Combining service and policy to make a real difference

07 Jun 2023
Funwako Bakhile Dlamini
07 Jun 2023

“Believe in yourself. You have been selected because you are competent and you can actually do well in what seems an overwhelming institution. Be willing, intentional and deliberate. There are so many opportunities. See where they can lead.” This is the advice of Funwako Bakhile Dlamini, a veteran of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, to students embarking on their university journey.

Bakhile himself has made the most of the opportunities provided by the program, starting as an undergraduate in social work and now in the final stages of his master’s in public health. Coming from eSwatini, he found out about the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program through a newspaper article and with just eight weeks until the deadline, he had to rush to get all the necessary documentation together. It was a stressful process, but it was all worthwhile as he registered at UCT in 2017.

As the first person in his family to study at university, Bakhile felt at times overwhelmed, but this did not stop him from taking advantage of a myriad of opportunities to travel, meet new people, and be exposed to new ideas, participating in the United World College of Southern Africa, the Sciences Po in Paris, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in Pretoria, the annual World Youth Forum in Egypt, as well as being the Speak Your Mind speaker at the 2020 Boabab Summit, a virtual event due to COVID-19. All of these increased his confidence and leadership qualities.

Bakhile’s interest in social work stems from his interest in pursuing change in his own community and country. But over the years, he has become fascinated by international law and policy and the possibilities that changes in policy can make. As a result, he decided to devote his master’s research to the how the health system responds to changes in governmental policy, in particular relating to cross-border patient migration from eSwatini. “I’m looking at how the health system responds to patients who need to cross the border to access health services. This is something that has been politically contested,” says Bakhile.

His interest in community work started while was he was still in high school with the creation of the Adopt a Child program that teamed young learners to mentors to help them overcome the barrier to information that prevents them from accessing pertinent and current information relating to tertiary education.

“We take young students in rural communities, mentor them and allow them to have the flexibility and thought processes around career choices and help them apply to study at various schools. There is very little information about the various choices available and we bridge this so they have the right information and can make the right choices.”

Bakhile’s community work as earned him some prestigious recognition including bronze and silver awards from the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award, membership to the Golden Key International Honor Society as a top 15% student, and making the Dean's Merit List for consistent academic excellence. In 2021, he was also selected to join a global cohort of 40, in Boston, for the Next Generation Leaders programme at Tufts University, a programme initiated by the Talloires Network of Engaged Universities to brainstorm diverse approaches to civic engagement and activism, enabling young leaders to find new ways to make a difference in their own communities. 

His future plans include spending the next three months in North Carolina, USA, before starting a new role in the United Kingdom. However, he is also already considering a PhD and is planning a “deep-dive into policy”, while still maintaining an active interest in social service. And it all started by spotting a notice about the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program in a local newspaper!

"The Mastercard Foundation has given me a lifetime opportunity that has absolutely changed my life. I have been afforded the best opportunity to reach the best version of my professional journey while actively honing my leadership skills," says Bakhile.