2023 December-January Featured News

Raising Georgia’s next generation of leaders: AmCham and MAC Georgia launch scholarship program

In Georgia, the cost of pursuing a higher education and living in the country’s urban centers while doing so is prohibitive for many, particularly those hailing from small towns and villages. Financial hurdles too frequently derail the dreams of talented students, not only leaving them on the sidelines of opportunity but also hurting the country’s broader economic development.

In fact, a 2022 World Bank report cited “significant human capital challenges” as a major impediment to “overall productivity” and the long-term, sustainable economic growth of the country. This, coupled with a recent BAG Index from the third quarter of 2023 that cites 64% of Georgian businesses as reporting a shortage of skilled workers, further indicates that investing in equipping the next generation with the tools they need to be successful will be crucial to the country’s economic future.

To help address this issue, a new university scholarship program launched by AmCham Georgia and the McLain Association for Children, Georgia (MAC Georgia) is offering educational opportunities for some of Georgia’s most underprivileged students. The program, which launched in September, will cover four years of tuition and provide a stipend to help cover the cost of living.

MAC Georgia CEO Jeremy Gaskill says that the idea for the scholarship first came about after discussions with AmCham Executive Director George Welton about MAC Georgia’s existing scholarship program. MAC’s existing program has been operating in the country for ten years and has supported more than 226 at-risk students from rural communities. “George and I would discuss our scholarship program periodically and imagine what it would be like if other individuals and companies started doing the same. AmCham, with its large membership, was perfectly placed to mobilize this support,” says Gaskill.

AmCham Executive Director George Welton explains that initial interest was much stronger than anticipated: “When AmCham initiated the scholarship, we were hoping to finance 10 or 15 students in the first year, but we gained a fantastic response from members. TBC, BoG, and Gulf immediately agreed to support five students each. GeoWel Research, Nutrimax, and the Hilton in Batumi agreed to support two each. A range of others, including Batumi International Container Terminal, BLB Law, Expat Hub, Peri, Ronny’s Pizza, School of Progress, and TBC Leasing all agreed to support one student. Since each of these commitments are for four years of tuition and a living allowance, that is considerable.”

Providing a financial lifeline

The scholarship program is uniquely designed to account for both merit and need. Using the government’s targeted social assistance evaluation system to identify those with “significant financial need,” MAC Georgia’s Gaskill says “it was important to us that the scholarship program specifically target those students who likely wouldn’t be able to attend higher education without the support of outside financing.”

The scholarship program goes beyond just tuition, offering a living stipend to help offset the higher living costs incurred for students studying in larger urban centers. Rental prices and living costs have been all the more prohibitive since a large influx of war-related migrants came to Georgia in 2022, driving up rental costs in cities like Tbilisi and Batumi to untenable levels for many students.

Lasha Dojurishvili is a scholarship recipient from Rustavi who moved to Tbilisi this year to study law at Tbilisi State University. He says that the stipend provided by the program is a lifeline, particularly for students like himself that come from a low-income background. “I hear from other students all the time how hard it is to move to Tbilisi and find an affordable place to live while studying,” he tells Investor.ge.

“Many students are forced to rely on their families for support or get full-time jobs while in school, which causes an immense amount of stress and makes it difficult to focus on their studies. I’m very grateful that the program has a stipend component, which helps to address this issue and lets me focus more on my studies.”

Raising the next generation of Georgian leaders

Beyond the financial component, applicants for the scholarship program are also selected on the basis of merit, with a selection panel made up of MAC, AmCham staff, and the AmCham Board using national entrance exam results, applications, and interviews to select scholarship recipients.

In its first cohort, the scholarship program saw more than 100 applications for a competitive 30 spots, which have gone to students from all over Georgia. They’re pursuing a wide range of majors, including medicine, law, IT, business, public administration, engineering, and ecology at universities around the country.

Beyond the financial assistance provided, the program envisages offering its scholarship recipients additional professional development opportunities, including internship placements and support in securing employment post-university.

George Svanadze, an AmCham Board member and Partner and Head of Litigation Practice of MG Law and Co-Managing Partner of Andersen Georgia, served on the selection panel and says that during the selection process, he looked at students “motivation and commitment,” as well as their previous academic performance, to better understand their future aspirations.

“AmCham is uniquely positioned with its extensive network, which creates a huge opportunity – not only for organizations to get involved in supporting students but also to find future employees in the process,” Svanadze tells Investor.ge.

And it is these kinds of opportunities for further development and potential new connections that enticed scholarship recipient Sofia Chitanava to apply for the program. Originally from Tsalenjikha and studying at Zugdidi State Educational University, the mother of four decided to go back to school to give her children a better life and show them how an education can open doors to new opportunities.

“My educational journey has not been an easy one,” she tells Investor.ge. “I was married and had kids very young. This, combined with the difficult financial situation we faced, pushed me to balance work, family, and my education. It’s been very difficult but made me all the more determined to achieve my dream of getting a university degree.”

Chitanava says she would love to “supplement her educational experience” with the amazing network of tourism industry members in the AmCham network as she dreams of one day “establishing my own travel agency to offer regional tours in Samegrelo.”

AmCham Executive Director George Welton says he looks forward to helping students like Chitanava explore their full potential through both financial assistance and a new world of opportunities. “This program doesn’t just ease a financial burden but opens doors to the amazing network that is AmCham. My hope is that we’ll see this program evolve in the years to come to include more personal and professional development opportunities beyond just a university education. The AmCham community possesses enormous resources and I hope that we’ll increasingly draw from these to cultivate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.”

AmCham and MAC Georgia would like to express our deepest gratitude for the generous support of scholarship sponsors. Thank you to Bank of Georgia, Gulf, TBC, Hilton Batumi, Nutrimax, GeoWel Research, BICT, BLB, Expat Hub, Peri, Ronny’s Pizza, School of Progress, TBC Leasing. This program would not be possible without you!