string(9) "cambridge"

In conversation with May Week Alternative

Getting to know the people changing the way we give this May Week


May Week Alternative (MWA) aims to change the way we donate to charity and as Prashanti Sen, the VP of fundraising, put it, “doing good and feeling good does not have to be separate.” MWA is a way of “celebrating the fact that every one of us can do that, especially as students.”

As we get into the swing of Lent Term, the May Week Alternative launch party is a date to put into your diaries: the fourth of February from 7 – 9:30 pm at St John’s College.

How does MWA work?

MWA is a way of giving to charity during May Week, instead of just funnelling your money towards a May Ball. You’re encouraged to donate an amount that feels significant to you – the suggested donation of £150 (the average price of a college ball) is price-matched by donors, with donations going towards the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). They then hold a summer party where you can celebrate with others who have also donated. The summer party this year is mainly funded by college sponsorships, with previous years receiving corporate donations from companies such as Gearset.

All college donations are generated by a sponsorship team that liaises with colleges, and their associated student reps, to find out which students are getting involved and offer support.

Image credits: Gemma Penson

What encouraged members of this year’s MWA to get involved?

Chloe Shieh, the president of MWA, first discovered the organisation as a fresher studying remotely in Hong Kong. Since then, she has been involved as a student representative and as the VP of publicity. She says it has been exciting to be involved and getting to work with a “good bunch of people doing good stuff.”

Keely Price, the VP of publicity, missed out on the organisation in her first year due to covid, but joined in second year, finding a “community of friendly faces,” and has continued to be involved in her final year.

Prashanti, similar to Chloe, found out about the organisation in her first year and was enticed by the eye-catching colours of the logo. She was then motivated to learn about the giving principles of MWA and the way they were changing perspectives on donating.

Prashanti, similar to Chloe, found out about the organisation in her first year and was enticed by the eye-catching colours of the logo. She was then motivated to learn about the giving principles of MWA and the way they were changing perspectives on donating.

AMF provide long-lasting insecticide-treated (LLIN) nets to combat malaria, and GiveWell,  a non-profit charity assessment organisation, has concluded that “distributing LLINs reduces child mortality and malaria cases”, driving home the importance of this charity.

Keely explains that “part of MWA’s ethos is effective altruism”, which is facilitated by AMF. When you sign up to donate, you also have the option of donating to other charities of your choice. However, the price-match funding will only be with AMF.

Chloe also speaks about how AMF allows donors to see exactly where their money goes. Every donor receives an email detailing how many mosquito nets their money will be funding, and where these nets will be going – down to the exact village. This is “very fulfilling to see” and AMF’s transparency only strengthens the relationship between the act of donating and the feeling of seeing your money going towards a worthwhile cause.

Changing the way we look at donating

Prashanti highlights how being part of MWA changes your perspective on giving, as the experience of meeting a community of people who have also donated encourages you to keep donating throughout your life. Keely makes it clear that when it comes to May Balls “it is not one or the other, it’s both.” Although the name itself may sound “misleading,” as Chloe points out, MWA isn’t anti-may ball and this year is even partnering with Clare, Sidney Sussex and Murray Edwards, who will all be promoting MWA.

The launch party will be happening this Saturday, and with the involvement of Heavenly desserts and Taco Bell, it is sure to be a good night!

Featured image credits: Saranka Maheswaran