Bold: Plan for 3 million new African leaders launches, and how it could change the continent as we know it

Some 25 campuses spread out across the continent will hold 10,000 students in a 50-year ambitious effort to redefine leadership on the continent.

Renowned social entrepreneur Fred Swaniker at a past TED talk. (Photo/TED.COM).

Renowned social entrepreneur Fred Swaniker at a past TED talk. (Photo/TED.COM).

PAMPLEMOUSSES, MAURITIUS. HOW do you solve an old problem in a new way? By being audacious, as a new pan-African initiative shows. Fred Swaniker is a regular in African leadership circles, but the Ghanaian-born social entrepreneur best known for his African Leadership Academy is going even further, with a tertiary version.

The African Leadership University, launched here Wednesday, aims at producing three million new African leaders over the next five decades, with at its peak 10,000 students sprawled in each of 25 campuses planned across the continent.

The learning approach is different: students essentially design their own curriculum by identifying their strengths, which are then honed by application in an environment that simulates the real world—before they are immersed in actual work environments through internships.

Courses offered include “Data and Decisions”, “Real World Projects” and “Entrepreneurial Leadership”.

The university hopes this four-stage method solves one big problem of higher education in Africa: graduates who are a poor fit for the market, or with little inclination to become entrepreneurs and create jobs instead.

The students will also be nurtured towards developing leadership skills from critical thinking to managing complex tasks and teams—abilities leading African figures say are necessary for the continent to create the internal space needed for its own development.

“ALU is an audacious initiative that uses innovation to create a fresh solution to an old problem—creating high calibre leaders who will drive Africa’s development and inspire generations to come,” Graca Machel, who will be the university’s first chancellor, said.

“As an educationist, I am thrilled to be part of this ground-breaking initiative,” the former South African First Lady, and who was independent Mozambique’s first education minister, in addition to a teaching stint in Tanzania while in exile, said. 

Long journey

Close to 200 students drawn from more than 30 African countries are already making their way through the inaugural class located in its flagship Mauritius campus. Early this year Rwanda gave the green light for the Kigali campus, as Swaniker’s effort starts to fan out across the region.

Four regional hubs are also planned, while big backers on board including beverages giant Coca Cola, technology transnational IBM and South African consumer goods major Tiger Brands.

“ALU…gives you the knowledge and skills needed…to go back to your country and teach people to make your country better,” Lawrenda Adzomani, a student from Ghana says. 

But the journey towards re-inventing university-level education in Africa will be a long one, informing the new approach, its much-travelled founder says.

 “Resource constraints in Africa and the imperative to develop transformation leadership across the continent today forces on us an opportunity to re-imagine the traditional university model,” said Swaniker.

“We want to deliver high-quality leadership education at scale, and we want to do it outstandingly.”

The institution has partnered with the Glasgow Caledonian University, which will award its first degrees.

Post-graduate courses are also being rolled out, with an MBA that curates content from among others Harvard Business School, Wharton and McKinsey Academy on offer.

Former African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka chairs its Global Advisory Council.

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