Wilson Da Silva shares an inside view of ALA’s recruitment drive

‘Our job is to scout, so we go to places that a lot of people wouldn’t go – really remote; I’ve been to places where schools didn’t have a roof. Our job is to find someone with potential and if we know of someone out there who would benefit from an opportunity like ALA, we will go find them…’

It’s recruitment season at ALA. This means various members of ALA’s Program Recruitment and Partnerships Department will be crossing the continent in search of potential young leaders who will help fulfill the Academy’s vision and mission.

“People very often think we have the best job because we are constantly travelling,” says Wilson Da Silva, who heads up outreach in East Africa and Lusophone Africa for ALA’s flagship Diploma Program, as well as Global Scholars Program and Model African Union. “But when you’re constantly travelling to different countries, dealing with traffic jams, and meeting with different people, with different customs and beliefs, who often don’t respond to you, or your calls, it can be extremely challenging.”

The schedule, too, is demanding, and comprises a range of activities that include school visits, TV and radio interviews, one-on-one meetings with prospective students and parents, information sessions, boot camps, conferences and education fairs, notes Wilson. “Our job is to get people through the door – we require and collect all of the info from participants to do follow-ups, either via email or phone calls, and convince them to apply. I often say that we (the recruiters) are the face of the Academy: we deal with prospective students and work hand-in-hand with the Admissions and Marketing Departments. We are external-facing; we are the way into the Academy, and often the first point of contact that people will have with ALA.”

While most in-country visits are to capital cities, ALA recruiters have been known to hit the most remote trails, too. “Our job is to scout, so we go to places that a lot of people wouldn’t go – really remote; I’ve been to places where schools didn’t have a roof. Our job is to find someone with potential and if we know of someone out there who would benefit from an opportunity like ALA, we will go find them…”

Social media plays a pivotal role in spreading the word, as does word of mouth: ALA’s extensive network includes a huge database of schools and NGOs through which referalls often come in, and then of course, there’s the word of alumni, students and participants in ALA’s off-shoot programs like Global Scholars Program and Model African Union that prove to be the  most effective advertising medium for the Academy, adds Wilson. “Right now, as more alumni come back to the continent, more people are starting to hear of ALA. We’ve also built up strong relationships with organizations that work with youth to tell us where these kids are. There’s extensive ground work through which recruiters engage in.”

Extreme Vetting

Not everyone ALA recruiters encounter applies – and of these, only a small percentage make it into the Academy. The process, explains Wilson, is arduous. “Generally speaking, it can take up to three months for a prospective student to complete the application process – and this is followed by an even more rigorous selection process.”

“To be honest, I’ve been doing this for six years now, and have to say that ALA is not for everyone. We are pioneers in leadership development but we are much more than a school: we train people, we equip them with the tools and mindsets to become changemakers – which some of them already are, and that’s why they’ve come to ALA.

So how does the selection process work?

“A couple of years ago we decided to do the Persona Identification, to pinpoint exactly what it is that students have that they can bring to ALA. We have our requirements but we also know that not everyone will be strong in every single field. And we are building a network of changemakers with different ideas, and beliefs. That’s what makes ALA unique: we have students from different backgrounds, educational systems, different spheres of the continent with different talents all working together to achieve the goal of transforming the continent and aiming to become changemakers. From scientists to singers, they all have a leadership quality – it’s about the work that you do, for those around you; be it in science, politics or agriculture. It’s not something you can pinpoint and people very often ask. I think the hardest job for ALA is not being able to accept everyone. In any pool of applicants we have for the Diploma Program – which averages 2 500 – we only take 130.”

Pinpointing prospectives

Grades help in determining a prospect’s chances, but aren’t the deciding factor, notes Wilson. “Their academics show us that they are determined, hard workers, but it’s not only about having A-stars; we want to see that they can cope – at ALA, students do two things at once: they follow a normal academic curriculum, and they also do our internal curriculum – African studies, Writing and Rhetoric, and Entrepreneurial Leadership. Maths is compulsory in the first year for everyone, as well as participating in a club, society and sports.”

Then there’s the fact that they have classes every second Saturday – and that second-year students have to be running businesses for a full year, he adds. “So it’s a big ask. As an institution we do not want kids to drown, which is why we have different touchpoints of support: we have very a good Pastoral Care team, some Deans stay on campus; a Wellness Program that focuses on mental and physical health, an on-campus counselor, and the peer counselor system. We are also very deliberate about having first-year students sharing a room with a second-year student to act as an older sibling, and the Advisory System, where students are divided into families who can give guidance. We also ensure that students from different countries will share rooms – this forces respect, consideration and learning to live with others. So while studying at ALA is challenging, and everyone will struggle, our young leaders succeed here.”

ABOUT Wilson Da Silva

Originally from Mozambique, Wilson joined ALA’s admissions department in 2012, with a mandate to grow the Academy’s intake of Lusophone students. An educator, entrepreneur, relationship builder and event coordinator, Wilson combines a background in events production, logistics, sales, education and youth development in his various activities.

In his early career, he co-founded Putos Phly, a vibrant clothing label, in 2003, before branching out into event management and managing a Basketball team that competed in the South African League from 2008 to 2010. Wilson successfully delivered a number of events in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa up until 2011. At ALA, he has served as an Admissions Associate, and Marketing & Communications Associate prior to becoming Program Recruitment and Partnerships Manager.

Wilson earned a qualification in General Management from Boston Business College, South Africa, an Assistant Bookkeeper Certificate from Fasset Seta, and BA in Communication Science from the University of South Africa. He also studied Construction Management at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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