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An online mentoring system helps students obtain international grants

  Foto: Unsplash/John Schnobrich

Foto: Unsplash/John Schnobrich

Roser Reyner
A student from the UOC co-created ApplicAID, a website for vulnerable groups

She is 23 years old and speaks English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, some Chinese, Arabic and Catalan (she was brought up in Catalonia), as well as Yoruba (the native language of Nigeria, where she was born). Thanks to her skills as a polyglot, in 2014 she took part in an international competition promoted by ESL Educational Services and the United Nations (UN) and gave a talk alongside other young people at the General Assembly in New York. We are speaking about none other than fellow UOC student Pelumi Fadare. Her experience in New York, plus the various grants she received before and after, made this Social Media student realize that the world is full of opportunities, even for those with fewer resources. That's why she created ApplicAID, an online tutorial system to help students apply for grants, aid and other subsidized educational opportunities. This project was presented in June at the seventh SpinUOC entrepreneurship symposium.

"In my opinion, grants give you a real-life education. You have to be able to convince a jury that you deserve it. That's why I always recommend applying for all the grants you're interested in. That way you learn how to persuade others, believe in yourself and convey how motivated you are. And, whether you obtain the grant or not, you develop a skill set that you probably wouldn't have been able to work on at school or university. It's a very worthwhile experience", explained Fadare.

It was with this conviction that in 2015 she set out to create the YouTube channel Ninjanspiration, where she offered information about how to obtain funds for studying. This experience would later lead her to create ApplicAID alongside her German peer Backtosch Mustafa, another young student with international concerns who currently studies at Harvard.

ApplicAID, which was launched at the end of 2018, is aimed particularly at students who are at risk of exclusion due to having fewer economic resources, or who are disadvantaged for the simple fact of having migrated. And, of course, this programme would have never gotten off the ground if it were not for several subsidies.


A match between mentor and mentee

ApplicAID's main objective is to guide students who are looking for support in applying for subsidized educational opportunities, whether that's because they've never been successful or because this is their first attempt.

So, once registered on the website, the ApplicAID team finds them a mentor: someone with previous experience in the field and who, ideally, has previously obtained that same grant or a very similar one. These mentors then explain to their mentees the best approach for their application and the keys to improving their chances of success.

"At the moment, this match is made manually using a simple algorithm based on the applicant's studies and interests. But in the future, we hope to be able to develop an automated learning system, a smart system that will help us to better match mentors with mentees", added Fadare.

Students should register with the website at least two months before the grant application deadline. This way, the ApplicAID team has enough time to find the best mentor and guarantee one month's support for the application process, which means at least one hour a week for four weeks.

Once in contact with each other, both parties can communicate however suits them, although the ApplicAID creators have announced that their website will soon include its own communication system, which will record conversations in order to guarantee the tutorials' quality.


Mentors motivated with incentives

ApplicAID is currently a free service for mentees and is based on the mentors' motivation, who must accredit the grants they themselves have attained to date when they sign up.

However, Fadare and her colleagues are now working on possible incentives for this latter group. "Getting mentors on board is a challenge and we're using social media such as Facebook to find them. The thing is that a lot of people who work in the international sphere have little time to spare. We are trying to give them incentives by providing them with a mentor's certificate, but we are also offering them their own mentors who have spent years working for large companies or international organizations", Fadare told us.

What's more, ApplicAID is hoping to profit financially so that it can present economic compensation to the mentors whose mentees succeed in obtaining a grant or subsidy. It would correspond to a small percentage of the amount of the grant received.

Since its launch, over 250 people, both mentors and mentees, have signed up to this online tutorial system. During the first phase, five matches were made and one student has already obtained a grant. Decisions are still pending on the remaining calls for grant applications.