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Lasting connections

Grants free up Rotary Scholars to learn and build their networks


When Adrian Faiers got married last year, among the assembled friends and family were Sira Lee and Alizée McLorg, two young women whose scholarships he had coordinated while they pursued master's degrees at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He marvels at the women's far-flung connection. Although one is from Korea and the other from California, they go to weddings, conferences, and Rotary meetings together. "They have become best friends," Faiers says.

Of the 1,300 or so Rotary Foundation global grants approved each year, about 200 are for scholarships. Global grant scholarships fund graduate-level studies in one of Rotary's areas of focus. Rotary districts can also provide scholarships through district grants. Lee and McLorg, whose scholarships are funded by global and district grants, respectively, are taking advantage of one big benefit available to Rotary Scholars: the opportunity to build their networks — with each other, experts in their fields, and the broader Rotary world.

Particularly in places where a large number of global and district grant scholars study — such as London, which is home to the London School of Economics as well as King's and University colleges — the scholars have their own niche within the Rotary sphere. "They become a very, very good community together," says Faiers, a member of the Rotary Club of Dulwich, Peckham and Crystal Palace, who as chair of District 1130's scholarship subcommittee coordinates the incoming scholars in London.

  • $62.90mil

    Funding for global grant scholarships

  • 1602.00

    Global grant scholarships awarded

  • 55.00

    Countries and geographic areas that have hosted global grant scholars

  • 68.00

    Countries that global grant scholars are from

Meet four Rotary Scholars, and find out how the connections they’ve made through Rotary are helping them change the world.

Allison Furniss
University of Cape Town, South Africa

"I think the global north has a lot to learn from the global south," says Allison Furniss, a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Cape Town. She knows something of both north and south: She currently lives and studies in a city at the southern
tip of Africa, but the native Canadian grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Furniss, 35, had spent four years after college working for nonprofits in Tanzania and Namibia. There, she used youth sports as a tool to promote gender equality and public health awareness. This experience ignited her passion for humanitarian work and for Africa, and after returning to Canada, Furniss applied to a master's program in political studies at the University of Cape Town. She decided to specialize in the area of justice and transformation.

"It was philosophically very important to me to study Africa from Africa," Furniss says. Her global grant scholarship paid for her master's studies, the centerpiece of which was fieldwork in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There she learned about the social and economic lives of women who work as artisanal miners, extracting coltan, an ore containing tantalum, which is used in capacitors common in modern electronics. She also discovered significant gaps between the experience of those women and the national and international laws and policies that were designed to improve conditions in Congo's mineral sector.

Despite the unpredictability of conducting fieldwork in that part of the world — there was an active Ebola outbreak during her first stint in Congo — Furniss is spending this year in Congo doing research for her PhD. "Everything changed for me based on my fieldwork experience," she says. She hopes always to keep one foot in the practical sphere, such as policy development or advocacy. "I don't want to keep the knowledge that I gain through this experience in the ivory tower. I really want to disseminate that as much as possible," she says.

Today, Furniss says, South Africa is working to fight against racial and income inequality. She points to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which aims to repair the relationship between the Canadian government and the First Nations — and which was modeled after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission established under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. "The richness and the contextualization of being here in South Africa was really important to me," she says. "It brings what you're studying to life."

Kayla Stovall
University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Rotary and the vicissitudes of fate brought Kayla Stovall to her job as a prevention specialist for Uplift Education, a network of 45 schools centered in Dallas. Stovall promotes programs focused on substance abuse, teen dating violence, healthy relationships, sexual health, and suicide prevention to individual schools. She also connects students facing homelessness with housing programs.

Her expertise in social-emotional learning among grade school students came out of her research for her master's degree in public health. As a global grant scholar at the University of Edinburgh, she had selected three possible topics from a prepared list of 60 or so, and chose to focus on how Scottish students' relationships with their teachers affect their social-emotional health. "This career field chose me because of that moment," she says.

It may have determined her professional path, but the catalyst was Rotary. Stovall, 26, first encountered Rotary while attending a RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) camp between her junior and senior years of high school. "I had never heard of Rotary before," she says. "All I knew was that I would get away from home for a few days." Among the camp's staff members was a global grant scholar — and a few years later, while working on a Rotaract project during her senior year of college, a mentor reminded her about that possibility of a scholarship. Stovall hadn't even considered graduate study previously. "I didn't think it was an option for me, just because I was the first in my family to go to college," she says.

Now she is a member of the Rotary Club of Plano West, Texas, and is working to promote the idea of global grant scholarships to local universities. "I'm very grateful to be in this position — [going] from being a person who didn't even think this was a spot that I could have, and now being on the other end of it," she says.

Being a member of Rotary, studying in Scotland, working at Uplift: All of it, she says, comes down to forming networks that can help make the world a better place. "One of the most powerful things we have is connection," she says. "That's when bonds are made and peace is created."

Mitchell Paquette
University of Essex, England

Mitchell Paquette spends a lot of time online. He works as an open-source researcher for the Citizen Evidence Lab, part of the Crisis Response Programme at Amnesty International. When a crisis emerges, such as mass protests, armed conflict, or an environmental disaster, he and his team scour social media and other publicly available data, and then work to verify it using satellite imagery, heat mapping, and other techniques. They are like embedded war reporters for potential human rights violations.

Paquette, 28, came to Amnesty after a stint with the New Media Advocacy Project, a New York state-based nonprofit, doing video editing and production for human rights organizations. He was getting restless and hoping for more proximity to the fight for human rights. "Basically, I wanted to work for the organizations I was making videos for," he says.

He attended the University of Essex on a global grant scholarship in 2018 and 2019, attaining an LLM in international human rights law. In addition to his coursework, he volunteered for Amnesty's Digital Verification Corps, a network of six universities globally that trains people to sift through the enormous amount of digital content on potential human rights abuses. After graduation, he segued to his job with Amnesty, where he now supervises DVC volunteers. "This space is really exciting," he says.

In the future, Paquette hopes to expand the horizons of his position, incorporating more in-person, on-the-ground testimony or working more toward legal accountability for human rights violators. At present, he appreciates his proactive position in a human rights organization active around the globe. "I don't have to watch the news and see 'war in X country' and feel bad about that," he says. "I can actually engage very immediately in doing that work."

Hannah Emerson
Paris School of International Affairs

Hannah Emerson is 23 years old and has already lived in seven countries: the United States (her home country), Germany, Greece, Russia, Switzerland, Thailand, and now France while studying on a global grant scholarship. She clearly has caught the international bug. "Once you get it, it's hard to give it up," she says.

She's studying environmental policy at Sciences Po's Paris School of International Affairs. She plans to conduct fieldwork in Kenya (country No. 8) and then complete her dual degree in England (No. 9), at the London School of Economics. Her focus lies in climate adaptations and how they can contribute to sustainable development. She's also studying ways of standardizing how success is evaluated, so that the best adaptations can be scaled up globally.

She's seeking interventions that promote both economic development and a greener world. For example, communities that lack access to a power grid could receive solar panels to create a self-
sufficient power supply. Her other interests include sustainable agriculture, the political ecology of water, and food security.

When she finishes her dual degree, Emerson foresees dividing her time between fieldwork and working as a consultant. "My vision for this role would be to make sure to include the interests of all," she says, "and to make sure especially marginalized and disenfranchised communities are taken into account."

• This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Rotary magazine.

Types of Rotary Scholarships

Rotary Peace Fellowships are offered by The Rotary Foundation for college graduates and professionals to study peace and conflict resolution.

Global grant scholarships are for graduate students studying abroad in one of Rotary's seven areas of focus.

District grant scholarships can be used to sponsor secondary school, undergraduate, or graduate students studying any subject, either in the scholar's home country or abroad.