African Leadership Academy Model African Union (ALAMAU) is an annual leadership conference that simulates the activities of the African Union. Established at ALA as a platform for young leaders to develop implementable solutions to African development challenges, it is wholly student led.
Here, ALAMAU 2019 Chairperson Asha Liban Hirsi Guled unpacks what strategy really means to her…
Over 300 delegates to recruit, ten committees to create content for and hundreds of hotel rooms to book. These are but a few of the things that ALAMAU is tasked with. Surely, all of this requires strategy.
To many of us, the word strategy is interchangeable with a goal or a plan. However, I find that the first step in becoming a good strategist is knowing the difference between strategic thinking and planning. A plan is a formalised idea. It’s a thought that is written down and has the ABCs that surround it evaluated. A strategy however, unravels and interrogates every A, B and C. It takes all the risks into consideration and then accordingly assesses the best avenues to achieve the goal. More importantly, a strategy is not merely a promise or a detailed to-do list, it is a commitment.
Being a student at ALA means that our leadership skills are constantly being challenged and developed, especially through our core-curriculum classes such as Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL). Recently in EL we learnt of philosophical frameworks – the idea that we can develop paradigms into a model of thinking, and how we can employ them to become ethical leaders. In the same way that we have philosophical frameworks, we also have strategy frameworks. All of us employ these more than we think we do.
In the morning I assess whether it is better for me to wake up on time and have an enjoyable hot shower as opposed to the atrocity that is known as a lukewarm shower, or if it is instead better for me to sleep in an extra twenty-five minutes and upset my asthmatic lungs by having to sprint to class like a mad woman. Usually it’s the latter. In that case, what measures will I take to successfully make it to class before Mr Demeke makes me perform in front of everyone for being late? This is what a strategic framework can look like in our day-to-day affairs. Well, at least for me.
A Philosophy for Life
As a student, strategic frameworks also guide much of my educational philosophy. I often employ my comprehension skills to create a mental model of what I am learning. In this way, I can comfortably re-apply that model to other concepts and recall the content better as I am less focused on the details, and more so on the foundations and the understanding that lie behind an idea. This is the beauty of strategy. It transforms strenuous labour and tedious exercise into an efficiency monster.
An efficiency monster is exactly what ALAMAU thrives on. As the Chairperson, it is my responsibility to manage my team of over 50, as well as the overall success of the conference. To be able to achieve this, delegation is needed. ALAMAU’s team is divided primarily between a research side and a logistics side. Under each of these large categories there are teams and sub-teams, ranging from for instance our Events team and our Committee Chairs to our Finance team, that directly tackle one aspect of the conference. Not only is each team – and the individuals in that team – focused on a collection of specific goals, they were also intently handpicked to best suit their role.
ALAMAU’s rigorous application and selection process has allowed us to not just have delegation, but also efficient delegation, as each individual is interested and driven by their position.
The mere existence of different roles is but one part of our strategy. Ensuring that communication runs smoothly between and across these teams is one of our key focuses. Improving and bettering our communication skills is an exercise that each ALAMAU team member values. One way in which we strategically go about communication is by using different software applications that are tailored towards our needs, such as Slack. Used across the MAU team, it allows us to have one central platform where we can keep track of conversations and documents, whilst also benefiting from the feature that allows us to have large group chats – or ‘channels’ as they are called in the Slack world. Having this dedicated online space that is unassociated with other social media platforms eliminates distractions and creates a formal space that cultivates an online work environment.
Meeting the theme
To ALAMAU delegates, there are many ways in which you can employ strategies in your preparation to meet the 2019 theme of Leveraging Africa’s Progress for Sustained Growth. What this theme essentially suggests is that progress needs to be leveraged and replicated to enable concrete change on the continent. To be able to relate your research for the conference to the theme, you must consider how your committee’s topic, for instance, the question of maternal health care, manifests itself across the continent. Dive-deep, yet think big. You will be able to best contribute to the conference if you do not only focus on the statistics of your research but if you also seek to understand the implications that your topic has on the continent.
So strategy is not a plan; it is a high level of organising thoughts – it is a commitment. We all incorporate strategic thinking into our daily lives without often realising. But to be able to exercise strategic thinking in our working environment, we need to make deliberate efforts to educate ourselves on what a strategic framework is, and ask ourselves how we can re-apply that model to various aspects of our lives. Once this level is unlocked, you will have unleashed an efficiency monster. I continue to challenge myself everyday day to unleash this monster, and now I challenge you to do the same.
ABOUT ASHA GULED
Asha’s academic and career interests may lie in the field of Neuroscience, but she lives out her passion to make a significant impact on social empowerment daily. While at school, she played an active role in creating environmental awareness programs within certain slum areas of Nairobi, working closely with local schools and students.
Driven by the challenges and struggles communities and systems face, Asha maintains: “It is not the idea of hardship that drives me, but more so the idea that there’s a solution to every issue, and the sense that the employment of ingenuity and thoughtfulness to solve an issue is a truly rewarding process.”
Of Somali descent, Asha was born and raised in the Netherlands, and has lived in Somalia, Kenya and the United Kingdom, hence her fluency in several languages and adaptability to various cultures, traditions and systems.
Her selection as Chairperson for ALAMAU 2019 is testament to her dedication and drive: she is a United Nations veteran, having participated in both Model United Nations and East African Model United Nations while at school. In her first year at ALA, she joined the International Relations Council, and was selected as a delegate at the Georgetown Qatar 2018 MUN Conference as well as the moderator for the African Commission on Science and Technology committee for MAU 2018. She also served as the Academic Representative to the Student Government.
For a deeper understanding on what drives ALAMAU 2019’s Chairperson, read 10 Things You Need To Know About ALAMAU 2019’s Chairperson, Asha Guled