Un­leash Africa’s tal­ent: Imag­in­ing new ap­proaches to shape the skills of the fu­ture

Business a.m. - - SPECIAL FEATURES - Fred Swaniker, founder, African Lead­er­ship Univer­sity

FRED SWANIKER IS THE FOUNDER of sev­eral in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tional and lead­er­ship in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the African Lead­er­ship Univer­sity (ALU), whose cam­puses in Rwanda and Mau­ri­tius are based on a new model of higher ed­u­ca­tion. ALU stu­dents man­age their own ed­u­ca­tion, us­ing tech­nol­ogy, peer-to-peer learn­ing with class­mates, and four-month work-ex­pe­ri­ence in­tern­ships with part­ner com­pa­nies. That en­ables ALU to pro­vide a world-class ed­u­ca­tion at a frac­tion of the cost of tra­di­tional uni­ver­si­ties.

Fred Swaniker: I spend my life to­day look­ing for and de­vel­op­ing Africa’s fu­ture tal­ent. What I can tell you is that there’s an abun­dant source of tal­ent in Africa: it has the youngest pop­u­la­tion in the world, with an av­er­age age of 19.5, com­pared to 46 or 47 in Ger­many and Ja­pan. And this tal­ent is driven, hun­gry, and will­ing to learn—all they need is an op­por­tu­nity. When we give them that op­por­tu­nity, even though they may have come with less prepa­ra­tion than you might find in other parts of the world, they catch up fast. We’re able to get peo­ple who come from very dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds with very weak foun­da­tions to per­form at world-class lev­els within two years. Com­pa­nies that suc­ceed in Africa need to look be­yond the rough edges that they might see in a young African that they in­ter­view—some­one who hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily been to a fancy univer­sity and doesn’t speak English the way they might ex­pect. They need to re­ally in­vest in that tal­ent; that in­vest­ment will reap sig­nif­i­cant re­wards for them as they grow. You also have to take a strate­gic role in de­vel­op­ing your

own tal­ent—to look at tal­ent de­vel­op­ment as part of your value chain, not as some­thing that is out­sourced to the na­tional univer­sity sys­tem. And to con­vert Africa’s raw tal­ent, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to put peo­ple through a full fouryear de­gree. A three-month or nine-month train­ing pro­gram could be enough to un­lock the skills that com­pa­nies need. Com­pare Africa to In­dia. For years, com­pa­nies in In­dia used to com­plain, “The uni­ver­si­ties are not pro­duc­ing the peo­ple we need.” So com­pa­nies like In­fosys cre­ated their own cor­po­rate academies, and they started train­ing and de­vel­op­ing their own peo­ple.

Tech­nol­ogy is a game changer in tal­ent de­vel­op­ment. Uni­ver­si­ties, for ex­am­ple, were in­vented in a world where in­for­ma­tion was scarce, but to­day we live in a world where knowl­edge is ubiq­ui­tous. To­day’s tech­nol­ogy en­ables an African sit­ting in Kenya to get ac­cess to world-class cur­ric­ula and at­tend classes vir­tu­ally from Har­vard Busi­ness School, from Cam­bridge, from MIT. That’s why we’ve been able to leapfrog and build the uni­ver­si­ties of the fu­ture in Africa, driv­ing sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in hu­man-cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ment with much less cap­i­tal than would have been needed be­fore.

Tal­ent de­vel­op­ment is a crit­i­cal part of the so­cial mis­sion of busi­ness in Africa. Be­cause when you’re in Africa, you’re not just do­ing busi­ness, you’re touch­ing lives, you’re cre­at­ing mean­ing for your em­ploy­ees, you’re trans­form­ing so­ci­eties, and you’re re­ally cre­at­ing his­tory.

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