#Chapter21 – How I raised £21,000 in 21 days for my Masters degree at Oxford

Around December of 2014, I started looking into Masters programmes. I was studying International Development and Politics at the time and with aspirations of venturing into a career in diplomacy, a Master’s degree is often a prerequisite. I did my research, I spoke to my lecturers and applied for the Masters in African Studies at Oxford University in January.

I was offered a place. I was delighted. It was a dream come true. I remember on that day I was having such a bad day with my dissertation. So receiving the email was definitely a new burst of motivation I needed. Further education, however, especially a Masters degree is not cheap. I would need an estimated £21,000 all together to cover my tuition fees, college fees, accommodation costs and money to live on. Naturally I applied to various scholarships and grants. It didn’t work out. I also investigated bank loans but again, I was unsuccessful. On every occasion I was unsuccessful. Although I would be working during the summer, I would not have saved anything close to what I needed. And the postgraduate student loan was not yet available for 2015/2016.

Thinking outside of the box.

I had to think outside of the box. And so I thought…crowdfunding. A friend of mine Rachel Ohwin, had done a crowdfunding campaign to go to Oxford the year before – Oxford10000. I gave her a call. She gave me so much advice on crowdfunding and campaigning and just encouraged me to go for it.  I was scared. It was definitely a risk. But I went for it. I contacted my department and asked if it was possible to get an extension for when the fees had to be paid. They agreed. I had an extra month to turn this around.  

Thinking creatively

I thought long and hard about what I could do. I thought creatively. And it came to me. #Chapter 21. I was 21 at the time. I needed to raise £21,000. Why not do a 21 day campaign? Super ambitious? I thought so, but I decided on this. More than anything it was important that my fees were paid for so, I decided to raise £10,000 to ensure that this figure was covered. I set up a page on crowdfunding platform Hubbub. I wrote bullet points on why I wanted to study African Studies, my future ambitions and how a degree from Oxford University would be a stepping stone.

A strategic and persistent plan

I was working full time at the time as an Events Co-ordinator  Fresh Strawberry Limited at Google. It was a pretty full on role on so I needed to be organised. Working in events can often mean hectic work hours. So I made a plan. A strategic plan.

I made a spreadsheet on Google sheets for my marketing social media campaign. I made a project plan of what I would be doing each day on all social media platforms. I also did this for the soft launch and the official launch of the campaign. I had pre-prepared content written for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram of what I would be posting during the morning, afternoon and evening. I drafted messages that I would send via text message, whatsapp and email. I worked tirelessly. I realised very early on that you can’t just make a crowdfunding page and just leave it there. You have to be active. Persist. You have to plan. You have to follow up.

My networks

I contacted EVERYONE that I knew. Outside of my friends and family, I thought back to all of the people I had met on various work experience and internship placements. My local secondary school, my university, different organisations I had been a part of in the past – Rare Recruitment, the Powerlist Foundation, UKIERI, the Black Googlers Network. As well as the various student societies and organisations I was a part of it. Over the years, I had made a conscious effort to stay in touch with people. I mobilised this. I thought about every single person I knew and made a list. I drafted messages and contacted people via email, LinkedIn, met up with people over coffee. I told everyone about my plans for #Chapter21 and asked for their support.

A team

I contacted some of my closest friends who I knew would be able to support me. I had a team of 10 people who I knew would consistently have my back. I made life easy for them. I sent them pre-prepared content and suggested the times in which they could make the post. Outside of this, I messaged lots of my friends to ask if they could support me in sharing and promoting my campaign. I contacted friends and strangers on my Facebook and Twitter who had a large following and asked for their support. The support I received was incredible. I also drew on the creativity of my friends. I contacted my friend Fola and asked if he could  take some pictures of me for the campaign. My friend Joey created the logo for my campaign. And my sister’s friend Salima recorded my video for me.

A pre-launch

I started to build up momentum via social media by randomly posting my logo for the campaign #chapter 21, and I got the members of my team and other friends to do so also.

Keeping the momentum up

The middle part of campaign is often the hardest part. I thought of ways in which I could consistently keep the momentum going. In line with the theme of ‘21’, I thought about 21 day challenges which are popular on social media. I decided on a 21 day side challenge called 21 smiles where I asked my supporters to join me in posting to social media something that made them smile each day for 21 days to support my campaign.

Success

By Day 18 of my 21 day campaign, with the help of so many amazing people, I had reached my target! I actually woke up to the news. It was honestly one of the best days of my life. I could not believe that we did it!

Crazy success

What happened in the next 3 days I never would have imagined. I also received a scholarship from my department (out of the blue) and a scholarship from a very generous donor which meant that altogether I had the total amount of money needed for my fees – £21,000!

A heart of gratitude

I will forever be thankful for all the beautiful souls that supported and contributed to my campaign. You contributed to my future. Having the opportunity to study at Oxford debt-free was such an incredible blessing. I received donations as little as £1 to £6000. A massive thank you to my family, friends and mentors who believed in me from the beginning.

Be inspired, inspire

More so than however, was seeing how many people were inspired by my campaign and supported with the little that they had. I had so much support from young girls from secondary school who were inspired. That touched me.  When I’m having a bad day, I remind myself of what I was able to do last summer and the impact that it had. It started with an idea. I turned it into a reality. All things are possible. I surprised myself, I never thought this would be possible. The other side of fear I guess.

Be inspired, inspire

By Shani-Akilah

@shani_akilah

shani.pagemuir@gmail.com

https://shaniakilah.wordpress.com/blog/

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