Mastercard Baobab program at 6 years: Where it's been and where it's headed

August 2, 2022

During the initial phases of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, Arizona State University President Michael Crow had a conversation with Mastercard Foundation President and CEO Reeta Roy as they thought through the future of the scholars program and its desired impact.

He asked her some key questions about the alumni strategy for the program: Group photo of the May 2019 ASU Mastercard Foundation Scholar graduates. May 2019 ASU Mastercard Foundation Scholar graduates. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image

  • What should a sustainable alumni strategy for international scholarship recipients look like?
  • How would they ensure graduates would continue to engage with the community after completing their studies?
  • How would scholars who had studied outside of Africa for the past four years build their professional networks and find opportunities on the continent?
  • How do we ensure alumni have access to lifelong learning and upskilling opportunities after graduation?

With these questions in mind, beginning in 2014, ASU was awarded a management grant to research the viability of an online platform that would not only connect African youth wherever they’re located around the world, but also allow for ongoing learning throughout their alumni journey. Using a human-centered design approach, the team engaged with African youth to understand their needs before going into design. 

In 2016, the Baobab digital platform was launched as a way for scholars and alumni of Mastercard Foundation scholarships to network, connect and collaborate with one another. It has since expanded to welcome all African youth who are changemakers in their communities and, more importantly, share the same goal of making an impact in Africa.

With the sixth anniversary of Baobab’s launch coming in October and the 10th anniversary of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, we talked with Bethany Weigele, chief innovation officer at ASU’s EdPlus, about Baobab’s first six years and the future of the empowering program.

Question: What is ASU’s role in the Baobab program?

Answer: ASU is the program’s strategic implementation partner. We deliver on the Mastercard Foundation’s vision of providing access to resources that will enhance, facilitate and support the transition experiences for African youth and allow them to attain their personal and professional goals and connect to dignified employment.

The digital platform was initially designed for Mastercard Foundation Scholars with varying levels of internet access. These scholars were located at over 32 partner institutions/universities, 95% of which were in Africa, and the remaining 5% located across the United States, Canada, France, Lebanon and Costa Rica. The idea was to create a scalable alumni strategy leveraging technology and utilizing custom code for low-bandwidth environments. And today, that number of partner institutions continues to grow as we engage in new partnerships. In addition to the scholars program, Baobab is also serving other Mastercard Foundation portfolio programs, including YALI, Youth Think Tank, Ashoka, Zambezi and more.

Q: What kind of growth has the Baobab platform seen since its inception? 

A: Baobab was initially conceptualized and designed as a platform exclusively for students and alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program who registered for it through an invitation sent by their affiliated university. Four years after its initial release, we were excited to expand the program and welcome all African youth committed to positive change in Africa.

Baobab has grown exponentially in the past two years and now includes more than 19,000 members. The members of Baobab are a network of young leaders with diverse training backgrounds, skill sets and educational levels. Baobab’s top user countries include Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, followed by Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Ethiopia, which are countries at the heart of the foundation’s initiatives. 

Some other program growth highlights include:

  • Our mentorship program began with one-to-many mentorship crowd-sourced opportunities via “Ask Me Anything” sessions, Zoom webinars and other live events providing a variety of group-level mentorship opportunities. With an emphasis on human-centered design and continued learning around our users’ needs for mentorship, we’ve expanded our programming to include one-on-one mentorship at scale, providing individualized personalized mentorship opportunities with Africa-based mentors with relevant expertise and networks for 2,500 unique individuals in collaboration with Global Give Back Circle.
  • Our team has developed more than 50 courses for program participants. We leverage expert ASU faculty where applicable, as well as work with African subject matter experts and talent from partner institutions to help provide the right contextualization. We provide  soft and hard skill development courses ranging from critical thinking, to public speaking project management, business analytics, Python and Excel. All courses are available in English and French.
  • In the spirit of Young Africa Works, Baobab has provided 107 paid opportunities to date for African youth, Mastercard Foundation Scholars and alumni to support the growth of Baobab in the form of content development, multimedia and marketing, technical support and research.

Q: What are you most excited about with the future of the program?

A: There’s a lot to be excited about with the future of Baobab! This year, we’ll be releasing a massive update to the platform’s code and design to increase speed and performance for our users on the continent. ASU has modified and contextualized the me3 career exploration game, providing a multimillion dollar tool to serve the Baobab community and larger African audience. me3 for Africa is scheduled to launch early this fall.

We continue supporting African youth with transitions to employment, particularly for special groups including women, individuals with disabilities and refugees/displaced youth in alignment with Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy. More importantly, we continue to be guided by the needs expressed by African youth and leveraging ASU’s expertise and assets to deliver a youth-informed platform.

Story written by Chad Hays, marketing content specialist, EdPlus at ASU

ASU Regents Professor wins IEEE Prize Paper Award

August 2, 2022

Twenty years ago, the power grid was run mostly on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Vijay Vittal, a Regents Professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, was an influential voice in power grid research during that time.

Working with other electrical engineers, he defined stability criteria for the power grid as it existed in 2004. Power lines with the sun shining behind them. Along with his co-authors, Vijay Vittal, a Regents Professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, won the 2022 IEEE PES Prize Paper Award for his contribution to redefining power grid stability. Photo courtesy Shutterstock Download Full Image

Since then, the grid has evolved rapidly and renewable power has played an increasingly larger role in producing electricity. To account for these changes, Vittal and his colleagues reconvened to revisit their earlier work and redefine stability for the modern era.

The resulting paper, “Definition and Classification of Power System Stability – Revisited & Extended,” published last year, won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Power & Energy Society Prize Paper Award.

Redefining stability in the age of renewable energy

Renewable power sources can operate differently than traditional fossil fuel and nuclear power generation methods, which affects the stability of the grid they supply.

Traditional methods use synchronous generators, which spin alternators with the force created by the combustion of gasses or steam to generate electricity. The alternators then produce electricity, much in the same way a car’s alternator powers its electrical system and keeps its battery charged. Since 2004, synchronous generators have a reduced level of prominence as renewable energy technologies have taken a greater role in power generation.

Solar and wind power, which have become more commonplace in power grids around the world, can’t simply be turned on or made to generate more power at will by giving them additional fuel. They also have different characteristics and tolerances for deviation from normal operating conditions.

Vittal says that synchronous generators have a high tolerance for faults in the system, such as short circuits. When synchronous generators do encounter changes in system operation, their inertia allows them to overcome these changes by utilizing the stored kinetic energy in their large rotating mass.

“The kinetic energy allows the system load or generation to vary a little,” Vittal says. “This inertia allows the kinetic energy cycle to slow down or speed up a little bit, depending upon whether there is a drop in load or an increase in load.”

In contrast, many renewable systems, such as solar generation, have no inertia in their systems to keep things spinning. This leaves them susceptible to issues like low voltage in the generation system, which can shut down an entire power grid.

Setting modern power grid stability standards

Vittal and his collaborators set out to address this conundrum: With such sensitive equipment, how do you set criteria for stability that power grid operators can use to guide renewable power generation techniques?

Over the course of eight months, Vittal and his colleagues around the world shared their knowledge and discussed the best ways to define power grid stability. This work resulted in their award-winning paper and continues to demonstrate Vittal’s leadership in the field.

Vittal says this accolade has been one of the most rewarding in his 40-year career.

“It’s very gratifying that something I played a part in was recognized by our peers,” says Vittal, who was presented the award alongside his co-authors on July 19, in Denver. “That’s always a good feeling.”

Stephen Phillips, director of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of the seven Fulton Schools, praises Vittal’s research as vital for those in electrical engineering.

“Professor Vittal’s recognition by his peers at other institutions shows the importance of his work among the entire research community in this field,” Phillips says.

The power of ASU's electrical engineering program 

Vittal credits his students in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and their research in wind and solar power and grid stability to helping make the discoveries needed for the paper.

Since its original publication, this paper has become widely used as a reference for other research. Raja Ayyanar, a professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools, says that it is the most downloaded and read paper in the IEEE’s Transactions on Power Systems section.

“Awards like these also help shine the spotlight on our electric power and energy systems program, giving high visibility to our extensive research on renewable energy and smart grid,” Ayyanar says.

Kory Hedman, a professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools and director of the Power Systems Engineering Research Center, says Vittal’s award shows the strength of ASU’s electrical engineering program for students.

“Incoming students say that their previous professors told them if Vijay Vittal is a faculty member there, then ASU must be a top program,” Hedman says.

Anamitra Pal, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools, says the concepts outlined in the paper are important not only for Arizona and the United States, but for the world as a whole — to design power grids of the future.

Pal says Vittal is an inspiration for younger faculty through such groundbreaking research: “He truly epitomizes the adage: Lead by example.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering