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Investing in inspirational disabled leaders; a journey into Snowdon scholarships

A white lady with brown hair , wearing glasses and a black top smiling at the camera

Louise Gebbett

Director of Global Engagement

In January, Snowdon Trust and the GDI Hub opened applications for the second national Snowdon Masters Scholarships programme, in our search for exceptional disabled graduates with the potential to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Funding up £30,000 per student, these scholarships seek to identify and accelerate talented disabled people that have shown excellence in their chosen field of study or demonstrated leadership through professional or extracurricular activities.

In 2019 we received 80 applications and were blown away by the range of skills, experiences and academic excellence. This year over 240 submissions came in – a number way beyond our expectations, and one we certainly weren’t anticipating. Applications were received from all parts of the world, across many disciplines, with countless stories to tell.

The ambition of our scholarships is to support brilliant disabled leaders to create change and influence others.

Across the submissions a number of common themes were present. Firstly, the significant barriers in access to and funding of post-graduate education for disabled students. Many UK master’s scholars enter employment to financially support their studies; an option that is often not open to, or suitable for disabled scholars.

Secondly, unique and challenging pathways to success, with many applicants overcoming prolonged periods of absence throughout their schooling and during higher education. Negotiating around these barriers was both a source of challenge and pride - the ability to succeed despite difficult circumstances, and the opportunities that were created as a result of this differing life perspective.

Thirdly, there was a collective emphasis on driving change through disabled leadership – providing an opportunity to inspire others and amplify disabled voices. A powerful and important vision and one championed through the Disabled Leaders Network, bringing together past and present Snowdon Scholarship holders to inspire a new generation.

We often hear in the media a narrative of “succeeding against the odds”. Reflecting on the experiences of our scholarship applicants, this may seem somewhat misplaced. Disabled students, and certainly those that have applied have implemented exceptional management of their own conditions, workloads, health, time and careers; navigating a world that at times, can be in contradiction with individual needs. These management skills - so valued in the workplace - are an everyday requirement for many disabled scholars, who must often weigh up actions in pursuit of the best way forward for themselves.

Individually, the capacity to self-reflect can be a difficult one. Adjusting norms, adopting strategies and being open to change. The discipline to focus on the big picture is something many people work on, but few master. There is a lot to be learnt from the experiences of these exceptional Snowdon Scholarship candidates.

As we approach selection for the 2020/21 candidates, we also reflect on some of the lesson learnt; the importance of using a holistic selection framework to maximise accessibility; the desire to support students that could most benefit from the funding; the value of applicants’ experiences and the wealth of knowledge this brings.

Successful applicants will go on to join the Disabled Leaders Network - a brilliant group of Snowdon scholars, driving change, creating debate and supporting one another through academia and beyond. The network is just beginning, but the potential is huge. With a vision to inspire, we hope to magnify the impact of the Snowdon Masters Scholarships, driving opportunity for exceptional disabled leaders everywhere.