We have seen effort by the MO Ibrahim foundation to encourage responsible leadership in Africa and how nearly improbably this has been. Do you sincerely believe that the problem of Africa is just leadership or more the absence of strong institutions?
There are many problems facing our continent and there are a variety of projects we could involve ourselves in, which seek to solve those problems. While ethical leadership might not be the most visceral or tangible challenge facing the continent today (in contrast to something like poverty or HIV/Aids), we believe that leadership is the key to finding the solutions to all of Africa’s other problems.
If we train leaders in politics, they will help implement the policies that create work and alleviate poverty and debt. If we create leaders in health care, they will help solve the problems of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS. If we create entrepreneurial leaders, they will build companies that can create jobs for the millions who are unemployed on the continent. It is true that the lack of strong institutions is problematic in the African context; however, we believe that the right leaders will be able to develop new institutions and redesign ineffective ones. Leadership is a catalyst for positive change in all segments and sectors of business and society – and it is for this reason that it is our overriding focus.
Some people believe that Africa’s problems can only be solved by home grown solutions. To this group, how would you justify still sending your products to universities outside of the continent?
I believe that the only way Africa will develop is through the resourcefulness and ingenuity of its own people. Africa needs African leaders to create uniquely African solutions to its uniquely African problems. At the same time, I believe that our young leaders can benefit tremendously from exposure to institutions, organizations, and networks that are rooted outside the continent.
Our students are mature enough to benefit from world-class educational resources in countries such as the United States and Europe without losing their passion and commitment for the continent, and our curriculum reinforces this framework. We would love to send more of our students to top universities around Africa but, unfortunately, the students struggle to get scholarships and financial aid to these institutions. We have found foreign institutions – particularly those in the United States – have tremendous financial resources that enable our young leaders to benefit from outstanding educational experiences they might not otherwise have access to.
For this reason, while some of our students will continue to attend outstanding universities in Africa, others may find it more economically viable to attend universities outside the continent. I also want to emphasize that our customized approach to leadership development – in combination with our forgivable loan program – is designed to ensure that our leaders do indeed return to the continent to leverage the skills and network they built abroad to drive change across Africa.