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When I founded the Spark of Hope Foundation in April 2014, my goals were modest. I wanted to raise funds for university level needs-based scholarships for bright young women with strong leadership potential, so that these women can make a huge impact in their communities as tomorrow’s leaders.

I also wanted to recruit a very capable Board of Directors so that there was strong governance; establish collaboration frameworks with on-ground partners and agreements with top universities around the world; and recruit students with high leadership potential.

My hope was that by September 2015, the Foundation would be supporting six to ten such bright women.

There is a saying that man plans, God laughs. In the case of the Foundation, we have been super-blessed, and in eight months, we have grown significantly beyond our initial targets.

Firstly, for the 2014-15 year, we are supporting 25 young women, often from areas of turmoil: from Syria, Palestine, refugee camps in Lebanon, the Kyrgyz Republic, Northern areas of Pakistan, and Argentina, attending the Aga Khan University, the American University of Beirut, the Asian University for Women, the Lebanese American University, the Sorbonne, and the University of Bern. We have therefore met our three year target in our first six months!

These students are in Bachelor’s level programs (five), professional programs like medicine and engineering (four), Master’s of Education programs (15), and at the PhD level (one). I have been amazed at their courage, tenacity and determination to get a great education so that they can make a meaningful difference in their own lives as well as in their communities over the next decades, impacting huge numbers of people.

We also launched an intensive online English improvement program thanks to a generous contribution from a partner – and 30 students have enrolled in this program. Improving their English will make a huge impact on their ability to enter university, or to graduate from university and have the confidence to get a great job in their desired field.

Secondly, I am deeply grateful to not only have a Founding Board, but to have additional strong governance in the form of an Advisory Board. They have brought needed support, encouragement and out-of-box thinking to the work of the Foundation. I am also very grateful for the growing pool of volunteers engaged with our work.

Thirdly, we have been able to negotiate multi-year collaboration agreements with on-ground partners, who channel and screen students, and then actively support them before, during and after their multi-year university programs. In some cases, these on-ground partners also provide additional sources of funding. In addition, we are delighted to have multiple university collaborations. Their support and that of on-ground partners results in donor funds being leveraged 1 to 5!

Fourthly, and most importantly, we have been awed at the generosity of our collaborating partners and donors. Our budget for 2014 had to increase substantially in order to support these 25 students. Our partners and donors have been most generous: we have already met 84% of our expanded 2014 needs of $520,000, and I am hopeful we will meet our target soon with the generous support of donors.

Much work remains to be done. Our goals for 2015 and beyond are to create awareness in North America about the need to fund education at the post-secondary level for bright young women in the developing world; to create a long term sustainable funding model to support the Foundation’s ambitious growth plans; to increase the number of university and partner collaborations; and to increase the number of students in the programs that the Foundation offers. We will aim to do all this, while ensuring that we meet the highest standards of good governance, accountability and integrity with all our stakeholders.

Yes, at times it has seemed that I am riding a rocket ship, propelling through many barriers! But every day brings new opportunities for collaboration; new opportunities to help light the spark of hope in more qualified young women; and more generosity from donors, volunteers and supporters. I am extremely grateful.

Thank you to all who have been with me through this exciting journey so far!

Update by Narmin K. Ismail, President and CEO