Sagithjan Surendra

Germany

Sagithjan Surendra

Changemaker, entrepreneur and award-winning academic Sagithjan Surendra is studying for a master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Essex. As the child of two Sri Lankan immigrants who had fled the civil war during the 1980s, Sagithjan grew up with difficult financial circumstances. During his first semester as an undergraduate student, Sagithjan realized how difficult it was for socially or financially disadvantaged young people such as himself to access university.

This led him to found Aelius Förderwerk – a non-profit organization supporting young children and students from socially or financially disadvantaged households. Through mentoring, workshops and individual counselling, Aelius Förderwerk supports students on their way to equal educational opportunities. With a team of more than 160 volunteers, Aelius has supported over 7,000 students and, as chairman of the board, Sagithjan oversees strategy and manages his full-time staff.

Sagithjan has also been a mentor for young children and students, either through Aelius’s own mentoring program or other initiatives that are tackling the challenge of education inequality, such as Arbeiterkind.de. Furthermore, he is currently on the advisory board for two other non-profits that are tackling the challenges of poverty and sustainability, respectively.

Observing the challenges brought on charities and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sagithjan realized how fortunate Aelius Förderwerk was to be supported by a large network of young students which were able to digitalize their support program in a matter of weeks, creating new initiatives such as digital tutoring for children, IT-workshops for teachers who were struggling with this new format and giving out IT hardware to children whose parents could not afford them.

Aelius was just one of very few NGOs that were able to continue and expand their work through the pandemic and Sagithjan saw that many of his partner organizations were struggling with the challenges of digitalization. This led him to establish another social start-up called “Diginary” in 2020. Since then, Diginary has been supporting non-profit organizations in their digitalization process with free resources and consulting sessions in the DACH-region.

Sagithjan is a fellow of the “Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes”, the most prestigious scholarship for university students supported by the German Ministry of Education and in 2020 was awarded the title “Student of the Year” by the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers.

Aside from his academic studies in Molecular Medicine he was asked to contribute to a book in sociology about the effects of mentoring due to his extensive experience in this field with Aelius. His article was published by Springer in 2021.

If he won the Global Student Prize, Sagithjan would use the funds to organize new initiatives for Aelius Förderwerk, expanding its work so that it can support more children, as discrepancies within society and the challenges for families who were already struggling due to financial or social circumstances has increased dramatically during the pandemic.