A residential secondary institution in Johannesburg is serving as a breeding ground for Africa’s brightest, most exceptional and promising young leaders.

Fred Swaniker, a Ghanaian-born serial entrepreneur, business consultant and McKinsey alumnus, co-founded the African Leadership Academy to address one of Africa’s most prevalent and daunting problems: a deficit of effective, ethical, visionary and accountable leaders.

The Africa Leadership Academy is a residential secondary institution in Johannesburg that serves as a breeding ground for Africa’s brightest, most exceptional and promising young leaders.‘Ordinary’ has no place in the Academy. Students are accepted into the institution based on five criteria: Extraordinary academic achievement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to public service and a mandatory passion for Africa. While at the institution, students are immersed in practical leadership situations, and are exposed directly to model and ethical African leaders.

Swaniker, 34, is evidently very passionate about African leadership. He is also the founder of  The African Leadership Network (ALN). According to its website, the ALN is the “Premier network of young, dynamic, and influential leaders in business, public sector, academia, the arts and civil society in Africa. The network aims to engage the collective influence of these leaders to drive prosperity for Africa’s people.”

He recently spoke to Forbes.com about the Academy and his relentless pursuit: nurturing quintessential African leaders for the future.

I salute the vision, the resolution and the audacity that birthed the African Leadership Academy. But what inspired such an ambitious project? How did it all start?

Underlying a lot of what I do is a passion for Africa and the feeling that I would like to have an impact on this continent that I love so much. The love for Africa came about at a very early age when I started moving around the continent.  I was born in Ghana, but left when I was very young and every 4 years of my life I moved to a new country in Africa: Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe. Then I went to college in the [United States] and moved to South Africa. Growing up, all these experiences on the continent influenced my thinking about the importance of leadership for Africa. I saw tremendous potential all over the continent but in many areas, that potential was being blocked by poor or unethical leadership. I realized that good leadership could be the single most powerful force for creating positive change in Africa and instead of hoping that one day these leaders would emerge, I decided to work on creating a ‘system’ for producing these ethical leaders. That was the reason for founding the Academy.

At the moment, how many students are at the academy, and what are the criteria for admission?

At any given time, we have approximately 200 students on campus. We admit about 100 students each year into our two-year program. ALA’s selection process is extremely competitive. Last year, we received approximately 2,500 first round applications from 44 African countries. These applicants came from a wide range of social, economic, cultural and educational backgrounds. The applications included short questions and essays and had to be submitted with academic transcripts. At this stage approximately 400 finalists were selected to attend Finalist Weekends held across the continent. At these events, finalists wrote entrance exams, participated in group activities and were interviewed one-on-one by friends of ALA who attended the event as observers. Finalists also completed a final round application which included essays and teacher recommendations. The hardest part of the selection process is the final stage. The Academy is able to select only ~100 students from the pool of extraordinary finalists to attend ALA.

How is ALA different from other conventional high schools across the continent? And what do you intend to achieve with the academy?

ALA is not just a two year qualification – it is a lifelong program.  We are finding young leaders from all over Africa, people that have demonstrated some of the attributes of leadership, and we are bringing them into this institution for an initial two year period. We really see ourselves as a foundation, as only the beginning of the development of the young leaders who come through the Academy. We aim to build a network around our young leaders to support them and enable them to be effective and successful as they continue on their personal leadership journeys. It is this constant networking and interaction that will give these future leaders the resources they need to create positive change.

ALA focuses on learning to lead through practice – not theory. As part of the courses at ALA, students must launch a Community Service Project, a Student-Run Business or an Original Idea for Development. These projects must be run with all the constraints that the young leaders will face in the real world and we feel this practical experience teaches them more about leadership than any amount of theory.

The main thing that sets ALA apart is that we are not a traditional ‘school’ focused on academic achievement and university entrance. ALA is a leadership institution that aims to develop the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs for Africa. Our success will be measured through the impact these young leaders have on the continent in the years to come.

How does ALA plan to develop leaders at the academy? Upcoming leaders can only be mentored by established leaders. Does ALA bring in African leaders to tutor these students?

ALA’s strategy to develop leaders is mainly focused on practice. In order to become a strong leader, you must lead. The ALA program is designed to give our young leaders as much opportunity as possible for them to be immersed in practical leadership situations. We do, of course, acknowledge that exposure to strong leaders as role models can be a vital part of becoming an ethical leader and, for that reason, we bring a number of leaders to our campus every year to run seminars and workshops for them to increase their leadership skills.

After students graduate from the Academy, does the ALA work closely with them towards gaining admissions in top ranking universities? Does the ALA mentorship experience end for the students when they leave the academy?

Throughout their two years at ALA, our University Guidance department works closely with each student to assess their goals and aims for their time after the Academy. Not every student will move on to University and that is not our goal. We focus on helping the students move on to the place that will help them the most. If that is University, our college counseling department will help with applications, exam preparation and anything else they need to give them the best chance of gaining entrance. If that is a Gap Year program or an internship, our teams around the world will work to connect them to the best possible opportunities. Of our first two classes of students, we have had ~180 graduates and ~140 of them have placed at some of the best universities around the world, but many of the others have started peace initiatives in their home countries, or gone on to participate in Gap Year programs at some of our partner institutions. At ALA, we do not believe there is one individual “picture” of success for our young leaders.

Tuition at the ALA is rather pricey at $25,000. How does the ALA subsidise the fees for students who can’t afford to pay?

ALA believes that a student’s financial situation should not be a barrier to applying and attending the Academy and as such, a student’s ability to pay tuition is not a factor in admissions decisions. The value of financial awards is determined after admissions decisions have been made. Fees charged to a given student will be based on a family’s financial means. Students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds who are accepted to the Academy will receive large financial aid awards, while students from families with financial means will be expected to make significant contributions towards their student’s fees. The remainder of the fees are funded by ALA’s donors.

How is the Academy funded? Which corporations are currently funding the operations of the ALA?

ALA is funded by partners around the world, both corporate and individual. At the moment, 80% of ALA’s budget is funded by donations from our partners, and 20% is funded by revenue strategies run through ALA. We are currently building out our strategy to increase our capacity to move away from reliance on donor funding, and towards a sustainable future but this is a process that will take time.

To learn more about the African Leadership Academy, visit its website at  www.africanleadershipacademy.org

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Source:

Forbes.com – ‘Meet The Man Who Is Grooming Africa’s Next Generation Of Leaders’  by Mfonobong Nsehe, Contributor.

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