Africa rising

Enticing the next generation of African leaders.

Writer Ian Armitage

I believe the children are our future... Teach them well and let them lead the way. Those are famous lyrics from the late Whitney Houston. They will ring true by the time you reach the end of this piece.

Africa is home to 350 million young people and the numbers are growing rapidly.

It could be the continent's big weakness.

Or it could be its biggest asset.

How can Africa make the most of it? Enter people like Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO, African Leadership Academy.

Mr Swaniker is a revolutionary, an inspiration, and, at a recent conference, he talked about leadership in Africa and asked the question: what does the new generation of African leaders look like? Who are they? Where are they? And who is harvesting their talent?

It made everybody stop, pause and think.

Swaniker's African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a prestigious school in Honeydew, Johannesburg, which aims to create the continent's leaders of tomorrow and admitted its first students in 2008.

He is a Ghanaian-born entrepreneur who hopes to instil a new generation with the skills to navigate Africa towards prosperity in future years.

"We get young people from all across the continent, bring them here initially for two years [and] give them this hands-on leadership practice," Swaniker told CNN's African Voices in an interview in 2011. "I believe that you don't learn leadership through theory, you learn leadership by leading and so that's what we're trying to replicate here at the academy."

ALA tasks students with starting their own businesses and working closely with the local communities situated around the school. They are also taught about the roles of CEOs and CFOs as well as other senior positions within business, politics and industry.

ALA has about 550 young leaders in its network and its scholars have won bursaries/scholarships to study at leading global universities such as London School of Economics in the UK, Harvard, Stanford and Duke in the U.S. and the University of Toronto in Canada.

Its aim is to create 6,000 new leaders for Africa.

"To create lasting change in Africa, it is necessary to make investments that treat the cause, and not just the symptoms, of under-development in Africa," ALA's website says. "We believe an undersupply of leadership across all sectors is the root cause of many of Africa's problems. Africa needs strong leaders throughout society, in the spheres of politics, business, healthcare, education, the environment, and beyond, to create positive change and generate growth and prosperity.

"Africa needs entrepreneurial leaders across all sectors who will throw off the constraints of existing institutions to change the paradigm and create value on the continent," it adds. "Most entrepreneurs in Africa today are "subsistence" entrepreneurs, with small businesses and meagre incomes that allow them to support only their families. To break the cycle of poverty and generate significant growth, however, Africa needs large-scale entrepreneurs."

According to recent reports, GE Africa, in partnership with ALA, has announced a $5 million partnership aimed at identifying, developing and connecting the next generation of African leaders.

GE said it was part of its multi-sector local content development initiative for Africa.

"This is an investment in a future generation of African leaders and in skills development for this continent," Jay Ireland, president/CEO for GE Africa, said, in a reported press release. "These are bright young people who will have the opportunity to acquire the skills and academic qualifications to pursue long-term careers at General Electric."

Frank Aswani, ALA vice president and director of strategic relations, welcomed the partnership, adding: "We thank GE for their commitment to Africa's prosperity and for investing in Africa's biggest asset; its youth. This will enable us to expand our operations, select and admit additional students, and support their lifelong growth and development. In so doing, we shall be fulfilling our mission of transforming Africa by identifying, developing and connecting the next generation of African leaders."

In September ALA officially welcomed a new batch of 98 young leaders into the class of 2013.

The class composed of 52 female and 46 male young leaders, drawn from 27 African countries, including ALA's first ever students from Gabon and Swaziland.

Members of the Class of 2013 also include three Gap Year and Term Abroad students from the U.S.

"The Class of 2013 arrives at African Leadership Academy with a great track-record of leadership, enterprise development and community service," the ALA said in a statement.

Africa's future, it seems, is in good hands. In June, while speaking at the Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall in Johannesburg, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the need for entrepreneurs like Swaniker to be empowered to do more (if that isn't a seal of approval I don't know what is).

"We want to empower entrepreneurs like Fred Swaniker," Obama said. "Where's Fred? He's from Ghana. (Applause.) Where is he? There he is. … Fred helped to start a biotech company, and now uses his expertise to help other young Africans develop their leadership skills so that they can come back and put those skills to use serving their communities, starting businesses, creating jobs. So thank you, Fred, for the great work you're doing."

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Image: © ALA

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