By Nmachi Jidenma
Founded in 2004 by Fred Swaniker, Chris Bradford, Peter Mombaur, and Acha Leke, the African Leadership Academy is a residential secondary institution located in South Africa for outstanding 15-18 year old youths from all 54 African nations and around the world.
The school hopes to create 6,000 leaders over the next 50 years by teaching them courses and life skills in ethics, entrepreneurship and politics.
Students at the African Leadership Academy are typically selected for showing extraordinary leadership at a young age. For instance, Kenyan, Tabitha Tongoi was selected for helping lobby the government to provide designated train carriages for children traveling to school, to prevent them from being squeezed out by adults. In addition, Malawian, William Kamkwamba, 23 built a windmill at the age of 14 to provide energy for his family in Malawi and last year, appeared on the U.S. comedy program, the Daily Show after his memoir, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” became an international bestseller.
Watch William on the Daily Show
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
After they are selected, students continue to show promise at the school. So far, graduates of the academy have developed a student online banking system, a math program on DVD, and a face cream that repels mosquitoes, to combat malaria.
The school prepares many of its students for enrollment in top Universities around the world such as Ivy League schools like Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth. However, there is a catch. Though the school provides scholarships (structured as forgivable loans) to help fund students’ education at the ALA, it will only forgive these loans if students return to the continent after the age of 25 and then work at least 10 years on the continent.
Through this stipulation, the Academy hopes to stem the problem of the continent’s best young minds staying behind in the West to pursue their careers.
So far, it seems that the plan is working at least in keeping the mindsets of its graduates constantly home bound while they study in the West.
“It’s true, I could probably walk into an easy job after graduating and make lots of money immediately…but I think I’d derive a lot more satisfaction from being involved directly [working in Africa], from innovation and helping out,” says Spencer Horne, a recent graduate of the Academy who is now studying Engineering at Harvard University.
Through the academy’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, it alerts its students early on about the huge opportunities waiting to be tapped on the continent. This keeps them motivated to return home to contribute their quota.
“They’re not going to come back to Africa out of a sense of altruism,” says the Academy’s co-founder Fred Swaniker. “We need to match that passion and sense of giving back to Africa with raw opportunity so that they see it’s in their best interest in every way to come back to Africa.”
The school is currently funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation among others.
Images via the Christian Science Monitor, the African Leadership Academy
UPDATE: The author of this piece added “among others” to the last paragraph in this piece on January 28, 2011.
The author of this piece also clarified/corrected the description of the ALA funding process for its students in paragraph 5 of this piece on January 28, 2011.
All errors are regretted.