Designing Africa’s Future Leaders: Dave Tait Unpacks ALA’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Course

October 29th, 2018

Entrepreneurial Leadership packs a punch. The multi-syllabic phrase can cause one’s tongue to twist and curl, but the combined impact of those two powerful words is not to be trifled with. But what exactly is Entrepreneurial Leadership? And how – and why – does the Academy manage to fuse two largely independent components into a unique and distinctive two-year long course of study?

“Entrepreneurship is fundamental to growth,” notes Dave Tait, head of ALA’s Entrepreneurial Learning department. “Over the next 40 years, in 2058 – which is our timeline to achieve our mission – Africa’s population will reach 2.48bn. That’s when we’ll have 6 000 influencers who’ll have the ability to understand entrepreneurs, and be entrepreneurs, as they’re equipped with a problem-solving toolkit. They’ll see challenges as opportunities, be creative, innovative, problem solvers with the ability to work with others to do that, and to communicate ideas.”

It’s for this reason that Entrepreneurial Learning forms the core of the course, with the Leadership component being largely practise-based. “The content itself is not that heavy,” explains Dave. “We are building a lot of project-based learning into the curriculum, and students work on a series of projects over two years.” The emphasis here, adds Dave, is on self-leadership: “Obviously, if students attain positions of power, they will need leadership skills.”

While leadership is easily defined, and the traits and characteristics are largely understood, entrepreneurship, for many, still remains a misunderstood concept – see, for instance, Year 1s’ responses to their first design challenge: pitching prototypes on how to be more entrepreneurial.

Hence ALA’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and the EL course’s various iterations over the past decade: “We iterate and experiment every year; everybody who’s been through EL has designed the curriculum,” notes Dave. “EL is continuously iterating, and has gone through shift in module length this year, with different content added,” he adds.

EL, he notes, sets the foundation for ALA’s Student Enterprises Program, which encourages entrepreneurial innovations on campus and beyond. The big changes to this year’s Year 1 modules have been designed to improve the SE program.

dave tait

“The SE program has a longer timeline, and longer engagement, with a series of modules over the two years, whereas the EL foundation is based on two design challenges: Purpose and Traits. “These have been put on the front end, so the quality of Student Enterprises will improve.” In the first challenge, Purpose, students are tasked with figuring out their purpose. “This design challenge is based on the results of a Theory of Change workshop we ran last year, looking at the impact of our 6 000 leaders, and working backwards to determine outcome, which led us to identify the 7 key traits of ALA students.”

By the time they graduate, they should be

  • Autodidactic
  • Africanist
  • Collaborators
  • Communicators
  • Critical thinkers
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Ethical

Classes are broken up into teams, each of which works on one of four selected traits, with the brief being to come up with activities to bolster that trait, explains Dave. “They pitch a series of prototypes, get feedback, digitalise the prototype and create a massive Google e-book that can then be shared with the entire community. “

The second challenge – one that has Year 1s in a frenzy of research and consultation – is their Individual OID (Original Idea for Development). This, says Dave, is one of ALA’s oldest modules: “Essentially, the big idea is that they identify a challenge/opportunity back home, then come up solutions to address that challenge – and pilot it back home.”

OIDs are pitched at the annual E-Fest – and the winning pilots go on to become functioning Student Enterprises. “Some of these, like Footprints, last for years,” notes Dave.

With such concrete, practical examples of how businesses and organisations are created, developed and sustained, it’s easy to see how ALA students master the concept of entrepreneurship – whether they think they need it or not.

“Essentially, we know that some students are destined to become entrepreneurs, but many aren’t,” maintains Dave. “EL not only helps entrepreneurs, it also builds empathy for entrepreneurs. In whatever sector ALA graduates go into, they will be able to understand what entrepreneurs do, what their struggles are, and hopefully support their endeavours.”



The head of African Leadership Academy’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Department boasts over a decade of international design, research, and strategy and project management experience. Dave joined ALA in February 2011, initially for a period of three months. Seven years later, the former Creative Director of an industrial design company first came here to Entrepreneurship and Learning as separate courses, which were soon merged into one.

A firm believer in finding solutions for the Bottom of the Pyramid using design as a tool for social change, Dave founded Design in Africa, a specialist consultancy focusing on user-centered research for product, and user-experience design in emerging markets. He is also a skilled cook and keen gardener.

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This is an article from the ALA Journey Journal – the blog that tracks our 50 year journey to develop 6000 leaders. Visit the Journal here.

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