Global Leadership Adventures’ Co-Founder Fred Swaniker has spent nearly two decades spearheading initiatives for social entrepreneurship, leadership development, and education in his home continent of Africa. He is the founder of the African Leadership Academy, an innovative high school that students on GLA’s South Africa: Social Change Project will get to visit during their program, and he also founded the African Leadership University, which aims to provide a world-class college education to Africa’s youth after they graduate from high school.
Swaniker has spoken at many events around the world, both large and small, captivating audiences with his innovative ideas and plans of action to educate the masses in Africa and develop leaders who will influence real change across the continent.
In April, he was invited to give the closing plenary talk at the Skoll Foundation’s 2018 World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, which was held at Oxford University in England. The mission of the Skoll Foundation is to “drive large-scale change by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs and innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.” The theme for this year’s forum was The Power of Proximity, because, “In order to address inequality and injustice, we must more deeply understand the current status quo—and how to disrupt it.”
In his talk, Swaniker shared the statistic that by the year 2035—17 years from now—the continent of Africa will have the largest workforce in the world. While 17 years may seem like the distant future to some, it is just 6,000 days away. He states that this looming population boom could lead to a global humanitarian crisis if these individuals are not educated. However, if they are given a University education in Africa, then it could unleash a massive source of innovation and prosperity not just for Africa, but for the world.
Africa has some of the world’s top talent — it just needs to be unlocked.”
Currently, University-level enrollment in the continent sits at only 12% compared to 26% in India, 30% in China, and 60-70% in the West. So in order to even consider the benefits of unlocking Africa’s talent, we must first confront the issue of education and leadership because in order to innovate, one must first be educated.
However, educating one billion Africans in just 6,000 days doesn’t just seem like an impossible feat, it is an impossible feat if the education system continues on its current course. The word ‘IF’ is the single most important word here, because it implies that change is possible and the current status quo is not set in stone. This is precisely why Swaniker describes this initiative as a ‘moonshot’ for education in Africa. In his words, a moonshot has three characteristics:
- The problem needs to be so large that solving it seems impossible
- The solution or goal requires a radical approach using unconventional methods
- The approach must depend on some form of breakthrough in technology
We need new practice— bold, unconventional vehicles that will rapidly transform our burgeoning youth population into an energetic source of innovation and prosperity for the world.”
Swaniker went on to share the three main principles of his initiative for education in Africa, all of which are already in practice at the African Leadership University, and have been proven to work. The purpose of this new radical approach is to scale up in order to provide a quality University-level education to every single individual in Africa who has a desire to learn.
Principle #1: Student-Centered Learning
The conventional education model has long been set up in a way that it is teacher-centered, meaning that the existence of a class depends on having a qualified teacher physically present to lead the class and deploy the information to students. Unfortunately, this conventional model is not feasible for education in Africa because the number of qualified teachers available pales in comparison to the vast number of youth who want an education.
The solution is to design a learning system around an abundant resource—students, rather than a scarce resource—teachers. With this radical new approach, students come together in a peer-led system in which they teach each other learn together. With the abundance of knowledge and information publicly available through modern technology, students who are eager to learn no longer have to rely on the physical presence of a qualified teacher in order to advance their knowledge and understanding of a topic.
A young person today has access to more information on their mobile phone than someone doing a PhD at Oxford 30 years ago would have had in their entire physical library.”
ALU campuses have highly qualified facilitators, but their purpose is not to teach the students facts and figures. Instead, facilitators are present to ignite passion, curiosity, grit, resilience, and entrepreneurship in ALU students. This creates a culture of excellence and high expectations in which students are inspired and driven to learn by themselves. During his talk, Swaniker shared a short video of two young female ALU students who took the initiative to learn how to build a drone by themselves.
They worked together and taught themselves every step of the way, and in the end, they had constructed and programmed a fully functioning drone, as well as acquired a breadth of knowledge and programming skills that they didn’t have when they started. In addition, the video itself was made by one of their fellow ALU students who learned how to create and edit a professional-level film all on his own.
Principle #2: Problem Solving Over Facts and Figures
The days of education revolving around the memorization of facts and figures are fleeting. This is because what is truly important for the future, infinitely more so than the memorization of information for the sole purpose of passing a test or getting a grade, is the ability to understand and solve real-world problems.
Swaniker’s approach to education goes far and beyond the old-school method of memorizing content. In order to develop leaders who understand critical issues and are able to create solutions on a large scale, a viable education curriculum must encompass a “bigger picture” style of learning. Students who master creative problem solving will be equipped with the knowledge and tools to innovate and influence real and tangible change in Africa.
Problem-solvers become entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs don’t look for jobs—they create jobs and transform society with their innovations.”
Unlike traditional universities where students pick an academic major, ALU students are asked to declare a ‘mission’ for their life. They are given a list of seven grand challenges and seven great opportunities that Africa will face in the next century, and they must then decide what projects, online courses, expert interviews, experiments, prototypes, etc. they will focus on to learn about the problem they want to solve. At the end of their studies, students produce an innovative solution to the problem, publish a thesis, and ideally will create their own jobs as entrepreneurs. ALU sees the end goal not as producing people with theoretical knowledge, but rather to create problem-solvers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
Principle #3: Low Cost
In the western university system, students often borrow large sums of money from banks, government organizations, or private lenders to pay their tuition only to be burdened with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt after they graduate. Just look at the U.S., where national student loan debt has reached an unprecedented 1.4 trillion dollars.
This model would not work in Africa where governments and families have very little money to spend on education. What the continent needs is a radical and unconventional approach that will deliver education at close to zero upfront cost to the youth who need it.
This system depends on trusting young people to do things for themselves. It means telling them: ‘I believe in you. You can be great. You can learn by yourself and teach each other.’ The nice thing about such a culture is that once it is established, it doesn’t cost a cent to transmit to the next student.”
Witness These Initiatives First-Hand With GLA
GLA students on the South Africa: Social Change Project program will have the incredible opportunity to experience Swaniker’s dynamic education initiatives first-hand at the African Leadership Academy campus in Johannesburg. ALA is a state-of-the-art high school that accepts students from over 30 African countries and serves as an inspiring example of innovation at work.
During the several days they spend on campus, GLA students will meet and talk with ALA staff, alumni, and fellows to gain a deeper understanding of the foundational elements of social entrepreneurship and social change that have made this unique education system possible.