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"Even small actions can have a great ripple effect"

Interview of Mastercard Foundation Scholar Zipporah Gakuu
  • Portrait of Zipporah Gakuu ©Didier Pazery / Sciences PoPortrait of Zipporah Gakuu ©Didier Pazery / Sciences Po

Zipporah Gakuu is a first-year student and part of the first cohort of Mastercard Foundation scholars at Sciences Po. From Kenya to her first steps on campus to today, her commitment to giving back to society and defending women and children’s rights is growing everyday.

You are now in your second semester of your studies at Sciences Po. What were your first impressions when you arrived?

My first semester was initially a bit of a hurdle due to the language barrier and the different climate. Today, my French has improved drastically and I am more adjusted to the weather, considering it was my first winter experience!

What have you learned so far that has changed how you apprehend your career goals? 

I have learned that anything is attainable as long as you put your all into whatever it is you want. 

Have you gotten involved in any clubs, athletics or other student life activities on campus? What have these experiences brought you?

I am a member of the SASA Association on campus, which is an association that focuses on African issues. As a member of the Logistics pole, I am immersed and engaged in African issues by discussing and debating with fellow African intellects, but also by coming up with possible solutions to try and act on them. This has enlightened me on the whole scope of possibilities for the African continent to overcome its challenges through unity. I also joined the Amnesty International in Reims and AISEC. Through these associations, I have been able to express my opinion and standpoints on different issues facing humanity. I have become more aware of various human rights issues and their violations. It has encouraged me to not remain silenced whenever these violations occur, and it has made me realize that even small actions such as signing petitions can have a great ripple effect.

After high school, you volunteered at the Child Vision Support Foundation, helping disadvantaged young women access sanitary products. How did this experience shape your aspirations?

I attended a public primary school in Naivasha, Kenya. At thirteen, most of my female classmates were starting their menstrual periods. Some of them would opt for pieces of cloth or cotton as they did not have access to proper sanitary towels. Others would not come to school at all during their menstrual periods. This made me realize the challenge that young school girls faced during this time of the month. Despite the efforts of some NGOs to hand out sanitary towels to adolescent girls, they were never enough. More needed to be done, thus, during my gap year, I decided to volunteer with the organization.

This experience nurtured my passion for community service and giving back to society. It made me a believer in small efforts having huge effects on society. It empowered me and encouraged me to motivate other young girls in my society to come together to achieve the goals they set for themselves and their communities.

You've said that you would like to become further involved in defending women and children's rights in Africa with organizations such as Amnesty International. What main developments would you like to see happen? 

Women and children tend to be the most vulnerable members of society. Their rights are infringed everyday despite the efforts of countless organizations that support them. I dream of a day where gender equality shall be attained, a society where half the population shall no longer be held in silence. My goal is to empower as many young women as I can, as women are the pivots of society. Once a woman’s rights are observed, children also see their rights defended. I imagine a community where no child dies of starvation, no child has to hawk in the streets, no child has to sleep out in the cold, and each and every child has access to basic needs. To achieve this, one needs to understand why these issues arose in the first place, why our societies oppress women and children. Studying social sciences at Sciences Po will give me this knowledge. It will help me understand the process of socialization and maybe then, we can be able to retrace our steps to what went wrong.

How has the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program accompanied you in your learning experience at Sciences Po?

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have been connected to a strong network of African scholars around the globe, all who are ambitious and true visionaries. More so, Sciences Po has enabled me to network with professionals through forums such as the Forum Afrique Destination Emplois that was held in Paris in November; an enlightening experience. The program has also provided great support for me here at Sciences Po, facilitating my smooth adjustment into the curriculum and the different aspects of life on campus. 

More information

Read more about the first cohort of Sciences Po - Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program

International student scholarships

Emile Boutmy & Eiffel scholarships
  • Emile Boutmy & Eiffel scholarship holders ©Sciences PoEmile Boutmy & Eiffel scholarship holders ©Sciences Po

Every year, nearly 300 international students benefit from the Emile Boutmy or Eiffel scholarships. These scholarships are funded by Sciences Po and our public & private partners, and allow students from around the world to study at Sciences Po.

Emile Boutmy, the founder of Sciences Po, was from the beginning committed to opening the school to international students, who today make up 47% of the student body.

Read more about international admissions, financial aid, the Emile Boutmy scholarship, and the Eiffel scholarship.

Sciences Po invests in African talent

New office opens in Nairobi
  • Students ©Ranjatiana RakotondrabeStudents ©Ranjatiana Rakotondrabe

Today is the official opening of Sciences Po’s office in Nairobi, Kenya—our first in Africa. This makes Sciences Po the first French university to have an office in an English-speaking part of the continent. The office will coordinate and run a whole series of activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

The opening of the Kenya office is part of a partnership with the Alliance Française in Nairobi. A dedicated team will run the office in pursuit of the following objectives:

  • developing new university partnerships,
  • encouraging student and faculty mobility,
  • strengthening local relations with high school students, academics, business, institutions and non-profits, and with the 600 alumni present on the African continent.

This opening marks a new stage in the internationalisation strategy Sciences Po has been pursuing in Africa for more than ten years. It reflects the desire to make the continent a priority for the university’s development in the years to come.

The Mastercard Foundation, having recognised Sciences Po’s engagement in Africa, has entered into partnership with Sciences Po to offer support to African students from modest backgrounds. The Sciences Po office in Nairobi will strengthen and expand these activities.

Find out more

Latin American student: six reasons to choose Sciences Po

  • Students at Sciences Po Paris Campus ©Sciences PoStudents at Sciences Po Paris Campus ©Sciences Po

Are you a Latin American student looking for a selective international university? Sciences Po is one of the world’s leading universities for social sciences and the humanities. Each year we welcome around 600 Latin American students keen to benefit from our multidisciplinary programmes. Still uncertain? Here are six great reasons to choose Sciences Po.

Sciences Po ranks fourth worldwide for political science and international relations.

In the 2017 QS ranking of the best universities by discipline, Sciences Po ranked fourth worldwide for political science and international relations. Placed just behind Harvard, Oxford and the London School of Economics, it is the top-ranking university in continental Europe for this discipline.

Dual degrees with prestigious universities

Sciences Po’s programmes and degrees meet international standards and are recognised by the world’s major universities. Sciences Po has developed many dual degree programmes at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD levels with universities such as Columbia University, the University of Hong Kong and the University of California, Berkeley. See the list of dual degrees offered at Sciences Po.

Programmes focused on Latin America

  • Sciences Po offers a special study experience with a Bachelor’s programme focused on Latin America, Spain and Portugal, which is delivered on our campus in Poitiers.
  • At Master’s level, the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) offers course concentrations on different geographical regions, including South American Studies.
  • Sciences Po also has two dual Master’s degree programmes, one in International Relations, International Trade and Management in partnership with FGV – Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo, and the other in Comparative Urban Governance in partnership with the Centro de Estudios Demográficos, Urbanos e Ambientales (CEDUA) at Colegio de México.

An international research university and a laboratory dedicated to Latin America

At Sciences Po, close to 250 faculty members in history, law, economics, sociology and political science study the transformations of the contemporary world and teach courses directly inspired by their research. OPALC is a highly reputed laboratory for Latin American and Caribbean policy analysis within the Sciences Po Centre for International Studies.

48 Latin American partner universities, from Mexico to Chile

Each semester, Sciences Po welcomes around a hundred undergraduate and graduate students from its partner universities in Latin America to spend a semester or a year with us.

65,000 Alumni worldwide

Sciences Po has a community of more than 65,000 alumni who hold positions of responsibility in France and abroad. The Red is the alumni association for the Europe-Latin America programme. It helps to maintain contact between former students of the Poitiers campus and strengthen links between current and former Latin-American students.

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A week in Silicon Valley

An immersion experience to gain perspective on innovation
  • Students at the door entrance of a Silicon Valley startup ©Sciences PoStudents at the door entrance of a Silicon Valley startup ©Sciences Po

To get students thinking about the many aspects of the digital revolution, Sciences Po’s Entrepreneurship Centre took 15 of them to Silicon Valley for a close-up look at technology’s key players, including Facebook, Google and AirBnb. Yaël, who is doing a research-based Master’s in political theory at the Sciences Po Doctoral School, and Thomas, an engineering student at Polytechnique, took part in this immersion-learning trip. Machine learning, blockchain, data science... they told us all about it.

What made you want to take part in this Silicon Valley experience?

Thomas: As an engineering student, Silicon Valley is pretty much legendary, so it’s not the sort of trip you refuse! But I also wanted to go because of some questions I have. This place is home to companies that are changing the world. Everybody from the United States to Africa has Facebook and WhatsApp, for instance. So we need ask ourselves what impacts these companies are having. What do they contribute in terms of democracy and equality?

Yaël: Sciences Po’s Entrepreneurship Centre invited us to go in “tandem”; each Sciences Po student had to pair up with a science or technology student. The questions engineers ask are different from the things Sciences Po students ask and that’s really interesting! When we met with Criteo [a company specialised in targeted advertising] for example, Thomas asked a lot of technical questions about machine learning.

As well as tech giants like Facebook and Google, you met with successful startups like Coursera and researchers from Berkeley and Stanford. What did you get out of meeting such diverse stakeholders?

Yaël: By meeting them in turn, you understand how much everything is interconnected. Silicon Valley is an extremely well established ecosystem, from researchers to investors to companies, which are just one part of the chain. You quickly understand that this fluidity is one of the key elements of Silicon Valley.

Thomas: You also understand that, in the end, the goal of any startup is to go public on the stock market or to find a buyer. And it’s interesting to see that companies such as Uber or Airbnb aren’t based on any real technical innovations. Their main innovation is an idea and how they implement it. In the case of Criteo, which we mentioned before, their targeted advertising is not innovative; it’s their business model that is highly sophisticated. Their edge is more economic than technical.

What surprised you?

Thomas: The entrepreneurial ideology is everywhere and there is no clear division between work and private life. The Facebook campus is a small town, like a little amusement park where food is free and people can spend the day. Each individual is a mini-start up. People go into a company, get fired, start their own business, mess up, start over...

Yaël: The Americans’ constant enthusiasm is a real culture shock. It’s a culture where people think positive about everything, including failure. Which is a good thing, sure, but sometimes you wonder if there’s any room for self-critique. At a meeting with one researcher, we asked him about some of his difficulties and his answer surprised all of us: “We’re not going to get into a criticism of my work!”

Which visits or meetings had the most impact on you?

Yaël: The meeting with Tenzin Seldon, a Tibetan who created a startup, Kinstep, that aims to “match” the skills of refugees with the needs of businesses. She explained to us that hers was a consciously pragmatic solution because that’s how everything works out there: everything is monetized, including philanthropy. Moreover, she was well aware of the limits of this system.

Thomas: I was very interested in our meeting with a “mathlete” [mathematics champion] at Google. He specialises in the development of new machine learning methods in the medical field. He is convinced that the next innovations will be in this area.

Did these encounters inspire you? Did they make you want to transpose certain aspects of Silicon Valley to France?

Thomas: We came back with quite mixed feelings about the Silicon Valley model; in fact our “learning expedition” sometimes turned into a “judging expedition”! The near complete absence of state intervention creates a certain number of “flaws”, particularly social ones: California is the state with the most homeless people, prisoners, poverty, etc. The Silicon Valley milieu is in fact a very ideological, very “solutionist” environment, including for social problems. To give you an example, the company Palantir has a philanthropic department. This department has set up an application to track homeless people and offer housing… to those who cost the most. And that’s not to mention ethical issues, which are set aside and at best considered after the fact, or the question of privacy that no one is asking. It’s all about trying to push the limits as far as possible and the idea of debate has no place there.

Yaël: The principle of a startup is to disrupt a market, which implies having found a flaw, as Airbnb did by proposing a competitive alternative to hotels. But it’s clear that when a market is disrupted, this raises social, legal, economic and other problems. The Silicon Valley model is not ideologically neutral. During our stay, I enjoyed the meeting with Fred Turner, a historian of American culture who has worked extensively on the history of Silicon Valley. He is very critical about inequalities in California. Which clearly poses the problem of whether this model is transposable to France. Our culture is not the same and the startups that are being created here are much more aware of their social and environmental impact. Our ecosystem is more “conscious”, which is a good thing.

Find out more

  • Yaël Benayoun has just completed a research Master’s degree in political theory at Sciences Po. She is also president of the association Mouton numérique, which examines our relationship to digital technology.
  • Thomas Sentis is a student at École polytechnique specialising in artificial intelligence. He is also studying philosophy of science.
  • Start a business while studying with the Sciences Po incubator