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African Leadership University

The African Leadership University is an innovative higher-education model in Africa focused on finding your mission vs. finding your major.

Photo of Sonia Doshi
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I recently saw Fred Swaniker, the CEO and Founder of the African Leadership University speak at Stanford University. He also founded a high school model called the African Leadership Academy and recently launched the first university iteration in Mauritius with plans to rapidly scale up to 25 different campuses. He wanted to design a higher education model where leadership would be the focus of the school. He explained that this model has four key differentiators to traditional universities. First, they promote innovative teaching. He explained that professors with PhDs is a scarce resource but an abundant resource in Africa is brilliant students, so his university is dependent on peer learning. They use self-directed, peer to peer learning, and have banned lectures and the requirement that an instructor has to have a PhD to be considered an expert to teach. Second, he explains that skills matter more than academic theory. Their courses are designed to develop skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, etc. Third, there are no majors. This is my favorite point. They instead have defined the "seven grand challenges and/or major opportunity spaces that Africa is going to face" that students pursue. Swaniker said that his students are told, "don't declare a major but create a mission for your life". Fourth, there is a focus on entrepreneurship. All of their students, instead of having vacations, are matched with internships at major and well-renowned companies around the world. Their goal is to prepare leaders rapidly, efficiently, and substantively who will build their careers in Africa, pursue their missions, and help resolve some of these major challenges facing the continent.

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  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I am currently a Master's student in the Learning, Design, and Technology student at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education. I have a background in User Experience Design from the University of Michigan's School of Information. I previously worked in mental health research and advocacy and mobile learning games. I am particularly interested in the intersection of learning, design, wellness, and play.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Higher education should prepare students to be compassionate and self-aware leaders. Leaders who learn to understand and articulate their mission(s). Ones who are passionate and prepared to solve the challenges most critical to our society and our future.


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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Sonia!

Thank you for telling us about the African Leadership University! Does this University have ties to Stanford? 

Perhaps you might like to add a link to the University's website so we can learn more about it?
There are a few videos on their YouTube channel here - 

The University reminds me of Jim Stephens post on 'The Future of Learning: Exploring an education fit for the 21st century' -

Photo of Sonia Doshi

Hi Kate!
The founder of ALU is an alumnus of Stanford - he received his MBA here. There are also a number of former faculty who are graduate students of Stanford.

This is their website:

Jim's post definitely aligns with ALU's model, especially in the five guiding ideas he mentions - thanks for sharing!

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Hi Sonia, great contribution. My favorite is where the students are told "don't create a major, but create a major in your life" I also like the thoughts you are provoking! Would you know of how they go about admitting the students? Also could you share the link of maybe the website. Thanks

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Thank you for sharing this interesting new approach to higher education.  Identifying that youth can become their own resource, the peer to peer learning emphasis, is exciting.  It would be interesting to follow the path of some students in this model to see what works, what the challenges are and how they are overcome overtime. 
One challenge in terms of access might be  financing.  I saw on the website that the university offers loans that are to be paid back as a per cent of future income, overtime.  It will be interesting to learn from this approach.

 Might this model support educational opportunities to youth that are living within refugee camps in Africa as well, as the mission is to address challenges facing the continent?  There was a previous OpenIDEO Challenge that focused on refugee education.  A group of college aged youth living in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, and hailing from several African countries, participated as Community Champions during that challenge.  Their stories regarding educational opportunities describe an extremely bleak situation.  It would be great to create opportunities to educate youth leaders who can further tackle the problem of education for refugees!
(Some links from that challenge.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Jim Stephens

Hi Sonia and Kate.  I have a good design colleague of mine here in Colorado, Co Barry, who came out of Stanford and did some work years ago with the African Leadership Academy.  The ties between Stanford, the dschool and the ALA and have been there since its inception.  The ALA is such a great model for rethinking how we connect learning to the real world so we can meet real needs.