Pushing towards the critical mass one scholarship at a time 

I never imagined that in the span of two short weeks I would listen to Hillary Clinton give a prolific address on Eleanor Roosevelt, attend a talk by Ian Khama – one of the most celebrated retired presidents in Africa and engage in rigorous philosophical debates with budding thought leaders from 20 different countries across the world. These and a myriad of new opportunities became open to me as soon as I stepped into the hallowed halls of Oxford.

Drinking from a protected spring in my rural home in Kenya

 I am a 28-year-old girl born and raised in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. I have always had a strong passion for sustainable development in rural areas particularly the supply of water for communities in marginalized areas. This passion led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Water and Environmental Engineering after which I immediately joined the Kenyan Water Sector Workforce where I worked for three years. It was during this stint that I was confronted by the shocking realities of inadequate water supply across Kenya.  In the arid areas of the county, women trekked for kilometers to fetch saline and often unhygienic water while in the urban slums, cartels charged the poor exorbitant amounts for meagre amounts of water.  All this was exacerbated by the dearth of proper institutional structures and water supply policies in a landscape of devolved water supply.

It quickly dawned on me that technical knowledge alone was inadequate in meeting the challenges.  I knew that I would have to acquire policy formulation know-how as well as hone my leadership skills to navigate the murky waters (pun intended) of water supply in the developing world. This birthed my desire to go to the University of Oxford – a place I believed (and have come to confirm) is the domain of leading thinkers, researchers and practitioners in the field of water.

Following my resolution to pursue a Master’s degree, I worked tirelessly to draft my admission and scholarship essays. Ultimately, my labour paid off and I was fortunate enough to gain acceptance to undertake an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management. More importantly, I was also extremely lucky to receive a fully-funded scholarship generously supported by the Louis Dreyfus Foundation as well as the Hoffmann Foundation. I was doubly fortunate as the scholarship not only covered my financial needs, but also offered vital knowledge and skills around leadership through the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Leadership Programme. The scholarship was also a great fit because the Louis Dreyfus Foundation focuses on improving food security in developing and emerging economies, which I believe ties in very closely with sustainable water supply.

A visit to Farmoor Water Treatment plant with my Oxford classmates. 

Thus far, my Oxford experience has been rich both inside and outside the classroom. Never have I had so much time to read, learn and write about what I enjoy. This is a truly amazing time for me, particularly because I came from a full-time job where it was particularly difficult to squeeze in adequate reading and learning sessions.  I also love the practical and outdoors bent of my course where we get to go on a variety of water-related excursions ranging from visits to water treatment plants to studying hydrogeological water bearing aquifers on the southern tip of England, to mention a few. Outside of my course, I try to attend the numerous activities that go on every evening. These include seminars and talks,College formal dinners, cultural city events like the recently concluded Oxford Christmas Lights Festival, among others.

Ramon Ramirez at the Battle of Ideas satellite event 

The other facet of my Oxford life is the WHT Leadership Programme.  Right from my first moment in Oxford, I have engaged in a series of interactive and thought-provoking activities with 28 other dynamic scholars. Thus far as a cohort we have critically analyzed complex issues such as a global justice and colonialism, engaged in developing social entrepreneurial ideas and cultivated strong friendships.

Most recently,a few scholars organized a Battle of Ideas (BOI) Satellite event where democracy in the global South was put under a critical lens. Renowned authorities on the topic from various universities across the UK were invited as part of the expert panel. Two of the scholars were also on the panel -Grace from Malawi and Ramon from Mexico. They both did such a stellar job in elucidating their arguments on democracy in the global South. One of the invited guests from the MBA program later said he mistook them for professors in Oxford!

Being thrown together with such high caliber, global change-makers in the scholarship and learning about a variety of concepts in my course will no doubt equip me with the skills to contribute to improved water access.   However, I also know that it is fallacy to think that I can achieve this alone. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals back home (in Kenya as well as in other developing and emerging economies) who are intelligent,eager and desirous to change the status quo.  I believe if organizations like the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust continue to give them opportunities to improve their skills, we will ultimately attain the critical mass required to reverse the fortunes of developing countries.

About the Scholar

June Samo

Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2019
Mansfield College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar