this year) merely to apply, and must email to KenSAP a scanned copy of their results slip to initiate the process. Once admitted to KenSAP, the students go through a 14-week residential training at the program’s base, where KenSAP’s instructors work with them on SAT preparation and university applications.
“Currently, our ambition has grown, from just placing scholars to developing a generation of leaders who can help lift the majority of Kenya’s citizens out of crippling poverty, and thereby also to lift the whole East African region, of which Kenya is the economic engine. Once admitted to university, we continue to support them throughout their undergraduate years and beyond, conducting three annual gatherings in the US at which students exchange ideas and receive guidance from professionals. In addition, we run a career guidance and networking support that has launched dozens of students on promising careers in Kenya,” Allan said.
KenSAP’s greatest challenge is how to make the program financially sustainable and not dependent on the support of a single major donor. “Our new partnership with the M-PESA Foundation has gone a long way towards meeting that challenge,” said Davidson. “The Foundation has kindly offered to accommodate the program on its new academy in Thika.” KenSAP’s students and alumni have also pitched in, with more than 60% of them making small monthly contributions that amounted to nearly $25,000 last year. This week the program gained the support of more than a dozen Kenyan corporations that took part in the gala fundraising dinner at the Villa Rosa Kempinski. An initial effort of this sort last year brought in close to Kshs. 5Million, and this year’s organizers hope for even greater success.
Further information about KenSAP is available at www.kensap.org. Donations to KenSAP can be made either through the website by PayPal or credit card, or through M-PESA: pay bill #600100, acct #0100003275676.
KenSAP began in 2004 as an informal effort by Mike Boit, the famous Olympic athlete, now a professor at Kenyatta University, and Manners, an American journalist who had been a Peace Corps teacher in Kenya. They aimed to place a few gifted students from a neglected rural region of western Kenya at very best American universities – something that had never been done. The effort met with immediate success (three students admitted to Harvard), and in its second year the fledgling organization attracted the support of the Canadian entrepreneur Charles Field-Marsham, who had investments in Kenya. His support, which has continued to the present day, covered nearly all of KenSAP’s expenses and enabled the program to formalize its operations as it prepared its students for the American SAT exams and guided them through the complex university application process.