CMU and Mastercard to drive youth-led digital transformation in Africa

Farnam Jahanian, President of Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the Mastercard Foundation, in collaboration with the Govt of Rwanda, announced an investment in higher education in Africa to aid 10,000 young people from economically disadvantaged communities—such as young women, young people with disabilities, and forcibly displaced young people—and to drive inclusive development.

What does the collaboration mean for CMU-Africa?

The $275.7 million partnership with the Mastercard Foundation will significantly expand advanced engineering and technology education at CMU-Africa in Kigali. The investment from the Foundation includes a $175M endowment to perpetually fund CMU-Africa. It also includes $100.7M to establish CMU-Africa’s Center for the Inclusive Digital Transformation of Africa. Specifically, through this historic partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, CMU-Africa will:

  1. Expand instructional capacity, including introducing a new degree in engineering artificial intelligence, and online learning programs.
  2. Grow the annual cohort of students enrolling in CMU-Africa by more than 33%.
  3. Provide additional financial assistance to more CMU-Africa students, including increased support for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at CMU-Africa. The partnership will provide direct scholarship support to a total of 300 students.
  4. Ensure programs recruit and provide opportunities for marginalized groups, including women, people with disabilities, and displaced people.
  5. Pilot programs for English language immersion to help prepare undergraduate students from other African universities for graduate study.

Strengthen innovation the continent

The deal will strengthen Africa’s research, entrepreneurship, and innovation ecosystem by:

  1. Establishing a network of higher education institutions in Africa that will work with the private sector and governments to create the conditions for inclusive digital transformation.
  2. Supporting up to 10 African universities to deliver high-quality engineering and technology education.
  3. Increasing digital knowledge creation to drive technology development and job-creating innovation through training, seed funding, and collaboration opportunities for researchers at CMU-Africa and other partner universities.
  4. Directly involving faculty and staff from CMU-Pittsburgh in CMU-Africa activities to innovate in education and help create the knowledge needed to drive the inclusive digital transformation of Africa in fields that include agriculture, health, and finance, etc.

Why is Africa the perfect stage for this funding?

Through these various pillars of the partnership, 10,000 young people will gain the skills to compete in the global marketplace, innovate, design new tools that solve challenges, and bring those tools to market. Carnegie Mellon is the only U.S. research university with master’s degree programs and full-time faculty, staff, and operations on the continent.

CMU-Africa was established in 2011 through a partnership between CMU and the Govt of Rwanda. Through the strategic cohort and support of the Govt of Rwanda and the Rwandan people, CMU-Africa has built a strong educational platform that serves the continent.

Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world. By 2030, there will be 375 million young people in the job market in Africa, and that number is expected to grow to more than a billion people within the next few decades. Young people in Africa represent the workforce of tomorrow and can serve as a force for the continent’s transformation if they have the skills and knowledge to participate in and build the economies of the future.

The new initiative builds on a previous partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and CMU, and a successful 10-year partnership between the Government of Rwanda and CMU-Africa that has connected 561 young people from 21 African countries to world-class training—including 125 students supported through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

CMU-Africa offers graduate degrees in information technology, electrical and computer engineering, and engineering AI through Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked College of Engineering, with the same standards, curricula, and requirements as its Pittsburgh campus. As of spring 2022, the program enrolled over 230 students representing 21 African countries.

CMU-Africa’s impact includes a close to 90% employment rate within the first year of graduation. Its alumni have founded or joined startup companies, are pursuing their Ph.D.’s in top doctoral programs in the United States and Europe, and are serving in government information offices, including within the Government of Rwanda and the World Bank.

What were the stakeholders’ thoughts on the funding?

“The key to creating opportunities for promising African students from all socioeconomic backgrounds is access to education in the high-tech fields that are driving the economies of the future,” commented Farnam Jahanian, President of Carnegie Mellon University.

“We are grateful to the Mastercard Foundation for their partnership with CMU over the past six years to help empower the next generation of Africa’s leaders, and we are delighted to be expanding our partnership. With this collaboration, we will accelerate our shared mission and provide life-changing educational and career experiences for students across the continent.”

“Mastercard Foundation Scholars and graduates from this program will be at the forefront of creating tech that will generate jobs and enhance Africa’s economic competitiveness. We are excited that this initiative will strengthen the role of African universities in developing the continent’s scientists, innovators, and problem-solvers and generating knowledge that will benefit society more broadly,” said Reeta Roy, president and CEO, Mastercard Foundation.

“The strategic partnership with CMU is one of the Govt of Rwanda’s key investments to support the development of a critical mass of skills in science and technology, particularly in ICT, required by the knowledge economy and to help accelerate Rwanda’s and the region’s socioeconomic transformation,” said Valentine Uwamariya, minister of education in Rwanda.

“We express our sincere appreciation to the Mastercard Foundation for their significant support, which will help Rwanda realize its vision for the future in establishing the Regional Center of Excellence in Rwanda (CMU-Africa) and ensure the sustainability of the program.”

“The Regional Center of Excellence, coupled with other important strategies will help ensure that we are part of, and benefit from, the global digital revolution,” said Valentine Uwamariya.

“The Mastercard Foundation’s support will enable us to accelerate our Africa strategy, which is uniquely defined to prepare higher education students to meet the complex needs of the digital future along with the research and entrepreneurship necessary to compete in the global economy,” commented William Sanders, dean of the College of Engineering.

“The Mastercard Foundation has been a critical partner in CMU-Africa as we meet the growing demand for technical talent who will accelerate development in Africa,” said Allen Robinson, director of CMU-Africa and associate dean for international programs in Africa.

“This new, extraordinary phase of our relationship will exponentially magnify our ability to build a pan-African network that positively impacts the future of young people in Africa.”