Fittingly, UniTED’s story can be traced to a friendship – formed in early 2010 between two soon-to-be-freshers, Leo and Eliab.
Leo went to New College, Oxford, and Eliab to Makerere University, Kampala. They kept in contact over social media.
At the end of their first term, New College students wanted to create an international link. Leo suggested Makerere. A letter was sent. And a partnership formed.
In February 2012, the partnership organised its first programme – an exchange of 5 Makerere students for the Oxford Fourm for International Development.
A return trip to Makerere in September 2012 refocused the partnership around social action.
The partnership opened to all Oxford University (becoming known as OxMak). And the February exchange to Oxford became an annual event for 4 to 5 Makerere students.
We began talking of scaling the student partnership model – UniTED was born!
In devising UniTED, we were inspired by the Lean Start-up methodology of Build-Measure-Learn, so it works well to tell the rest of our story through this lens:
Build – In October 2013, UniTED opened an office on Makerere campus and began a pilot to establish the most effective way to both support projects around campus and create authentic and effective international partnerships. So, we connected 7 Makerere student projects to Oxford volunteers for collaborations and ran an action day and conference.
Measure – An action day in a Kampala slum to coincide with the Oxford visit mobilised 350 student volunteers. And, our February conference at Makerere had 500 students attend and raised our status around campus. However, many of the international collaborations were not particularly productive, because we had chosen from a small sample of projects.
Learn – We needed to reach many more social action projects in Makerere before we started more partnerships with Oxford. We also needed this to be done by students as much as possible, in order to have a scalable model.
Build – So, we arranged all the projects we came across into ‘Action Groups’ around 6 areas of social action – environment, health, social enterprise, social justice, technology, and youth. These groups would appoint a student to lead them, and this person would then be part of the executive committee of the UniTED Makerere Student Group.
Measure – This work fantastically well at mapping the projects around Makerere – we soon had a network of over 60 projects at Makerere.
Learn – UniTED Student Groups seemed to be the best way to quickly map lots of projects on a campus. So, we wanted to see how it worked at other universities in Uganda.
Build – At the start of the new academic year, we launched UniTED Groups at 6 other universities in Uganda. We also overhauled the structure of visits to Uganda for Oxford students, so they would work with many more Makerere projects during a 3 week exchange.
Measure – 6 Oxford students came on the exchange and feedback was very positive. October 2014 was also a significant milestone for UniTED, as we became a register charity in the UK, with charity number 1158935. By the start of 2015, we had built a network of over 100 student projects and almost 3,000 student members around Uganda. And in the spring, we ran our first crowdfunding campaign, raising £3,949.
Learn – We had built the basis of a large network, but lacked social impact. UniTED Group meetings were too infrequent and lacked a proper structure. We didn’t do enough to keep Oxford students engaged once they returned to the UK. And, few student projects had international volunteers, and the rest were not receiving any support from UniTED.
Build – So, we set about refining the model for UniTED Groups so that they would be empowered to support projects more, create more connections to international volunteers, and engage their membership continually.
Build – In August, we organised a UniTED Camp Report for 100 students from 16 universities around Uganda to train them to organise UniTED Groups more effectively.
Measure – Immediate feedback from the camp was fantastic, with 95% saying their experience was ‘very good’ or ‘excellent.
Learn – However, in the subsequent months we realised that we were asking students to do too much, as meetings dropped off and we weren’t getting feedback about projects. Part of the reason we had been successful around Makerere and a small number of other universities had been because students had relied too heavily on UniTED’s support. Therefore, we realised that to create international partnerships on a large scale, we were going to have to take a more hands-on approach, and growth would have to be a little slower than hoped for.
Build – At the start of 2016, we began to create more distinction between UniTED and UniTED Groups. UniTED would provide 1-2-1 consultancy for student projects, and match them to international volunteers. UniTED Groups would engage more students on their campus in social action through activities such as a weekly meeting. We also began work on a new programme of hosting international volunteers in Uganda.
Measure – We currently are supporting over 100 projects with 1-2-1 consultancy, and have been able to establish 10, more fruitful international partnerships with projects and teams of international volunteers. More feedback shall be received soon through surveys. Students can now get involved from around the world!
Over the next two years, we expect to begin supporting about 400 student social action projects, the majority within Uganda. We also wish to create more partnerships between universities within Uganda and those on a different continent, and match and host about 100 students volunteers.
This will ensure that we are on a very stable footing to then concentrate on spreading this model to other countries around the world, in order to be able to create hundreds of partnerships between universities and individual students.
If you want to be part of the next chapter of our story, then get involved!