We believe in the power of youth at ALA. It is one of our founding beliefs. The importance of empowering and inspiring young people is something I saw in my own life, through the support of grandparents and parents.
My grandmother was one of the first of her peers to get an education. As an educated African woman who chose to become an educator, she was an inspiration to me; as was my mother, who was also an educator. Growing up, I would meet people who went out of their way to say: “your grandmother was my teacher in this class” or “your mother taught me music.” I was able to see the wide array of people that an educator can impact and that long after the person has left school, they will still remember how the educator impacted their lives. The impact of an educator is not lost over the lifetime of a student.
My family always encouraged me to push myself to do more and achieve excellence. It’s an important trait of being a leader; to never settle for bare minimum. That’s what we are teaching our students; how do you constantly bring out excellence in yourself? We want our young leaders to constantly ask themselves this question as they set out to make an impact on the continent.
Becoming a leader is a journey. It is progressive and takes time. Supportive educators and mentors who can hold you accountable, or give you opportunities to prove your leadership potential, are so important. This is our model at ALA, where we provide our young leaders with opportunities to grow through experimentation and practice, whether it is a club or student enterprise they participate in, or leading certain initiatives such as Model African Union.
These opportunities allow them to be in the throes of tough decisions: having to make strategic choices or working with limited resources. I’ve had opportunities like those throughout my life and it’s the same thing that we’re trying to emulate for young leaders at ALA.
I witnessed the power of youth when I was at Africa’s Talking; a digital platform for African entrepreneurs. One of our key findings was that although talent is fairly and evenly distributed across the continent, opportunity is not. Young people may not have the right connections, funding, or opportunities to realize their ideas. The company has helped young people scale their businesses to several African countries, some of which began with as little as $10.
This speaks to the next step in growth for ALA. As more young leaders graduate from our diploma program and become part of our alumni network, we’re asking ourselves, how do we strengthen and enable these networks, and how do we scale their impact? How do we accelerate the career paths of our graduate’s so that they become as impactful as possible across Africa?
Our recent investments in our arts program are evidence of this approach: a new Creative Commons on campus where we will nurture and foster our arts education program, and the AL for Arts Network, which will foster these connections and opportunities for Africa’s next generation of great artists and creative entrepreneurs.
Whether it’s in the arts, health, governance, or entrepreneurship, we will continue as ALA and through our strategic partnerships to break down barriers and provide more access to opportunities for our young leaders. We’re continuously building our own capabilities and partnering with mission-aligned organizations and stakeholders to equip and help our young leaders take on the continent’s most pressing challenges.
As I embark on this new journey as ALA’s CEO, I have been enthused by the support and love I’ve received from the community. We are fully behind our mission, let us press on. Here is to our Youth.