Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Learning more about the African Leadership Academy at #SAF2011

While at the Stanford Africa Forum two weekends ago, I asked a question during the education panel. The recipients were to be Chris Bradford, the COO of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) and Zimbabwe's Lennon Chimbumu Adams, one of the first graduates from the ALA. The ALA is a residential secondary institution located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, a two-year program that prepares students for university. You can learn all about ALA on its wikipedia page. I was thinking about a recent new story I heard about Ghana's Ashesi University, where it was reported that out of 90 total graduates last May, 14 percent went on to graduate school abroad. Still, a majority of Ashesi’s graduates stays in Ghana. On the Ashesi website, it also stresses the latter point, saying 95% choose to stay in Africa. Hence, I wanted to know what the total number of graduates from ALA's first ever class, how many graduates were staying in Africa, what universities were they going to or what they were doing.

I had been tweeting the forum but once Lennon and Chris started answering, I wasn't going to be able to type fast enough to tweet the responses. I was particularly interested in this, that's why I asked the question in the first place. Lennon stated: "His ALA classmates started a conference on educating people about entrepreneurship, borrowing an ALA curriculum. Tried googling for some information but couldn't find any. Will update later. Lennon also mentioned that there have been several conferences organized by various ALA students. He stated that some of his mates went to the University of Cape Town (UCT), but most came to the USA for college because that's where the financing is. "There's a better chance of getting high level education".

Chris talked about the graduating class in detail. He mentioned that there were 86 graduates who had come from all over Africa and beyond. He mentioned that community service is a graduation requirement. Basically, if you don't start something, you ain't graduating. Awesome idea. African schools, follow suit. Chris then mentioned that getting a full scholarship to Stanford is cheaper than going to Makerere University in Uganda. Best believe that. I know this from experience. A full-ride to a reputable US college is basically free education. Even if you attend Tech, you might end up having to pay more out of pocket. It's debatable but this case can be argued. There's a little catch about ALA though. Scholarship money given to students is a forgiveable loan. Chris stressed that the ALA was a global institution focused on the African continent. The aim is for 50% to stay in Africa and connect with other young leaders in Africa.

65 out of the 86 graduates came to the US for college. Lennon Chimbumu Adams and Nina Papachristou came to Stanford, and many others were accepted into Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, MIT, Yale University, amongst others. I'm sure you know of the famous William Kamkwamba, the Malawian boy who harnessed the wind. I once asked Fred Swaniker, the ALA founder, where William was going to go for college and if he wasn't coming to Stanford. He told me, William went to Dartmouth and they laid the red carpet for him. So he ended up going to Dartmouth. I blogged about William once, check it out.

Chris mentioned that 5 students from South Africa were accepted into Yale. 4 of them were from ALA, one was an orphan and one was Nigerian. I'm not sure why he needed to mention one was a Nigerian, but your guess is as good as mine. :-) ALA is already the best high school in South Africa. :-) I don't know what it is about South Africans, but during my time schooling in the US, I have realised South Africans hardly ever attend college in the US. So it's no surprise, that 4 out of 5 Mzansi-high schooled students in Yale's class of 2014 are from ALA, an academy whose students are from all over the continent. My South African friend once told me South Africans do not like to travel, they love being in South Africa. Local is lekker, eh?

I'm not sure how many of the 21 students that are left went to university in Europe, etc and how many stayed in Africa. Chris mentioned one of ALA's goals is to create awesome scholarship opportunities in South Africa. We do know some of them went to the University of Cape Town. But this is where this got really interesting. Chris started talking about the 6 ALA graduates who are not or did not enrol in university. What are they doing? Surely, they would have attended Ghana's Ashesi University, Kenya's Strathmore University, Egypt's American University of Cairo, and South Africa's Witwatersrand if they wanted. Let's find out what they are doing.

Chris spoke about three of them. Julius Shirima from Tanzania started an office in Tanzania and adorns it with his ALA graduation certificate. He has taken a year off and founded "Darecha" which is an entrepreneurship contest for students, and now does consulting work for entrepreneurs in Dar Es Salaam. "Twende!". Eddy Oketch, a graduate from Kenya, now runs the WIFI peace initiative in Nairobi, Kenya. It works with youth from across the country to bridge tribal rifts. "Juu!" Now, this guy is the most impressive - Joseph Munyambanza. Joseph works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He runs a school in his village inspiring older students to teach younger ones and is involved in fundraising to build education facilities. He's also involved in a program which supports abused women and is working to increase publicity around abuse and encourage women to speak out. The village is partly a refugee cam and he provides resources to them, delivering social services. "On y vas!" The differentiation here is that, they are the real doers.

I don't know what the other 3 are doing and I didn't bother to ask Chris Bradford because this is good enough to report. The ALA is doing an excellent job and is truly building and grooming leaders for Africa. We need more schools like this one, following the tenets on which the ALA is built - "vDeveloping the next generation of African leaders". Learn more about the ALA here and support their efforts. To everyone involved in the ALA, I say "More vim!".
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