Fred Swaniker - Entrepreneur, Founder of the African Leadership Academy and the African Leadership University
In Conversation with Pamela Srivastava, General Manager, Sustainability and Outreach, Shiv Nadar Foundation
The population of Africa is going to be 40% of the world by the end of the century, and have a larger workforce than India or China by 2025. Fred Swaniker is trying to make certain that this will not be a crisis but an opportunity to leverage this incredible human capital. His vision is that if these young people are educated and their skills and passions developed it will birth an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship for the whole world, not just Africa.
This remarkable man believes wholeheartedly in the potential of leaders to engender positive, lasting change. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and Shiv Nadar, and seared by early memories of witnessing civil war, corruption and poverty, he grew up determined to do something for those less fortunate them himself. But first, he got himself scholarships and an education, doing his undergraduate degree in the US, and then returning to do his MBA at Stanford, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Overawed by the openness to good ideas he encountered, he spent his time perfecting a business plan for what would become his life’s work: leadership education.
But he didn’t go about it the regular way. As he says, ‘In Africa, there are many constraints – time, money, educated people – so we have to reimagine everything. We have no choice but to innovate – not just copy models in place in the rest of the world.’ The school Fred started when he came back was the African Leadership Academy, which seeks to find outstanding young people who can transform Africa through innovation and entrepreneurship. When he described it during the Conversations event on the Shiv Nadar Foundation’s FB page, many of our faculty, students and alumni must have nodded in understanding. The school is a means of using education to create leaders from an early age. The learning process is all about doing. The children start small ventures with all the attendant processes including getting funding, all the while imbibing important lessons about the world. The school then helps them get into top universities across the world. Fred hopes to produce 6000 leaders in the next few years, world-class talent which will do things that are not just setting high standards in Africa, but all over the world. The brilliance of this idea has been recognised – Bill Gates sent his daughter to the school for term.
Not content with this, Fred and his colleagues began to think bigger. They wanted their students to stay in Africa and not go abroad. And they wanted a university in Africa that would give them a shot at a new way of learning how to lead from the front. Fred began visiting colleges around the world to understand best practices. He visited the Shiv Nadar Schools and the Shiv Nadar University. He went back to Africa and decided he was going to scale up his plans. He would now produce 3 million leaders.
And the process is underway. At Fred’s unique university, you do not have a major, you have a mission – to work on solving one challenge that is facing Africa today, be it healthcare, infrastructure, climate change, governance, or youth and unemployment. The students then curate their own learning experience. Students are not graded on exams but on how well they are solving the problem they have taken on. By making the process student-driven, using the barrage of content available to everyone and the advantages of peer learning, as well as using technology, the university does away with the scarce resource of teachers except as facilitators. This makes scaling up easier too, and plans are afoot to have 100-200 sites where the university will be located.
Surely this is the way education of the future will look!
A visionary in every way, Fred Swaniker’s message to budding social entrepreneurs is this ‘It’s a very good time to start something now. Step up as an entrepreneur. Find a hard problem to solve. The world needs you!’