10 Lessons From 10 Years: Diversity Is Our Best Teacher – and our Source of Innovation

Welcome to Lesson 7 of African Leadership Academy CEO Chris Bradford’s reflections on lessons learnt over the past 10 years of establishing Africa’s leading educational institution.

10 Lessons From 10 Years

‘Our best teacher at ALA is not an individual; it is the collective diversity of our community.’

LESSON NUMBER SEVEN: Diversity Is Our Best Teacher – and our Source of Innovation

Our students and graduates are often asked what they see as the primary source of the growth they experience at African Leadership Academy. I have noticed that their responses to these questions rarely center on a particular teacher: rather, our students describe the experience of immersing themselves in a diverse community of leaders who stretch and challenge them in ways that they have never imagined.

Our best teacher at ALA is not an individual; it is the collective diversity of our community. The variety of backgrounds and perspectives that collide on our campus are the source of rich conversations and breakthrough solutions. Each of us is richer for it.

A wide and emerging body of research shows the benefits of gender and cultural diversity for teams and organisations. As a white male CEO with roots in the United States, I am constantly learning and refining my approaches due to my interactions with the likes of Lara, our Nigerian CFO; Hatim, our Sudanese Dean; Uzo, our Nigerian-English-Ghanaian Dean of Global Programs; Josh, our South African VP of Growth and Entrepreneurship; or Sharmi and Frank, longtime VPs from India and Kenya, respectively, who have recently left ALA for new challenges. Their diversity of backgrounds and experiences generates new ideas and shared wisdom. Similarly constructed teams exist across the Academy – from our Mathematics department to our Program Recruitment team.

Reflective Perspectives

Building diverse teams takes attention, time, and investment. It is relatively easy for a leader to attract “like” people to join a team, and I am quite confident that I could fill the ALA staffulty with a group of American overachievers with little effort. We must be deliberate about attracting colleagues who bring different perspectives – both so they reflect the diversity of our student body, and so they add meaningfully to our collective wellspring of innovation.

The good news: while building diverse teams might be costly, we add our best teacher to ALA at a marginal cost of zero on an ongoing basis.

One of Africa’s great sources of competitive advantage over the coming decades is its unparalleled diversity. Research shows there is more genetic diversity on this continent than in the rest of the world combined. Over the next 48 hours, our students will arrive on campus from all corners of the continent to begin our eleventh school year. I will once again be reminded of the impact of an intentional community of leaders with unmatched cultural, gender, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic diversity.

How are you unleashing the power of diversity in your organisation?

What deliberate choices are you making to recruit and identify people who will bring different backgrounds and perspectives to your team?

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