How to be successful at funding bids

Nkasimulo Science was born from a personal disappointment. Founder Bathabile Mpofu was a high-achieving student with her eye on a career in medicine. Like many South Africans, she went to a school with low quality science resources and nothing in the way of labs or equipment. The lack of experience with experiments meant she couldn’t make it into med school herself – so she decided to ensure that students behind her wouldn’t have to go through the same thing.

She makes portable science kits for schools which allow students to interact with chemicals and experiments that form the basis of scientific knowledge. “It’s a real problem and the scale is so big that it affects the entire country,” she says. “It’s not just access to the kits, it’s getting learners to interact with science and that lasts a long time – right up to the adults who’ll develop new products and services.”

Mpofu recently won a bid for R138,000 ($10,300) from the government Department of Science and Technology, for National Science Week which launches today. They have funded the distribution of kits in ten South African schools.

The wins means more than just personal fulfilment. “It means that some kids who wouldn’t have had access to lab facilities now have access. It means living my life, doing what I was put on this earth for. That brings a kind of joy: when I go to sleep at night, I sleep peacefully.”

Here are her top tips for success.

Make your solution really clear

I go into specifics and use stats to define the problem. I show exactly how we’re addressing it … this is how it’s going to work, and this is how we’ll implement it. It should make sense to the person reading the proposal: you’re helping them understand how this thing is going to work. Get someone to proof-read it, too.

Give people options

The concern is that if you put one figure down they may think it’s too much and they’ll discard your application. But with options, it opens their mind to them thinking they can negotiate. The answer you don’t want is “no”. You want them to at least consider. So give them options: if you spend X, it will help 100 kids. If you spend Y we can support 25 schools.

Understand the needs of the organisation

Write your application or bid so you show how you’re helping them reach their goals. Align with that. One organisation said they wanted to promote maths and science in schools but I realised they were only dealing with maths – and that I could help them addresss something that wasn’t being addressed.

Be persistent

I was presenting at an event. This lady came and said what I was doing was fantastic and that her organisation would like to assist. I took her details, phoned her. People don’t respond to emails. I called her so many times. I kept chasing her for three, four months and eventually they funded me. You can’t give up unless they say no directly – keep pressing. It is disheartening when people don’t reply but if they haven’t said no it means there’s still the chance of a yes.

Look for opportunities

Opportunities don’t come looking for you. You have to be reading, googling, looking for them. Do it as much as possible. If there’s a bid happening, be there. If there’s info circulating, read it. I have alerts, I follow the right people, I’m always googling for opportunities. With National Science Week I knew that every year they call out for applications around May so on May 1st, I was on their website looking to see if they were accepting applications. The other thing I’d say is that if your bid isn’t successful, find out why. I applied last year for the SAB Foundation and didn’t get anywhere. I asked why and it was because my idea wasn’t developed enough. This year it was, so I applied again and I’ve been shortlisted. If I hadn’t known why it didn’t work last year I wouldn’t have applied again.

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We help young people become scientists by making science tools accessible for practical learning.

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