When did it first occur to you to apply to Oxford? What were you doing then and what sort of changes were you seeking in deciding to apply for your masters in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance?
I had been leading two major projects: social enterprise to create employment opportunities for women in Nepal and a network of diverse women to create spaces for women and young girls to talk about tabooed issues related to bodies, gender and sexuality. The social enterprise, part of a larger non-profit called Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI), wanted to realize a climate-smart world with creative and sustainable solutions. In order to develop green employment opportunities, I launched and operated stores to promote local green products made by women entrepreneurs. I trained, mentored and engaged youths in discourses to reimagine what development should look like in Nepal and led campaigns to reduce the consumption of disposable plastic bags. My activism and social entrepreneurial experience opened my eyes to larger cross-cutting issues, especially between women and the environment. To explore such interconnectedness, between social and environmental structures, and gain knowledge I can use to design policies and projects at the intersection of these domains, I decided to apply to the NSEG program. Read more “Seeking New Opportunities where Society and Nature Meet – Q&A with Bivishika Bhandari”
For many of us, our greatest childhood fantasies always involved candy stores and unlimited supplies of sweets. Our fantasies grew with us, but I never imagined that one so far-fetched as studying at the University of Oxford with a full scholarship would be realised. The Weidenfeld Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholarship granted me a once in a lifetime opportunity to further my studies in an area I am passionate about, Water Science, Policy and Management, in a world-class university.
I had these thoughts on my mind the morning of Saturday the 2nd of November 2019, while, too excited to even feel the cold gushes against my cheeks, I was waiting for my very first ride to London to attend the Battle of Ideas Festival, an annual debating event held at the Barbican Centre in the heart of London.
At first, I thought my presence at the debates would be questioned; isn’t that for philosophy and art students? However, looking at the other WHT scholars I felt reassured. There were students from fields such as Social Science of the Internet, International Health and Tropical Medicine, Biodiversity and Conservation Management, Computer Science, Public Policy and Business Administration; an indication of the academic diversity within the cohort, one of the strong points of the WHT programme.
The first session I attended; “Who are the Establishment?” was a debate about “power”, Steve Richards opened the floor with a passage from a book by Charles Moore (Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography) about power lying in the hands of a narrow group of people. I could not help but think about the power dynamics in my own field and reflect on both the social and structural inequalities that exist in water access and the implications of these on an already crippled economy. I was inspired by calls to make “the powerful” less alien by requiring accountability and transparency; the kind of leadership the WHT is always trying to reinforce in us.
Another interesting session I attended was “Does the world need a government?” As a student of the environment, I quickly linked this to climate change and how pollution does not respect borders: international cooperation is needed if we are to tackle one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Amidst the intense debates, I realised how difficult it is to deal with issues such as climate change because “out of sight, out of mind” and how for this reason such problems do not get the urgency they deserve. This debate session also addressed the very critical question of how to pursue democracy at an international level even while it is failing dismally at a national level.
Although free speech was allowed and encouraged, speakers were always asked to be courteous. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to engage respectfully: this was the case in the last session I attended “From Bugs to Beef-free burgers: What’s the future of food?”. It got awkwardly intense and a farmer who strongly felt vegans were “hypocrites” had to be excused from the debate. Nevertheless, the session was a definite eureka moment for me as I was able to draft my Food Ecologies elective essay from it. I am looking at how markets drive or impede sustainable practices and at the connection between meat production and water management.
The debates were closed by drinks accompanied by a live band, it was time to call it a day and head back to oxford. On the inbound journey, I had time to reflect on my own personal biases and how, beyond the events of that day, I could promote debate, scrutiny and exchange of beliefs and policies in a non-toxic environment back home. I will be forever grateful to WHT for such a fulfilling experience.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn ̶ ̶ Alvin Toffler
This quote by Alvin Toffler was brought to life for me on the 10th of October 2019 when I attended the Essay Writing Skills workshop organized for the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholars. The workshop taught me new skills, revealed the flaws in my old habits and reminded me of good habits I had forgotten. In just an hour and half, I had the privilege, together with my fellow scholars, to learn, unlearn and relearn important skills and lessons about writing which I would have otherwise not known.
The workshop was taught by Nik Kirby, a Professor of Philosophy at the Blavatnik School of Government and a WHT academic adviser. Nik’s engaging style of teaching made the workshop interesting and very practical. He taught us to critically engage with literature to be able to present strong arguments. He then presented a simple yet powerful essay writing method which can be applied widely, thus accommodating the diversity of courses represented in our WHT cohort.
The workshop could not have come at a better time for me as I had a book review due the following week which benefited from the skills taught that day. I realized that I had to adjust to a new way of writing and thinking and that, in doing so, the quality of my work in Oxford and beyond will be significantly improved.
The cherry on top of the main body of the workshop was the set of tips Nik shared at the end of his presentation. The tips included things like using headings for better structure, a challenge to take risks and my favourite tip: just think. The latter was a simple reminder to take the time to develop your arguments and be open to new ideas, in his words “the new idea is not in your books”. Finally, we got some ways to overcome writers’ block which is something I have struggled with a few times.
As a poet, most of my writing is emotive and has the liberty to be informal and casual. Academic writing is more formal, structured and connected to literature. The latter is a few steps out of my comfort zone having been out of University for almost three years now. However, I have realized there is a creative element to academic writing, as it is a form of expression as well. I believe I can leverage my creative writing skills to enhance the quality of my academic writing.
To me, the workshop was like being given a tool box filled with familiar and unfamiliar tools to use in our Oxford journey and beyond. However, like all tools, they will gather dust if not used. I thus challenged myself to take every opportunity to practice the craft of writing. This way, I will keep improving and eventually learn to handle my tools with greater finesse and confidence.
The workshop reminded me of something my father once said which was “the purpose of communication is to get a message across”. I believe, as future leaders, that communication will be very important in conveying our message of change and improvement and that skills such as writing will help amplify our messages and ultimately our influence.
I have realized there is a creative element to academic writing, as it is a form of expression as well. I believe I can leverage my creative writing skills to enhance the quality of my academic writing.
I know I speak for the entire cohort when I say thank you to Professor Nik Kirby and the WHT team for organizing the workshop and continuing to add more tools in our tool box.
Finally, a word to my fellow scholars. Let this year be the embodiment of increasing your “21st Century Literacy”. In the classroom and even more so outside the classroom, be open to learn, unlearn and relearn.
When we participate in new experiences that are outside of our comfort zone or our routine, there is always a lot of learning that takes place, especially from people. This was the case for the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar, one of the first components of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme.
I arrived at Oxford three days before the start of the Seminar, stressed and anxious, with four large suitcases. Being a lawyer by background, I was not stressed about the upcoming discussions of Machiavelli’s and Weber’s works, as I had to argue a lot about the issues these philosophers raised when I was a law student. What made me anxious was the upcoming meeting with 30 amazing people from all over the world.
The atmosphere of tolerance and openness gave us a chance to explore the answers using examples from our own lives and provide insights into the differences between our countries.
On our first day, we settled in the beautiful Harris Manchester College where we were about to spend almost 5 days together, knowing only as much as two paragraphs about each other. Coming from a mostly homogenous society, I had never been exposed to so many different cultures in one place before (Mexico, Colombia, Congo DRC, India, Nepal, Kenya, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Poland, Lesotho, Uruguay, Eritrea, Maldives, South Africa, Argentina, Afghanistan, China, Myanmar, Peru, Namibia).
Every day, we had discussions to reflect on the readings that had been sent to us in advance. It was extremely enriching to seek the answers to complex questions about the relationship between ethics and politics, equality and rights, with a doctor from the Maldives, a journalist from India and the first female Director in the Macroeconomic Research Department at the Ministry of Finance of Mexico.
Being challenged by each other’s unique perspectives, we had to answer questions about the qualities of a good leader, the nature of liberty, the unequal distribution of wealth, and many more. The atmosphere of tolerance and openness gave us a chance to explore the answers using examples from our own lives and provide insights into the differences between our countries. I have learned how much strength lies in the diversity of opinions. This would have been impossible without the help of our Seminar facilitators who were very knowledgeable about the moral philosophy subject matter.
What I liked about the Seminar, even more, was how much time we had to spend with each other, either discussing the moral philosophy readings or enjoying breakfast at the Harris Manchester ‘Harry Potter-like’ dining hall. Thanks to changes in seating plan during the dinners, every evening we were able to share our thoughts and emotions with new people, getting to know our WHT family better. We also got to know some of the donors and organizers whose generosity and support made our life-changing journey to Oxford possible. Sharing meals together, discussing moral dilemmas, walking through the University Parks, enjoying the Oxford tour, and exploring living history in the Ashmolean Museum made the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar a truly bonding experience.
Sharing meals together, discussing moral dilemmas, walking through the University Parks, enjoying the Oxford tour, and exploring living history in the Ashmolean Museum made the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar a truly bonding experience.
Having been raised in a single culture, I came to Oxford with entrenched presuppositions, values, and beliefs. I considered them true because I had always been told they were true. I had assumed these ideas to be universal, but during the WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar, my thinking and my worldview was challenged and permanently changed. The exercise forced me to re-think some of my most basic assumptions about the current state of the world, and in turn, helped me understand myself, my beliefs and my values so much better. Finally, it enabled me to decide on the type of leadership I want to pursue.
Studying at Oxford is expensive, but there are many
scholarships available for MSc students. With advanced planning, there is a
good probability that you will be able to secure at least some funding for your
MSc. In fact, after debating whether to apply to Cambridge or Oxford, this was
a main reason that I eventually opted for the latter; Cambridge seems to offer
significantly less scholarships for MSc students.
Obvious Links, Hidden Links
If you’ve read my page about Oxford colleges,
then you already have some understanding of the separation between Oxford
University and the Oxford colleges. As a result of this, you should apply for
scholarships through both the general university system and through the
colleges themselves! This is something that I, and many of my foreign
colleagues, did not fully comprehend before arriving at Oxford.
For a list of university scholarships, see here.
Although the university search engine is supposed to list all the college
specific scholarships as well, I’ve found that in practice this isn’t the case.
For instance, this page listing
the numerous scholarships specific to New College offers options that do not
come up in the university search engine results. (On a slight tangent, and as a
quick anecdote: “New College” is so called because it was new when it was
founded in 1386!)
My general recommendation is to first exhaust the
options in the university link above, and then to start googling each of the
colleges individually, the good old-fashioned way, starting with the wealthiest
Weidenfeld-Hoffman Trust Scholarship
During my time at Oxford, I was extremely fortunate
to be fully funded by the Weidenfeld-Hoffman Trust (WHT) Scholarship. The
Scholarship is aimed at 1 year MSc students from around the world, and includes
around 30 students each year.
The WHT scholarship staff are exceptionally kind,
generous, and helpful, and they made my year at Oxford so much more warm and
comforting. Amongst other things, the scholarship arranged a several-day,
pre-term seminar for the scholars about leadership and morals, which was both
interesting and allowed the scholars to get to know each other well before the
term started. Throughout the year, WHT hosted further leadership sessions, as
well as lighter events such as tours of Parliament and ice-skating in London
Part of what I believe sets this scholarship apart
from, say, the Rhodes Scholarship, is its intimacy and multiculturalism. Since
there are no more than 3 scholars from a specific country per year, this means
that there are no country-specific cliques and that there is space for
non-American perspectives to be thoroughly heard and focused on. The trust
keeps in touch with its graduates, and we alumnis have always felt that we have
gotten a gift of supporters for life, who will always be happy to help us with
If you want to learn more, have a look at the WHT website, and feel free to email me if you
have any questions.
Advice for Applicants
The trust was created by George
Weidenfeld (1919-2016), who led an inspiring life and built
himself up from scratch in the UK after his move there in 1938, he and his
family having managed to leave Nazi Germany. The trust is further supported by
Michael Lewis and André Hoffmann.
you apply for the scholarship, take the time to read about about George
Weidenfeld and understand the vision he had. Learning about his life will leave
you wiser and more humble, and will also help you better prepare for the
application interviews, since you will have a better grasp of what the
scholarship is looking for.
WHT’s chairman André Hoffmann generously invited the WHT to join him in his Sustainability tent at the World Economic Forum 2019, in Davos. A group of our scholars and alumni travelled to Switzerland for the event where they presented the following panel:
Young Voices of Hope: perspectives from the latest wave of emerging leaders
The following alumni made brief presentations about their development work in the fields of Innovation, Business and Sustainability. Click their names to watch their full presentation: