New Spotlight Series: Voices of Movers and Shakers

Photo by Ellie Morag

In this post, Johanna Holtan, Program Director of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, introduces the new Spotlight Series: Voices of Movers and Shakers that will feature writings by Mastercard Foundation Scholars on disruptive learning practices, transformational leadership, activism in and outside the classroom, and more…

I’m very proud to launch a collaborative blog series between Teaching Matters and the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Edinburgh. Around the theme of Voices of Movers and Shakers, the series features Mastercard Foundation Scholars who use their passions and skills to influence and disrupt in a number of ways from activism to enterprise. Over the course of the next few weeks – they will share their reflections on their experiences and the role these have played in their leadership and learning journeys.

To give some background, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program believes that all young people, no matter their starting point in life, should have an equal chance to gain a quality education and pursue their aspirations to improve the lives of others. Since 2016 and in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, the Scholars Program at Edinburgh has been offering full undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships to students from Africa with great potential but few educational opportunities.  To date, we have nearly 100 Scholars on campus, 29 studying online, and just under 40 graduates.

Grounded in transformative leadership, Scholars participate in a programme to help them make a difference in their home countries and communities on their return. This programme focuses on understanding, practicing and embodying transformative leadership and includes activities such as summer schools in Edinburgh and Kampala, internships, mentoring opportunities, leadership retreats, and enterprise funding. Central to the Scholars Program experience is a holistic wrap-around support structure which is integrated into the University’s offering.

Since starting the Scholars Program in 2016, I’ve been a witness to Scholars finding their voices, confidence, and paths. While their trajectories are set on making lasting change in their communities, the ripple effects of their impact were set into motion long before coming to Scotland – in their families, neighbourhoods, communities, places of work, schools, and now in Edinburgh.

With Scholars studying across disciplines and with interests outside of their areas of study – they present a diversity in approaches to make change however big or small. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will showcase the stories of Scholars moving and shaking in a range of ways – through activism, development, enterprise, leadership, storytelling, and sport.

In times of uncertainty and disconnection, we hope these reflections inspire others to stay resilient and focused on the collective work ahead.  We also hope that these stories serve as provocations to design learning environments that value the lessons outside the classroom and help students create a broader holistic leadership narrative beyond their discipline.

Often we talk about students as future leaders which negates the opportunity and urgency for them to make a difference right now. With this stories and our work, we champion experiential learning opportunities that empower students to make real ethical impact before graduation and beyond.

This brings a weight of responsibility for all of us – acknowledging the emotional labour that goes into this work and ensuring students are supported and championed in their learning and leadership.

I am honoured to share our first blog as part of the series and there is no better person to kick us off then Brindley Fortuin. From Cape Town and a recent graduate of the Scholars Program, Brindley is currently a PhD student in the Centre of African Studies. Brindley shares his reflections of activism for LGBTIQA+ rights overlaid with a formative moment in front of a piece of art featuring an interracial, mature gay couple.  From there – he profoundly and beautifully weaves how the work ahead includes ‘the ways we choose to be present, move, imagine and resist or subvert the structures that deny us a dignified human life.’ You can read his full blog here:


  • Africa Week is running all week from 26 – 30 October and celebrates Edinburgh’s connections to the region: full programme of events.
  • Teaching Matters is running an online event on Wednesday 28 October 2pm-3pm  for Africa Week to launch the Spotlight Series: Voices of Movers and Shakers. This event will discuss how blogging can be a space to inspire campaigns and movements, for boundary pushing, and also as a pedagogical tool for engaging with and through our many locations – social, geographical, political, and linguistic.
  • Tune into the Ekasi Podcast: A podcast series run by Mastercard Foundation Scholars who share personal stories from within their Edinburgh community.

photograph of the authorJohanna Holtan

Johanna Holtan is the Program Director for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program. Johanna has spent nearly 20 years designing and building programmes and businesses for social good across a variety of sectors including higher education, active transport, sport & culture, international development and social enterprise. In addition to being one of the co-founders of the award-winning CycleHack, Johanna has created and curated four TEDx events, two creative and cultural festivals including the Festival of Creative Learning, and the global phenomenon Penny in Yo’ Pants.

The Scholars Program at the University of Edinburgh provides full scholarships and leadership programming to students from Africa with high leadership potential but few educational opportunities. As Director of Scholars Program, Johanna leads on programme direction, development, innovation, and impact.

Twitter: @joholtan

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