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African Leadership University, founded by Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker, has been named among the top 50 most innovative companies in the world together with the likes of Apple, Mozilla and Alibaba.

Graduates with President Kagame (center) and Fred Swaniker (right)

Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker founded the African leadership university’s (ALU) first campus in 2015 in Mauritius. He then opened ALU’s second campus in Kigali, Rwanda in 2017. The mission of the ALU is to teach leadership skills to Africa’s youth who will serve as the future leaders of the continent.  The ALU education model is very innovative and follows a non-traditional curriculum. In ALU, students pursue challenges to solve real-world problems, with the program lasting between three to four years.

They also utilise online and peer-to per teaching which helps bring tuition to as low as $4000 per year. Another available option is free tuition which will be paid after graduation by deducting 10% of earnings for 5 to 10 years once the graduate starts working. No wonder it was named among the 50 most innovative companies in the world by fast company. Currently, there are 1200 students enrolled in ALU and Fred is looking to further expand into other African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Botswana.

Differences between ALU and conventional universities

ALU does not have faculties with professors lecturing the classes. First-year students at ALU have to do an 8 months program based on critical skills of the 21st century. This program includes skills development in critical thinking, leadership, communication, and data analysis. After finishing their first year, students then choose challenges and opportunities in healthcare, governance, urbanization and other critical areas that will impact Africa positively.

Afterwards, students proceed to pick online courses that match their choices. Similar to internships, they go into the real world and interview professionals, create prototypes, perform experiments, perform research and finally write their dissertations. Students also work on group projects to foster team building and group learning.

About African Leadership X (ALX) accelerators

The ALU model was a rapid success. Students immediately after finishing their first year and starting their internships were offered full-time jobs. Based on this success, ALX was born. ALX is basically offering the first-year curriculum as a stand-alone. ALX accelerators are coworking spaces and were rolled out last year in Kenya to degree holders who lack employable skills. The course usually lasts for six months and the first class has 200 students.

Fred is proof that African problems require African solutions

Fred must be commended for being a visionary, bold and innovative leader. He understood that for Africa to reach her potential, good leaders are a must to steer the continent in the right direction. But he is not only stopping at teaching leadership skills, he is also teaching other practical skills needed for the workplace. Africa has millions of jobless university graduates. Although there are shortages of jobs, a good chunk of graduates do not have the right skills to enter the labour market.

By recognising those challenges, Fred has come out with an innovative and much cheaper way of democratising job skills to African youths. By utilising only co-working spaces, brick and mortar universities are not required. Employing professors and Ph.D. holders to run different faculties are also not needed. Hence, this disruption can bring affordable education to millions across the continent.

Hubs should be the future universities for Africa

African universities have not really achieved the most vital mission of a university which is to impact society. Each year, thousands of Africans graduate from universities across the continent. But only a fraction of this proportion get employment. Even for those employed, a good chunk are under-employed, working in unrelated fields they studied.

Hubs across the continent will solve these crises in several ways. Firstly, the tech hubs across Africa are the first proof that hubs can solve Africa’s education and employment problems. Tech hubs have been sprouting all over the continent within the last four years providing financial solutions, agriculture, health and other important areas of development.

They have provided thousands of training and jobs. Secondly, building tech hubs are much less expensive than universities. They don’t require huge expenditure to set up buildings, recruit professors and all the equipment needed for the different faculties. This will make practical education affordable. This also means that education can be extended to smaller towns as hubs do not require huge infrastructure to set-up.

Hubs for innovating through African challenges

I strongly believe that hubs that specialise in different sectors of the economy should be set-up. For instance, Agricultural hubs can be created which will provide practical skills on all the agricultural best practices. Industrial hubs for teaching manufacturing skills. Architecture and civil engineering hubs to train our youth on all the methods required to build bridges, roads, dams etc. Biomedical hubs for research into diseases and their cures. This will be the only way that Africans will solve the challenges facing our continent.

Fred, has started with a hub that trains youths soft skills needed for the workplace. Hopefully, other African entrepreneurs can follow suit and set-up hubs for the various disciplines such as those mentioned above. Disruptive innovation by African entrepreneurs will be the only way to create millions of jobs for the continent’s teeming youth. Africa is the leader in fintech even though the mobile phone was not pioneered in Africa. Africa can also innovate and provide African solutions to Africa’s problems in all other areas of human endeavours.

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