When Esther Soma was struggling with the essay portion of her Yale application, she knew where to turn for help. At the time, she was a student of the Academy. She sent her first draft to Chris Bradford (a member of Yale’s graduating class of 2000), our co-founder and chief executive officer. Bradford urged her to rewrite the essay. He discussed the next draft with her line-by-line over the phone only hours before the application deadline. In the end, Esther completed her essay and was accepted into the Yale College Class of 2016.
“He really came through,” she said. “I was moved by how much he was invested in helping me.”
Bradford attended the graduation ceremony on May 23 when Esther, a citizen of South Sudan raised in Kenya, graduated from Yale alongside fellow ALA alumna Kenza Bouhaj, who is from Morocco.
“It’s really exciting for me to see people like Esther and Kenza come to Yale and have so much success,” he said. “It’s especially exciting for me as I’ve had a similar experience as a Yale graduate.”
African Leadership Academy seeks to identify the most promising young people on the continent, who are on a trajectory, and need little support and an opportunity to go on to have a real transformative impact.
Kenza, a double major in economics and mathematics and global affairs, said ALA provided her with the tools she needed to succeed at Yale.
“ALA prepared me academically, but more importantly, because it stresses leadership, self-reflection, and self-motivation, ALA allowed me to transition to Yale easily,” she said. “We were encouraged to think about our personal growth and how to achieve our goals and how to seek out resources to help us do that.”
Esther, who majored in global affairs, said ALA provided a “wonderful bridge” between her high school in Kenya and Yale. “I loved ALA,” she said. “I feel I can go to any African country and have a friend there.”
Kenza and Esther took advantage of the unique opportunities that Yale provides undergraduates. Kenza, spent the summer following her sophomore year in Washington, D.C., working at Results for Development, a think tank devoted to reducing poverty and improving living standards in low- and middle-income nations. She also assisted Christopher Udry, the Henry Heinz II Professor of Economics at Yale, on his research to estimate the impact of crop insurance in Ghana.
Esther travelled to Nepal, Jordan, and Chile during the spring semester of her sophomore year to study human rights issues. Both Kenza and Esther were undergraduate liaisons to the Yale World Fellows Program.
Both said ALA contained a strong Yale element. The school’s faculty included several Yale graduates. Kenza, who grew up speaking French, required English lessons when she started at ALA. One of her English teachers was a recent Yale graduate. Eleven ALA graduates have gained admission to Yale over the past decade. Last year, ALA alum Arkanjelo Paul Lorem, a native of South Sudan, was a member of Yale’s 2015 graduating class.
“Yale graduates have been immensely supportive of our work as board members, as colleagues, and as funders,” Bradford said. “Members of the university, both faculty and students, have been great because we have been able to reach out to them for support and ideas.”
Bradford said his experience at Yale and Stanford University, where he earned an MBA and a master’s degree in education, convinced him of the critical role that educational institutions play in shaping societies.
ALA is built with the idea that the institution identifies young leaders, and more importantly, develops a network of leaders who would work together throughout their lives to create lasting peace and shared prosperity and allow the students to shape the continent in which they want to live and work. “I think of ALA as not only a two-year intellectual and leadership development experience but also as the hub for a lifetime of learning and connections.”