edseed and VIP.fund
Christelle Barakat, SVR volunteer interview with
Rama Chakaki, Founder and Director of edseed and VIP.fund

March 16, 2021

VIP.fund’s Peer-to-Peer Mentor Program and edSeed bring together the talents of staff, youth volunteers, mentors, as well as youth participants to empower motivated individuals, guiding them throughout the creation of their crowdfunded campaigns to achieve their educational aspirations. There is also a strong focus on mentorship and on guiding individuals throughout their journeys. These platforms were established by Ms. Rama Chakaki when she moved to the U.S. VIP.fund began as a venture philanthropy fund with the aim of setting up several technology platforms to engage youth. It was ultimately condensed into one platform and is the parent to edSeed. Students can benefit from both platforms by campaigning for funds on edSeed and connecting with VIP.fund volunteers for mentorship and entrepreneurship and technology programs. 

 

Goals
edSeed and VIP.fund aim to support youth impacted by conflict. This stems from Ms. Chakaki’s belief that youth are adaptable and that they can have a strong, far-reaching impact if given the needed help, assistance, and opportunities. Their ability to leverage technology and their future entry into the job market make them key actors for local economies. Both edSeed and VIP.fund seek to build a virtual youth community, connecting youth impacted by conflict with others abroad so that they can help each other through sharing perspectives and addressing their challenges. The challenges range from getting access to education to receiving mentorship and dialoguing about experiences based on interests and needs.

 

Participants

So far, edSeed has been able to reach more than 500 students and to help between 100 to 170 students receive tuition benefits through the platform. Furthermore, sometimes students choose to benefit from edSeed training and activities, opting out of crowdfunding. The Peer-to-Peer program is another asset that students can benefit from. It runs on volunteers, the first of whom were the children of scholars who went to the Zaatari camp. Building bonds with refugees there, they wanted to keep in touch with each other. Ms. Rama helped facilitate this through the creation of the Peer-to-Peer program. Current volunteers are recruited through word of mouth, social media, and with the help of faculty at various institutions. Mentors enter 6-week programs in which they get aligned with students based on interests. The mentorship accreditation program run by Ms. Chakaki teaches mentors and mentees valuable skills including conflict resolution.

 

Overall, Ms. Rama fondly recalls several student success stories of resilience, determination, and passion. 

 

Partnerships and Donors

Local partners help monitor the distribution of edSeed funds which cover tuition fees and in some cases room and board and/or other expenses depending on each student’s needs. During the pandemic, laptops and internet access funds were distributed to students in the Zaatari refugee camp and in Lebanese refugee camps. Mental health assistance is also available on a case-by-case basis since April 2020 through collaboration with local medical organizations.

 

Donors are on the rise, with many of them being recurring donors. They usually hear about edSeed and VIP.fund through word of mouth, social media, email marketing, and public speaking events. There are also some institutional donors. Several students and volunteers choose to pay it forward as well.

 

Challenges

Like any initiatives, edSeed and VIP.fund face challenges. Theirs relate to scaling the initiatives whilst still giving students the experience that they need. Ms. Chakaki elaborates on the challenging onboarding process in terms of taking the story of a refugee who only speaks Arabic and turning it into a relatable story for an American audience. This makes it that only 5 campaigns can be launched at a time. Having more volunteers translates into helping more students. Working with students on their campaigns allows them to simultaneously learn personal branding skills which render them more employable.

 

Key Recommendations

Ms. Chakaki encourages the university community to adopt online programs, recognize the cultural and academic richness that diverse students bring to the classroom, and to encourage students to volunteer with organizations helping refugees and IDPs within and outside of the classrooms. Moreover, universities and university presidents have media visibility and wide platforms that they can use to help students, particularly students from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.

learn more from edseed and VIP.Fund volunteers here

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Meet SVR Volunteer, Christelle Barakat

Christelle Barakat, SVR Working Group 1 Volunteer, Graduate Peace and Conflict Studies Student, Center for New North Carolinians Volunteer and Fellow, University of North Carolina - Greensboro​

Christelle Barakat is a Lebanese Fulbright graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro pursuing a M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies with a concentration on International Peace Development. She has been volunteering with the Center for New North Carolinians (CNNC) since she arrived in the U.S. in August 2020 and has been a CNNC fellow since Fall 2020. The CNNC engages in training and research, in addition to the provision of direct services to immigrant and refugee populations in Greensboro and North Carolina.