Bradley Opere, an African Leadership Academy (ALA) alumni from Kenya was elected the University of North Carolina’s Student Body President. One of his aims is to change the perception and narrative of African leadership. Here, he weighs in on various subjects.
There Is a Bond before a Transaction
According to Bradley, the networks we become part of are built with some of our closest friends – the people we celebrate and talk to regularly. He was not a winner when the Student Body President campaign began, he says. But because he had a team of passionate and hard-working people who believed in the vision he pitched to them, they were willing to back him. The people who are purely professional can be approached once the ground work has been laid , but the people who know you before they know your idea will support the person first. One of his most important relationships is one with Goodman, a friend he met at ALA. Bradley and Goodman got on like a house on fire. Their relationship developed from mutual interests, it did not begin with the question ‘what can I get out of this?’ But in the end it helped achieve the biggest highlight of his life – becoming student president.’
“Good teams are the make or break of anything you do. I was a Kenyan in America having a campaign managed by someone from South Africa and other people from three different states in the U.S.” The result of the campaign was the product of a willingness to collaborate. “It’s the amount of talent that people like him have and are able to bring to the table that helped give me an edge. It’s also what helps me learn from the best and build even more.”
Then there are relationships he established as a result of the becoming student president. It tells one that networks do not need to be people you seek before a big break, many times they appear after and from every corner of the earth. Knowing people in different regions gives you immediate access to resources and to people who can offer first-hand insight of a place. It’s the kind of information companies do paid feasibility studies about.But a person who can take advantage of their networks has the luxury of picking up a phone and simply asking. It’s easy to take that kind of access for granted.
Recruiting Strong Standard Bearers to Fill the Political Leadership Vacuum
Opere says, “The future of Africa will depend how well private-public partnerships between governments and different private stakeholders are able to successfully push different countries forward.”
Public service is a lot like community work. Employees, in varying echelons, make the company what it is. I understand this to also mean there is sentimental value that makes the ecosystem a lot like home or the employees’ own little investment. It is this type of affinity that makes the public sector a special place.
If financial security and community development matter to us, working in the public sector and becoming an entrepreneur are a way to kill two birds with one stone. Too often, CSI projects are an afterthought, slapped together to tick an inconvenient box. In people-focused organisations, doing work is the crux of the business’ philosophy. That said, every business by virtue of creating jobs and contributing in economic activity contributes to alleviation of poverty and development. Social entrepreneurship it is not the hallmark for merit.
Bradley strongly feels that to get global perspective, rising leaders should explore opportunities to travel and possibly live abroad. What seems like a dependable theory leaves a question of whether years under a markedly different system or doctrine could dilute the collective vision of well-meaning but approach-diverse leaders, and then create a power struggle.
Bradley sees business as a big way to effect change. Chapel Hill in North Carolina, he says, is a relatively small university town that has managed to become self-sustaining. He was inspired by this and hopes to adopt a similar approach here in Africa, where he will go to under-exposed and under-invested towns in Africa, create strong local economies and help them become independent engines that are no longer on big city life support. It’s a concept he hopes will take us far in developing the larger continent.
The Snowball Effect of Networks
Exercising networks should be for the purpose of making room for more to benefit from the opportunities we get from networks. The idea is that a door opened for you later becomes a door you open for someone else. “We are trying to add other people to the networks we have been let into. We’re trying to connect public health institutes to different medical schools in Kenya. We’re trying to connect our student governments across other universities in Kenya because we’re trying to ensure that whatever networks we have here we’re building and we’re giving them back to more people so that they’re not exclusive to whoever comes to Carolina. The goal is to introduce people to the network so that they benefit from it. Those who cannot be introduced should at least see the indirect impact of the initiatives that are started by those who are in the network so that it doesn’t only benefit a select few.”
Having access to a network while young builds the competitive advantage you have over those whose talents were not nurtured early enough to give them sufficient chances to try and fail. When you fail young and with little, you fail at a smaller scale and you have more time to grow and learn. When a first-time entrepreneur gets business funding for an idea, he does not have enough experience to help him avoid elementary errors. What happens is the investment quickly disappears, and soon after, so does the business. The greater the investment, the greater the loss. This is not to say young people should limit themselves, but if they begin their entrepreneurial journey by first participating in cake sales on market days or starting a small recycling business it not only deepens their understanding of doing business but also helps them plan better in case of possible failure
When you are prepared to form a relationship beyond what it can offer you materially, you make connections that will take the risk it comes with because people back people. When you have given enough to earn trust, support, the skill and insight your network can bring to the table can completely change the complexion of your story. Clearly, there is a tone adjustment that is needed to change the way we understand public service. Government is a big player in economic movement. It’s important to promote its work as a career, not purely a stepping stone to greener pastures. The work that the people in it do should contribute to innovative, youth-focused solutions and thinking promotes an inclusive, more enabling economy in Africa.
This piece was a contribution made by Zazu Zungu, a young woman from Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Zazu spent time at the Academy and worked with our alumni to produce a series about ALA graduates and the work they are doing in Africa and beyond. Zazu is now in Nanjing, China doing a course in Chinese Language Studies.