Anna Gross had no plans to attend Oxford University. But a chance meeting with a fellow student convinced her that she should follow her dream of studying history. “I told her that I was going to study law, which was the safe choice,” says Gross. “But she heard me talk about history and could clearly see that was where my passion was.” Gross is certain that the advice changed her life.
Fast forward to Oxford, when Gross was talking with other international students. They all had one thing in common: a mentor who had pushed them to pursue their dreams. That conversation led to the creation of the London-based Project Access, a nonprofit startup that works to level the playing field of university admissions, with a particular focus on top-tier schools. The way they accomplish this goal is matching students with mentors in their area of interest. Right now, Project Access has more than 2,000 of these volunteers encouraging students to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
At first, the focus was other international students—Gross says friends from Singapore, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and other countries approached them for help—but it eventually changed to students from underprivileged families. “Existing programs don’t have the capacity to get everyone the help they need,” she says. “That’s where we come in.”
The program has been extraordinarily successful, racking up a $72,000 prize at this year’s London Creator Awards. This year it’s expanding to 57,000 schools in the U.S., giving it the potential to touch the lives of 15 million young people. The member at London’s WeWork Aldgate Tower says that along with three full-time staff members, Project Access is assisted by a team of 130 volunteers. That, she says, is the power behind the organization. “We’re really overwhelmed by the enthusiasm,” she says. “It keeps us moving forward.”