10 Lessons From 10 Years: Successful Translation is about Culture and Discipline

Welcome to Lesson 8 of African Leadership Academy CEO Chris Bradford’s reflections on lessons learnt over the past 10 years of establishing Africa’s leading educational institution.

‘…many transformation and translation efforts fail in education (because) they focus on one kind of playbook: a curriculum, rather than the culture and discipline that make that playbook successful.’

LESSON NUMBER EIGHT: Successful Translation is about Culture and Discipline

Since our first year at African Leadership Academy, we have been asked when we were going to build more leadership academies. And so, a few years ago, we decided to launch a team whose job would be to help school leaders transform their schools into “leadership academies”. We codified our unique curriculum in entrepreneurial leadership, and shared it with a number of schools around the world. But when we visit these schools today, few of them feel like ALA.

The reality is that little of our “special sauce” is contained in these playbooks. This is why, in my view, so many transformation and translation efforts fail in education: they focus on one kind of playbook (a curriculum), rather than the culture and discipline that make that playbook successful.

LEAF Academy in Slovakia feels different. When I walk into LEAF, I do not only see elements of our curriculum in Entrepreneurial Leadership. I also see elements of the culture of ALA everywhere! Five members of the founding faculty at LEAF taught at ALA for at least a year, and one of our graduates, Geraldine Mukumbi, now teaches there.

LEAF is an ALA for Central Europe. They have translated much of what makes ALA special to their context and have built upon it. I hope we will bring some of the innovations at LEAF back to ALA in the years ahead.

Leaf Academy Bratislava
Leaf Academy Bratislava

Redefining Translation

A careful consideration of “translation” is important for anyone who seeks to build an institution to last. We must define our mission clearly, and articulate the rituals, rhythms, and routines that reinforce this mission. We must build playbooks around key activities that enable our mission.

This kind of deliberate effort to translate our work is what will foster leadership succession and scale.

With our ALA 2023 strategy, we are applying these lessons about translation to our work with education innovators across Africa. This month, we formally launch our Anzisha Education Accelerator, which will support entrepreneurs who are building schools and chains of schools across Africa.

We will start by working directly with ALA alumni who have built schools that are now serving thousands of students across Africa. As alumni, they already carry the cultural
DNA of ALA. We will work with them to develop the kind of culture, discipline, and playbooks that advance their mission, allowing them to develop leaders for their communities, and for Africa.

How does the culture of your organization reinforce the mission?

What rituals, routines, and rhythms are central to this culture?

What would a cultural playbook look like for you? How might you begin defining or building it?