Six students represented the Academy at the World Economic Conference held in Cape Town from the 10th — 12th of June 2009. Aissatou Diagne (Senegal), Jubilate Lema (Tanzania), Olivia Iloetonma (Nigeria), Edward Ndopu (South Africa), Nkhululeko Zigizendoda Yeni (South Africa) and Dagbedji Fagnisse (Ivory Coast) took part in the conference. Learning, discussing, absorbing, contributing and networking were the order of the day for our future global leaders. Students met and interacted with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Jacob Zuma, President Paul Kagame, GraÃ§a Machel-Mandela, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — Managing Director of the World Bank, Lawrence Kego Masha – Minister of Home Affairs of Tanzania and Microsoft Africa Chairman Cheick Diarra.
Eddy Ndopu highlighted the need to represent young people with disabilities in a conversation with the WEF founder, Klaus Schwab. Schwab was visibly surprised by the data and reality of their under-representation of young people with disabilities both at the forum and in the planned Global Redesign Project. As a result, Eddy secured a commitment from Schwab to put disability onto the agenda of both conferences.
Not to be outdone, Dagbedji Fagnisse posed a challenging question to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a session on the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Dagbedji, from Cote d’Ivoire, has a keen interest in agriculture and did not pass up the chance to take part in the discussion and find out whether the green revolution that is being touted for Africa is in fact an eco-friendly revolution: a challenging question and an issue that we will all have to monitor as this initiative rolls out.
Our future leaders seized every opportunity to engage with their fellow delegates. During one of the breaks, Aissatou saw Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra (Chairman of Microsoft Africa) and struck up a conversation with him. Ziggy Yeni also flexed his networking muscles and invited one of the delegates to sit down with the group. What followed was a riveting debate on several topics that had been raised throughout the course of the day.
Olivia Iloetonma noted that one of the many benefits of attending the conference was the opportunity to interact with politicians, ministers, business leaders and other influential people and through this engagement, understand that most of them are down-to earth and are genuinely concerned with making a positive change. The chance to meet with leading Nigerians struck a particular nerve with her, as she found them to be quite approachable and willing to engage with her on topical issues.
During his time at WEF, Jubilate noted that he benefited most from the combination of the plenary sessions and the open discussions and was pleased to find out that this was something that they had already been practicing in class!. The willingness of the panellists and moderators to ask for and engage with public opinion was a refreshing surprise for him, as was the realisation that despite popular opinion, not all politicians are bad!
Dagbedji’s greatest realization from this trip is that “our biggest mistake as Africans has been our fear of failure. Our entrepreneurial spirit is our surest key to development.” At the Academy, we are committed to equipping our students with the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to unleash, develop and sustain their entrepreneurial spirit. Their confidence, maturity, depth of engagement and enthusiasm for the development of the continent were demonstrated at this conference and we are proud and pleased to know that we seem to be on the right track!