10 Lessons from 10 Years

The run up to our Decennial has offered many opportunities for reflection. Over the next ten months, we will share ten entrepreneurial lessons ALA co-founder and CEO Chris Bradford has learned over the past ten years of building a lasting social enterprise.


Just because it matters, doesn’t mean it’s important.

‘One of the hard lessons of entrepreneurship is that there are lots of things that matter, and they are not all equally important’

I have always had an intense focus on excellence. When something matters, I want to deliver it to the best of my ability. One of the hard lessons of entrepreneurship is that there are lots of things that matter, and they are not all equally important. The reality is that C grades are just fine in many things.

As an example: our core business at African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a boarding school. We identify exceptional 17-year-olds from all over Africa and bring them together for two years of transformational learning at our campus in Johannesburg. We have to house and feed them.

With 200+ teenagers in your home, you spend a lot on food: it is 10% of our program budget at ALA. And it matters – a lot! Our students must have healthy and nutritious options that allow them to learn and grow, and we ensure that they have high-quality food every day. But despite these efforts, the single greatest source of complaints from the 17- and 18-year-olds on our campus is the food. It is always too spicy for the East Africans, and not spicy enough for the West Africans!

I quickly learned that if I spent my time trying to fulfill our students’ many desires with respect to food and turn their “food grade” into an A, it meant I was not spending my time on the truly important things that enable our programs and mission: the development and delivery of leadership learning experiences that prepare our young leaders to lead change and work together. Our success is a function of the deliberate investment of time into these truly important things.

The outcome? When our students – our clearest, most thoughtful critics of our work at ALA – have seen food as their primary recommendation for improvement, we have had our best years. It means our priorities are in the right place.

What are the most important things on your long list of things that matter?

How are you prioritizing them? How do you know you are on track?

Share them with us on your preferred platform