Alumni return to Oxford to celebrate the Chairman of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust, André Hoffmann

Alumni pose for a picture with the guest of honour and Chair of the WHT Board, André Hoffmann and WHT CEO and Director, Alexandra Henderson. Back row: Daniel Zoughbie (2011, USA, DPhil International Relations), André Hoffmann (Chair, WHT Board), Alexandra Henderson (CEO and Director, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust) and front row: Atherton Mutombwera (2017, Zimbabwe, MBA), Simukai Chigudu (2017, Zimbabwe, DPhil International Development), Juan Beltran (2016, Colombia, DPhil Plant Sciences), Irina Fedorenko (2016, Russia, DPhil Geography and the Environment), Omar Makhlouf (2018, Egypt, MSc Computer Science) and Sidhya Senani (2018, India, MBA)

The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Scholarships and Leadership Programme has supported more than 270 Scholars from over 70 countries to complete a Graduate Degree at the University of Oxford. The Trust’s work at Oxford was cemented in 2017 through a series of generous philanthropic gifts from philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur, André Hoffmann, who currently serves as chair of the WHT Board.  André’s gift of £5 Million in 2015 and a further £9 million in 2017 was matched by £6 million from the University to endow WHT Scholarships at the University of Oxford.

Recently, André returned to Oxford where he was inducted into the Chancellor’s Hall of Benefactors in recognition of his incredible contributions. WHT Alumni from across the globe returned to Oxford to celebrate André and the spirit of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme.

Location, Location. . .

A view of University Church from Radcliffe Square.

The University Church of St Mary is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford and the first building of the University. It has an eccentric baroque porch and a spire which is claimed by some church historians to be one of the ‘most beautiful in England’. Around 1320, a two-storey building was added to the north side of the church, the ground floor became the “convocation” house used by University parliament and the upper storey housed books bequeathed by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, which formed the first university library.

Albeit majestic, the church was not to be outdone by WHT supporters and alumni who came from all corners to celebrate André and the success of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust. Some of the dinner guests included André’s wife, Rosalie, members of the WHT Board of Trustees and Weidenfeld family members, Alina and Ben Barnett. Peter Tufano, Dean of the Said Business School, and Andrew Dilnot, Warden of Nuffield College also joined the celebration.

A lesson on the laws of physics

WHT alumnus Juan Beltran (2016, Colombia, DPhil Plant Sciences) captured the spirit of the night in his address. As the laws of physics go, Energy cannot be created or destroyed only transformed or transferred from one source to another. According to Juan, André has “shared his light” with the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann network. Scholars throughout the years shared the resounding feeling that the opportunity to have dinner and an informal chat with mentors, alumni and supporters was a rare and a wonderful thing that only happens in Oxford. What was even more wonderful, were the stories that the scholars brought to the dinner table throughout the evening.

Alumni and scholars share a moment with WHT Director and CEO, Alexandra Henderson

A Family Dinner

2018-2019 Scholars took the opportunity to share their reflections at the dinner and the mood in the room was lifted. Hearing their impressions of Oxford, the Trust and each other cemented the sense of community and family that the Trust has endeavoured to promote. WHT scholar Aditta Kitthoun (2018, Laos, MSc Social Science of the Internet) who is the Trust’s first Scholar from Laos shared that he was also the first from that country, and certainly in the room,  to sign up to Facebook in 2004. Thanks to the efforts of WHT CEO and Director, Alexandra Henderson and her team, Pashtoon Atif (2018, Afghanistan, Master of Public Policy) may well be the first person in Afghanistan (maybe even the region) to get a UK Study visa decision in under 4 hours. Aditta and Pashtoon’s experiences and stories are unique and humbling. Aditta, who is reading for an MSC in the Social Science of the Internet has worked as a speech writer for senior figures, launched major global companies and products in Laos like Google Street View and Maps, and is as smart as he is witty. Pashtoon was meant to join Oxford last year but was refused a visa, and told us of the trouble he had in getting the visa and how he suddenly got the visa when the Trust inquired directly from the British Embassy in India. Pashtoon has been GoodWeave’s Afghanistan Country Director and has worked with the United Nations and USAID in Kabul. He is a man full of wisdom, and has seen times of both war and peace in Afghanistan.

Alumni and current Scholars getting to know each other around the dinner table.

As the night went on, and guests filled up on roast chicken and apple crumble, Priyadarshini Tripathy (2018, India, MSc Global health Science and Epidemiology)  a doctor and public health activist from India, spoke about female health in India where 50,000 women die from gynaecological complications and millions suffer from other avoidable complications. Priya plans to remedy this through her work having learned about the Scholarship from a fellow public health activist and WHT Alumna, Manisha Nair (2013, India, DPhil Public Health).

A call to action

At the end of the night, the guest of honour left everyone in the room with a call to action. “The world is a mess”, Mr Hoffmann said, and he envisions WHT Scholars as a key part of the solution. “But can we fix the world?”, he asked rhetorically. “Are global warming, hate speech, political turmoil, corruption and poverty things we can actually impact?” At WHT, the answer seems to be ‘Yes’.  Juan Beltran, is investigating the use of mobile technologies to empower local communities to fight the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil. Shiri Avni (2018, Israel, MSc Computer Science) is developing algorithms to diagnose patients with rare genetic disorders via their facial photos. Zamiyat Abubakar (2018, Nigeria, MSc Social Science of the Internet) works on social intervention projects for Boko Haram-affected communities with international NGOs in Nigeria. . . and the list of wonders being done in a dark world goes on and on. When one hears the stories of the people who attended this dinner, as Juan put it,  the light continues to be shared and we come increasingly closer to realising a just and more humane world.

Ayushi and Kapil exchange a ‘high 5’ marking the end of the night.

To learn more about the WHT Network or how you can apply for the Scholarship, visit our website at where staff, scholars and Alumni are waiting to share their stories. #WHTWishYouWereHere

About the Scholar

Saadia Gardezi

Modern South Asian Studies (), 2019
St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham Scholar