Crowdfund your way to a higher education


Thanks to the innovative efforts of a few youngsters, there is now a novel way to finance your way through university.

Co-founded by undergraduates from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and National University of Singapore (NUS), Skolafund is a recent online start-up that aims to help as many people as possible to obtain higher education. Following in the footsteps of large funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the Malaysiabased Internet Mobile Projects Accelerator (Impact) start-up enables deserving students, particularly those who aren’t well-off or who have failed to attain scholarships, to raise tuition fees through crowdfunding.

Co-founder Tengku Ahmad Syamil.

Tengku Ahmad Syamil, who comes from Singapore, is a co-founder of Skolafund and currently an undergraduate at IIUM. Describing himself as someone who actively seeks to enhance his entrepreneurial skills through social efforts, he laments the fact that funding is never not an issue. Such a scenario unfortunately applies in today’s education too. “There are plenty of students who work hard but it is a pity how not all are lucky enough to receive an education,” says Syamil.

Co-founder Syakir Hashi.

What further prompted him to start Skolafund was a posting on Facebook by a student from his university. “He is a rather diligent student who comes from a low income family; he shared that he was lacking funds to pay his tuition fee as both of his parents were ill. Already a part-time worker himself, he then asked if there were any other alternatives available or scholarships he could apply for,” says Syamil. “And interestingly enough, instead of suggesting ways, people in the community willingly offered to transfer small amounts of money into the student’s bank account.”

Syamil was thoroughly amazed by the generosity of the community. “It is somewhat comforting to know that there are people out there willing to help.” Inspired, he then had a light-bulb moment: “If we can get these students onto a bigger platform, they will be able to garner more support and crowdfund their own scholarship!” With that, after much deliberation and planning, Skolafund was launched this year.

While it all sounds great, not just anyone can launch a campaign. For starters, applicants are to submit the required documents for verification purposes and a convincing personal essay on reasons why they should be sponsored. Approved applicants will then decide on the amount to be funded and be given 30 days to run their campaigns. They can find sponsors among their peers, relatives and teachers as well as the public. The team will play its part by setting up the campaigns and providing guidance along the way.

Although the applicants have the liberty to determine the figures, Syamil emphasised that the higher the amount set, the tougher it would be to raise it. “If you think it is reachable, I’d say go for it.” That being said, it is ultimately up to the students if they want the campaign to be successful. “During the entire process, we too expect the students to take the initiative to promote their campaigns. We do not want them to be complacent.”

Since its inception in April, Skolafund has received over 50 applicants. “Our first-ever campaign was a memorable one. It was run by a student at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP); he is an aspiring civil engineer. But things weren’t looking too good at home as his father had passed away, leaving his mother as the sole breadwinner of the family. It was a success as we managed to raise over RM5,000 within three days!” beams Syamil. “The sponsors really saw great potential in him. Plus, we have a really supportive community. Those are the reasons that contributed to the success of the campaign.”

Running a start-up while at university, you are bound to run into challenges. One of them would be to scout for new talents to help tackle the start-up’s growing needs. “It was rather tough in the beginning to find like-minded teammates,” he says. “People expect some form of monetary return, but they’ve got to understand that we are fairly new and still growing.”

Skolafund now has four members on board: Syamil, 24, a third-year Business Administration student at IIUM; Syakir Hashim, 23, a Global Studies undergraduate at NUS; Wildan Zulfikar, 21, who majors in Information Systems at IIUM; and Faruq Rasid, 24, a Computer Engineering undergraduate at NUS.

The main challenge however, is to convince potential sponsors to view this form of funding seriously. Skolafund is trying to acquire partnerships with relevant authorities and organisations. They recently gained the support of Startupbootcamp, a global network of industry-focused accelerators. “Also, we have had prominent individuals like Datuk Fazley Yaakob, the Malaysian actor and singer, and Imran Ajmain, the Singaporebased singer, to spread the word about this initiative through social media – and it has helped.”

Skolafund will be looking into alternate forms of funding to ease the financial burden of students. “We are currently working on this new feature on the website called ‘Create Scholarship.’ With it, anyone at all can start their own named-scholarship and award it to whoever best deserves the scholarship.

Syamil at the Halal Tech Challenge in 2014.

“We believe that no one should be deprived of an education just because they can’t afford it.” And thanks to the relentless efforts of these innovative young minds, there will be more students who can avoid being deprived.

Check out the ongoing campaigns at their website:

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