When Emmanuel Murairi first arrived at African Leadership Academy in September 2018, he was instantly recognizable, with his trusted accomplice often found balanced on his chin and its accompanying appendage in his right hand. Emmanuel’s dexterity with the violin quickly earned him a reputation on campus, as he performed at several campus events ranging from the weekly all-community Assembly to the annual Taalu welcoming ceremony. Emmanuel had learned to play the violin as part of a church orchestra in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and it formed an essential part of his personality. However, by the time he graduated from ALA in June 2020, he had become known for something entirely different – he was the “IT guy”.
At the age of 14, and approaching 9th grade (Troisieme Secondaire) in Kinshasa, Emmanuel’s brother granted him access to a computer and downloaded a 500-page book on programming to keep him busy. Within two months, he had studied the entire book and taught himself Visual Basic for Applications – the programming language in Microsoft Excel. Five months after, he was learning the Python programming language. An avid game player, Emmanuel was fascinated about the possibility of using his newly developed skill to design his own computer games, going on to create five games before pivoting to develop computer software.
In his last year of high school, Emmanuel had designed a computerised grading system for one of the high schools in his city, enabling teachers to make the shift from adding up student test scores on paper to generating term reports on a computer. While his own school was only just establishing a Computer Science class as a first step, he identified an opportunity to deliver a service for a community beyond his own family. In Kinshasa, internet connectivity was not widely available, and Emmanuel found himself restricted to downloading books and articles on software development using mobile data connected from a phone to his computer, often late in the evenings when bandwith was stronger and data plans were cheaper. At this time, he had not pictured himself developing websites or mobile applications.
On the recommendation of his older cousin who had graduated from ALA a year earlier, Emmanuel applied to ALA in 2017 and was offered admission to join the Class of 2018. It was at ALA that he learned to write and speak the English language comfortably, and he found the internet connectivity much better suited to his exploratory instincts. Having taken basic English language classes in high school, he found that most of the resources that he needed to upskill himself required a higher level of English comprehension. At ALA, he also encountered a wide variety of accents, which required him to rapidly adapt, but he reflects on the supportive nature of the ALA community. In his words: “The community was very helpful. Everyone was patient with me and realized that I was still learning the language, and they corrected my sentences and helped me improve”. Having other French-speaking students on campus also eased his integration into the community.
Once he was fully settled, Emmanuel’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in once again as he sought opportunities to contribute to the community through his IT skills. His first venture was ITVerse – an enterprise which he founded on campus when he realized that there was no technology community geared to solve the myriad challenges faced by on-campus enterprises. He quickly aggregated a team of like-minded tech enthusiasts and set about addressing issues in the student community. He hopes that the new team of rising second year students who have succeeded him will sustain the enterprise, and he even plans to continue to contribute remotely.
When he noticed that his peers were impressed with his ability to automate several email functions, Emmanuel advertised programming classes and enrolled 10 classmates to whom he taught the Python programming language. From there, he joined the African Leadership Consulting Group – a team of students who set out to provide advisory services for youth-led enterprises. Emmanuel both led the technology practice of the venture – advising enterprises on issues related to technology – and served as technology lead for the team, designing their website in the process.
When he was approached in February 2019 to join the organizing team of the ALA Model African Union as Director of Digital Media, he was both tentative and grateful – tentative because he did not have the courage to apply for the role when it was earlier advertised, and grateful that his peers thought so highly of him. In that role, he would face a challenge greater than any he had faced until that point – he was set a mandate to develop the conference’s first mobile application, optimized for both iOS and Android operating systems, alongside the management of the conference website. For several months, Emmanuel was consumed with learning about the principles of mobile app development, eventually delivering the outcome on schedule.
With renewed confidence in his abilities, Emmanuel took on several projects with internal and external clients, including the development of his personal portfolio website, a time management tool for ALA students, a library management website, an art management website, two corporate websites and a personal website for an external client.
By the time he resumes in January 2021 at the African Leadership College in Mauritius where he plans to study Computer Science, Emmanuel will have much more than a music and technology portfolio to showcase, he will be recognized as a successful entrepreneur.
Do you know any young change-makers like Emmanuel in your community? Encourage them to apply to ALA’s Class of 2021