The virtuous cycle: the power of scholarships

Cato Stonex's speech at the 2015 Donors and Scholars Postgraduate reception Cato Stonex's speech at the 2015 Donors and Scholars Postgraduate reception
Watch Cato Stonex's speech at the 2015 Donors and Scholars Postgraduate reception

Each year the School hosts its annual Donors & Scholars event to celebrate the role scholarships play in ensuring students are able to accept their offer of a place at LSE. This year we spoke with Cato Stonex (BSc 1986 International Relations), donor of the Stonex PhD Scholarship and Stonex Undergraduate Scholarship for Eastern EU Students, and Simon Toner, a PhD scholar of his in the Department of International History, about the value of this form of giving. 

Events like Donors & Scholars celebrate and underline our desire to widen participation to all those talented and committed enough to study at LSE. Why is that important for the School?

Cato Stonex: 
You don’t want a place like LSE to turn into a finishing school for children of the better off. There are plenty of other places that can do that. The School must retain its integrity, and needs to continue to attract the best students and the best teachers. LSE does not have the advantage of the big American schools of having large endowment funds to offer places to people, so we have to use philanthropic scholarships as an alternative way of funding.

Simon Toner:
If LSE has to turn down very bright people with lots of potential because they haven’t been able to show where the funds are coming from, then that’s LSE’s loss. For me, had I not received this scholarship, I would have run out of funds at the end of my first year, and I don’t see what my alternative would have been to dropping out. I’m sure there are lots of people in a similar situation so it’s enormously beneficial and important, both to students and to the School.

And for scholars, what are the main advantages to them of having access to an LSE education? 

It’s coming to a place where, whatever your subject, you are surrounded by people from all over the world with very different cultural backgrounds and perspectives. I remember studying the Middle East and we had in our class a communist Iraqi Jew – he had a very different outlook which I wouldn’t have heard had I gone to a more parochial place. You spend your time talking to people from all over the world and it forces you to think globally. In my line of work I invest other people’s money, and having a global perspective and realising that that there are many ways of doing things and many ways that societies work is tremendously helpful. If I can help other people participate in that, then that’s got to be a good thing.

It is largely the same for me. I have friends from across the globe, and with the international focus of our work, it’s a great help. One might be working on Latin America, another on Africa, and we can have these comparative discussions. You won’t necessarily have that at every university so it’s been fantastic for me. Not only that, but the sense of community is huge – there’s a really strong support network here. 

Cato, why did you personally decide to support scholarships and how might you encourage others to do likewise?

You generally decide to do these things when you’re able, but you also need people out there asking you – finding you and reminding you that this is a good cause. Another big incentive is meeting students and seeing how cheerful they are when they can fully concentrate on their studies. Those I’ve supported tend to grab the opportunity with both hands as it’s given to them. They don’t sit around and waste their time, they rally to the challenge and they’ve all done exceptionally well – more than half the undergraduates I’ve supported have got firsts which is quite extraordinary. I’m in admiration of their dedication and energy, and supporting that is not a hard ask or a difficult thing to agree to. I would encourage others because simply it’s the right thing to do.

Simon, do you think the support you have received would encourage you to give in a similar way in the future, should you be able?

Yes, definitely. I am eternally grateful for this scholarship – although perhaps not as much as my parents! My plan is to go into academia so maybe I won’t be in a position to give huge amounts of money, but this has encouraged me to get involved in other ways, such as in alumni relations and encouraging others to donate through speaking about my experiences.

And you can come back to speak on your subject. LSE’s continuous programme of events benefits hugely from having links to all sorts of people across the world. People can contribute in different ways; I got lucky financially so I can pass it on in that sense. But it’s not just money – in fact that’s often the least of it. I’ve always said to those I’ve been able to support that if they are fortunate in whatever way then they can contribute, whether it’s by coming back and talking, or recruiting LSE students as interns, or whatever else. That strengthens the School and its ability to compete with other world class institutions. It is a bit like rolling a snowball down a hill – I’ve been able to help 18 people and they in turn might be prompted to do various things. I think Mr Einstein once said compounding is one of the most powerful forces in nature – if we can get compounding going through donations or through alumni, then that will be a very powerful help to LSE. My small contribution is a way of starting the compounding off.