Defining the future: African Leadership Academy

| March 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Faith Abiodun

It all started with a simple proposition in the summer of 2003: “What if there was an institution solely dedicated to developing the next generation of African leaders?”

These days it is a commonplace thought, but 10 years ago, there was palpable frustration across the continent courtesy of the failure of leadership at all levels of African society, and no one seemed to be doing anything about it. Ghanaian Fred Swaniker and a handful of friends resolved to dedicate their lives to ensuring that the story of Africa did not remain one of failure, disappointment and endless need.

The vision that was conceived and developed over succeeding months was to develop 6 000 leaders for Africa over the course of 50 years. On paper, the idea was very romantic, but it would take more than four years for the gates of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) to swing open in Honeydew, Johannesburg, to welcome the first cohort of 100 young African leaders drawn from across the continent for an innovative experience in leadership development. Fast-forward six years, and more than 15 000 applications later, another group of 100 young leaders arrived on 3 September 2013 to join about 500 peers who have stepped into the transformative space that is the ALA.

Creating credible leadership across the continent

The ALA was established to satisfy the yearnings of over one billion Africans for credible leadership on the continent – not just in politics and governance, but in every sphere of human endeavour: education, business, arts, sciences, humanities and diplomacy. The founders of the institution knew that if their vision of a peaceful and prosperous continent was to be achieved before the year 2060, an entire generation of transformative leaders must be developed for the continent, and wishful thinking was not going to make that happen.

There needed to be a definite strategy for identifying young people with potential, providing them with quality instruction in entrepreneurial leadership, instilling in them an undying passion for Africa, teaching them to embody a set of core values, exposing them to life-changing opportunities and connecting them with other leaders with whom they will change the continent. Over the course of four years, the small founding ALA team engaged in extended consultations with international education experts, developing a unique curriculum, testing programme modules through summer camps, combing the continent for young talent, engaging in fundraising, creating a network of supporters and gaining accreditation.

The true measure of all the years of hard work was to be seen in August 2007, when the announcement of applications for the inaugural class was made. The academy was looking for young Africans aged 16-19 years who possessed leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to service, academic achievement and passion for Africa. It was as though someone had broken the head off a throbbing pipe. Within six months, 1 700 applications had been received from 36 African countries, and only 106 of those would be admitted – 53 boys and 53 girls representing 29 countries.

Passionate leaders everywhere

Included in the inaugural class at ALA were inventors like William Kamkwamba, who built three windmills to provide electricity and water in his rural village of Masitala in Malawi after dropping out of school; education enthusiasts like Paul Lorem, who was orphaned in the Sudanese civil war and learned to read and write for the first time in refugee camps in northern Kenya; and entrepreneurs like Jihad Hajjouji, who founded the Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge and National Entrepreneurship Camp in Morocco, before winning the US$10 000 Kathryn Davis Prize for Peace.1

Every single one of the young leaders who came to ALA in 2008 arrived with a unique story, but they were all unified in a quest to help transform their continent. Now in its sixth year of operation, the ALA’s mission remains the same: “To educate and develop outstanding students into principled, ethical leaders for Africa.”

Using the BUILD model The ALA’s leadership model can be distilled into three essential components: seeking young Africans with the potential for leadership, embedding them in the practice of leadership through applied learning, and affording them access to networks of opportunities and resources that further enable their growth, learning and impact. At the ALA, students study using the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) curriculum, but the core of the ALA experience is derived from the uniquely designed two-year Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL) programme. In the EL curriculum, students are introduced to the BUILD model – the ALA’s internally designed approach to developing entrepreneurial leaders who identify the root causes of challenges in their societies and develop innovations to meet those challenges.

Students are encouraged to BELIEVE – dream big and take calculated risks with curiosity and determination; UNDERSTAND – seek to understand the individuals and systems in which they operate before designing solutions; INVENT – engage in iterative human-centred creative processes of identifying and anticipating needs and rapidly inventing and testing possible solutions; LISTEN – seek and actively listen to feedback from the Cambridge International Examinations over the last three years; eight of the top 10 prizes won at the 2012 Southern
African Science Olympiad; more than 40 student-run enterprises launched since inception; over US$30 million awarded in scholarships for ALA graduates to attend universities across the world, including every Ivy League university in the United States;2 more than 150 internships served by ALA young leaders at global firms like Google, Coca-Cola, IBM, McKinsey & Co, ExxonMobil, General Electric and Standard Bank; and speaking opportunities at the World Economic Forum, G8 Summit, Clinton Global Initiative, TED, Economist Summit on Africa, Mo Ibrahim
Conference and Aspen Ideas Festival, among others, the ALA is indeed developing the next generation of African leaders.3

Defining the future As we look to the future, institutions like the ALA help to define what is possible. The first set of young leaders within the ALA network are poised to graduate from universities across the world in summer 2014, and begin to return to effect positive change in their respective communities across Africa.

The Global Scholars Programme (GSP) annually attracts more than 100 young leaders from across the world for a three-week entrepreneurial leadership summer camp in Johannesburg; ALA young leaders routinely organise entrepreneurship projects in their respective countries like the Teen Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, ‘Gindi’ in Dakar and National Entrepreneurship Camp in Rabat.4 The ALA’s Social Innovation Camps also attract hundreds of young South Africans for a one-week immersion in the EL curriculum, and are now set to be organised across the continent.

The ripple effects of the ALA’s programmes are already being felt across Africa, with several young people developing their own projects and using the ALA model to create positive change around the continent. At this rate, there is no doubt that the ALA will exceed its mission of creating 6 000 leaders for Africa in 50 years. What the ALA does is to define the future and create endless possibilities for the next generation of African leaders. 

Faith Abiodun is communications associate at the African Leadership Academy.

References:
1. See http://www.davisprojectsforpeace.org/.
2. The Ivy League is a collegiate athletic conference composed of sports teams from eight private institutions of higher education in the north-eastern United States of America. The conference name is also commonly used to refer to those eight universities as a group. The eight institutions are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. The term Ivy League also has connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions and social elitism. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_League.)
3. See www.google.com; www.cocacola.com; www.ibm.com; www.mckinsey.com;
http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/; http://www.ge.com/za/;
http://www.standardbank.co.za/portal/site/standardbank;
http://www.weforum.org/; http://www.g8.co.uk/;
http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/; http://www.ted.com/;
http://www.economistinsights.com/search/node/event%20africa%20summit%202013%206654; http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/;
http://www.aspenideas.org/.
4. See http://teenentrepreneurshipsummit.wordpress.com/;
http://www.africanleadershipacademy.org/search/node/dakar;
http://mcse.middlebury.edu/programs/fridayspeakers/videoarchives/
leadership/nationalentrepreneurialcamp/.

 

Category: Autumn 2014

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