Founders' Story

ALA was founded in 2004 by Executive Chairman Fred Swaniker (Ghana), CEO Chris Bradford (U.S.), Acha Leke (Cameroon), and Peter Mombaur (Germany/South Africa). These men relied on five key beliefs that drove the establishment of African Leadership Academy and determined the focus and design of the institution.

Born in Ghana but having lived and worked in almost 10 countries across Africa, Fred Swaniker was deeply concerned about the extent to which the African continent was suffering as a result of poor leadership. He also discovered that some African parents were paying extremely high school fees to send their children abroad. He envisioned a world-class academic institution on the African continent where the most outstanding young students can develop into leaders who are passionate about the continent and eager to make an impact. Fred shared his concept with friends, among them co-founders Peter Mombaur and Acha Leke, who agreed to provide the initial financial backing.

It wasn’t until later when Fred went to Stanford Graduate School of Business where Fred met Chris Bradford that the concept for African Leadership Academy came to fruition. Chris had developed a keen interest in the design of educational institutions, and in their potential to shape societies, and both he and Fred shared a unified dream of transforming a country’s leadership landscape by transforming educational systems. They both shared the idea that great leaders come about because of strong institutions, and that in the case of the African continent, those institutions would need to be put in place.

Fred left his job McKinsey and Chris deferred a number of prestigious full time job offers to work on ALA full-time. Both Fred and Chris spent nine months working on a pilot version of the Academy’s full-time program. Chris led the design of ALA’s innovative curriculum, which merges rigorous academics with powerful courses in Entrepreneurial Leadership and African Studies, and shaped the Academy’s rigorous and unique admissions process. Fred led ALA’s fundraising efforts. In June 2005, Fred and Chris launched the Summer Academy in Cape Town, to pilot ALA’s innovative curriculum. The program was a resounding success and bolstered the team’s credibility with donors, feeder schools, and potential students and families.

This work was validated in 2006, when Chris and Fred were named Echoing Green Fellows as two of the “leading emerging social entrepreneurs in the world” – selected from over 900 organizations worldwide. Two years later, they opened the doors for ALA’s inaugural class in 2008 at their campus in Johannesburg, South Africa.

ALA remains the continent’s only pan-African high school, having admitted over 700 students from over 45 African countries to date.

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Our Founding Beliefs

Address the Underlying Causes of Problems

To create lasting change in Africa, it is necessary to make investments that treat the causes, and not just the symptoms, of under-development in Africa. We believe an undersupply of leadership across all sectors is the root cause of many of Africa’s problems. Africa needs strong leaders throughout society, in the spheres of politics, business, health care, education, the environment, and beyond, to create positive change and generate growth and prosperity.

The Power of One

History has seen countless examples of the power of individual leaders to catalyze the actions of large groups of people and unleash massive positive change in society. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu led a peaceful transition from oppression to democracy. Wangari Maathai inspired environmental and political activism by women across Kenya. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs transformed the global economy with their innovations in computing, and Muhammad Yunus created a new path from poverty to prosperity by developing microloans at the Grameen Bank.

The Power of Youth

Many great leaders begin “changing the world” at a young age – when they believe the whole world is open to them and they are free to chase their big dreams. Nelson Mandela was only 26 when he and Walter Sisulu established the ANC Youth League. Bill Gates established Microsoft at 19, and Steve Jobs launched Apple at age 21. We need to invest in Africa’s leaders when they are young and dreaming and give them the confidence they need to bring their ideas to the world.

The Need for Pan-African Cooperation

We believe that a pan-African approach is required to catalyze growth and development in Africa. African leaders must understand and collaborate with peers across the continent to remove barriers to trade, end conflict, and stimulate widespread positive change.

Entrepreneurship is Fundamental to Growth

Africa needs entrepreneurial leaders across all sectors who will throw off the constraints of existing institutions to change the paradigm and create value on the continent. Most entrepreneurs in Africa today are “subsistence” entrepreneurs, with small businesses and meager incomes that allow them to support only their families. To break the cycle of poverty and generate significant growth, however, Africa needs large-scale entrepreneurs.