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25 April 2023

The chance e-mail that set the ball rolling on unique partnership

Premier League footballers are elite athletes; competitors at the top of their professions who are well used to delivering perfection under pressure.

Dr Sam De Canio with Abdi Farah at the launch of the scholarship.

And, as a player with four league titles, multiple cup winners’ medals and more than 80 England appearances to his name, Raheem Sterling is a star even among the biggest names - a player who has performed on the world’s biggest stages.

So when King’s scholar Michael Bankole was asked to present an idea for a new scholarship with just a few hours’ notice, explaining to Raheem himself why he should part with thousands of pounds to support it, it’s fair to say the pressure was on.

“Presenting the idea to Raheem, in front of a room full of people at Stamford Bridge…it was a lot!” said Michael.

“It was one of those moments where you find yourself on the spot and you just have to get ready to perform to the best of your ability.”

Drawing on the months of work that had gone into the plan together with Dr Sam De Canio, Michael put forward the vision for the scholarship to Raheem and members of the Chelsea star’s charitable foundation.

Michael said: “Raheem listened closely and I remember after I’d finished speaking he just said ‘100 per cent’. It was a lovely moment, he was fully on board with it.”

That presentation, in August 2022, was the moment that everything came together after almost 12 months of work, planning and preparation by Michael and Dr De Canio, from the Department of Political Economy at King’s.

What started as a voluntary fundraiser for underrepresented students in 2021 – an effort which itself raised about £3,000 – eventually evolved into a plan for three fully-funded scholarships at King’s College London in partnership with the Raheem Sterling Foundation, worth some £10,000 each.

However, despite the joy and satisfaction of receiving Raheem’s backing and seeing their idea to fruition, the process from idea to reality was a lengthy and difficult one that, at times, looked like it may ultimately come to naught. 

There were times over the last few years that were frustrating and times when we were out of ideas and really wondering where we could go next. It always helped that we had a good idea, though, and a whole lot of luck. The idea was a fantastic one and we put a lot of work into it.

Dr Sam De Canio
Michael Bankole1962
Michael Bankole

It was in the latter months of 2021 that Michael and Dr De Canio decided to explore the possibility of expanding their initial voluntary grant scheme, with the aim of improving social mobility and broadening access to an institution like King’s to those who may otherwise not have the opportunity to attend.

Over the course of many months, the pair made contact with a number of parties who they thought may be able to help but, despite extensive efforts, they struggled to find the sort of support they needed to make the scheme viable.

It wasn’t until a chance message to the Raheem Sterling Foundation that their luck turned, and even then it was a near miss.

Dr De Canio said: “We were a little disappointed because we had been trying for a long time and really weren’t making any progress. It was then that, by chance, Michael checked his junk e-mail folder and sitting there was an e-mail from the Raheem Sterling Foundation asking to discuss details.”

Members of the foundation were invited to meet with Michael and Dr De Canio at King’s in the spring of 2022 and momentum started to build behind the initiative. Raheem had just completed a move from Manchester City to Chelsea and the now London-based star was looking for initiatives in the capital to support through the foundation.

“They mentioned they had been looking for a partner university in London to work with and they liked that we had made the effort to reach out to them,” said Dr De Canio. “So it was good timing for us.”

Following the meeting at King’s, Michael and Dr De Canio were asked to draw up a formal proposal, setting out the details of the scholarship, how it might work and how the foundation could contribute.

We spent hours and hours over that summer working on the scholarship to make sure it was watertight before we submitted it to the foundation. We worked closely with Sarah Cook in fundraising at King’s in drafting the proposal.

Dr Sam De Canio

It was then, in the August of 2022, that Michael and Dr De Canio were invited to Stamford Bridge, home of Raheem’s club Chelsea, where, unbeknownst to them, they would be asked to present their case directly to the England ace.

And, with Raheem’s approval secured, a series of meetings were arranged between King’s and the foundation to formalise the details of the scholarship, which is set to begin in the 2023/24 academic year.

Michael, who has recently started in an academic role with Royal Holloway, said: “The scholarships are about social mobility. They are about providing talented students with an opportunity to maximise their abilities at an elite university.

“We wanted to do something more after the grants we handed out in 2021 to tackle issues like social mobility and these scholarships help in a small way to do that.

“It felt a long way off at times and it has been quite a demanding process but it is hugely satisfying. We never imagined we’d end up here when we started.”

Both Michael and Dr De Canio will be involved in the selection process for scholarship candidates and they will also help to produce regular reports to the foundation on the progress of the recipients.

In future, they hope to build on the work started with the foundation and explore possibilities for other partnerships too, all with the aim of improving opportunities for underrepresented students.

Find out more

To find out more about the scholarships, click here

In this story

Samuel  DeCanio

Senior Lecturer in Political Economy

Michael Bankole

PhD Candidate