On June 7, 2007, ALA Founder Fred Swaniker addressed the attendees of the TED Global Conference in Arusha, Tanzania. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world’s leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration and share ideas. At the first TED conference in Monterrey, California in 1984, the Macintosh and Compact Disc were first unveiled to the public. The 2007 TED Global conference in Tanzania marked the first time that the conference had been brought to Africa. At the conference, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists shared their ideas and forged a path for the continent’s future.
I am an African. I was born in Ghana and grew up in the Gambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. I have worked in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. With each part of Africa I lived in, I fell more deeply in love with my continent, and with this love came a strong desire to see Africa prosper.
And so I kept asking myself the question “what will it take to make Africa prosper?” To answer this question, I looked at how other societies had come to enjoy widespread peace and prosperity. What I realized was that those societies had come to prosper because people in those societies had developed important new ideas – some of them simple, some of them revolutionary – and implemented these ideas. Over the last few days at TED, we have heard about fantastic ideas that are transforming Africa, and have met people who are doing amazing things to implement them. These are examples of leaders whose efforts can make Africa a peaceful and prosperous continent.
I realized that if we are to sustain and accelerate Africa’s development, however, we must be more systematic about cultivating these leaders. We must be proactive about increasing the number of individuals who can conceive of important new ideas and implement them.
And so was born the idea for African Leadership Academy. Our goal is to identify young people throughout the continent–125 each and every year–that we believe have the potential to develop and implement important new ideas that can transform Africa. We will bring these young people to the Academy for 2 years in a full-time residential program, as a sort of “Rhodes Scholarship” for Africa’s most promising young leaders. This will begin a life-long process of nurturing these amazing people to bring about the change that our beautiful continent so desperately needs.
If we fast forward 50 years, what do we hope to see? By then, African Leadership Academy will have developed over 6000 change agents for Africa. Let’s say 100 of these have helped bring peace and stability as ethical and effective political leaders. Another 100 have contributed significantly to solving Africa’s most pressing health problems. 1,000 have become entrepreneurs — transforming people’s lives, creating jobs, and bringing prosperity to the continent. Others will be central bank governors, university presidents, philosophers, teachers, musicians, doctors, and artists. And maybe just a few will have launched the Microsofts and Googles of Africa, or will have become the Isaac Newtons and Thomas Jeffersons of Africa. Ultimately, these remarkable individuals will work together in teams to make things happen. These are the people who will transform Africa into a peaceful and prosperous continent over the next century.
Since conceiving of this idea 4 years ago, a team of dedicated people and I have devoted our lives to bring it to fruition. In September 2008, African Leadership Academy will open with its first class of students from across the continent. Because TED is about unveiling new ideas, I would like to unveil our campus in South Africa to you today – before its public unveiling next month. I invite all of your to visit our campus, meet our young leaders, and join our community.