Type to search

Some New Educational Initiatives Around the World

GB Geo-Blog

Some New Educational Initiatives Around the World

Two events yesterday prompted me to feel encouraged about progress in the education of future socially minded leaders around the world.  One was the privilege of having dinner with Fred Swaniker, co-founder of the African Leadership Academy, and two extremely impressive students from its first class.  The other was the announcement of grants to launch new Master’s in Development Practice programs in nine universities across seven countries and five continents. 

The story behind the African Leadership Academy is remarkable.  Fred, who was born in Ghana and grew up throughout Africa, attended US universities for both his undergraduate degree and for business school.  Having worked at McKinsey and in other top-tier business environments, Fred and his three co-founders identified the need for a top-tier pan-African school to train future generations of leaders from across the continent.  They set a goal to bring talented young people together from across Africa for two years of intensive pre-university education in academics, entrepreneurship and leadership.  The central ambition is to foster cohorts of world-class African leaders of all forms, and to expose talented young Africans to global leaders from all fields as part of their day-to-day education.  

Within less than five years, Fred and his colleagues have established a campus in Johannesburg, recruited top-flight faculty, and raised resources to provide full scholarships to the vast majority of students.  For recruitment, they started by sending letters to 1,600 headmasters around Africa and asking each to nominate their top 4 students, based on a holistic sense of talent and who is committed to making their communities better.  Students are chosen based solely on merit and prospects for entrepreneurialism of various forms. Roughly 1,500 students applied for 100 spots in the first year, and more than 2,000 applied in the second year. 

The school’s first class includes William Kamkwamba, a boy from rural Malawi whose family couldn’t afford to send him to school, but who somewhat famously still built an electricity-generating windmill from scratch. Another is Miranda Nyathi, a South African girl who decided that when her school couldn’t find a math teacher, she would teach the class herself. The school follows the principle that such students not only benefit from access to opportunities, but reinforce each others’ talents when they live and study together for an extended period.  

Importantly, the school’s leadership is thinking far into the future, on how to sustain the support and strength of the community for decades to come.  Students will have long-term loan forgiveness incentives to launch their careers in Africa, regardless of where they go to university.  And on the side of important intangibles, they will be part of a global network of support as they face forthcoming life junctures. I am excited to learn more about the African Leadership Academy, and encourage others to do so too.  

Meanwhile, earlier in the day the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation (no relation) announced major grants to launch new Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) programs across the globe.  This is in follow-up to the recommendations of the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, which I had the privilege to co-chair with Jeffrey Sachs, and whose report  was released in October 2008. Over 70 universities around the world competed for the nine grants awarded.

As the Foundation’s announcement describes,

MDP programs are designed to provide graduate students with training beyond the typical focus on classroom study of economics and management found in most development studies. The program’s core curriculum combines classroom study in a range of disciplines, including agriculture, policy, health, engineering, management, environmental science, education, and nutrition with field training experiences.

[…] The universities that will receive funding to establish the nine MDP programs are:

Emory University (Atlanta, Ga.) will emphasize the health and governance-related aspects of sustainable development through its work with partners that include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CARE, and the Carter Center.

The Energy Resources Institute University (New Delhi, India) will emphasize energy and climate sciences, building on its contributions to scientific and policy research in energy, environment, and sustainable development.

James Cook University (Cairns and Townsville, Australia) will offer coursework at its two campuses and field training in the Philippines and Indonesia, focusing on the challenges to sustainable development and governance in tropical island nations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin (Dublin, Ireland) will integrate their teaching in international development and also partner with the National University of Rwanda to offer field training and coursework in conservation and sustainable development.

Tsinghua University (Beijing, China) will build on its English-language degrees and Master’s programs in international development and public administration to focus on development models for China.

University of Cheikh Anta Diop (Dakar, Senegal) will focus on current development challenges facing Africa by integrating health, social and natural sciences, engineering, information technology, and management. It will also serve as a MDP program hub for French-speaking West African nations.

University of Botswana (Gaborone, Botswana) will create a modular program designed for working professionals. Rigorous independent study will be complemented by two to three weeks of on campus training each semester. University of Botswana will partner with University of Florida to offer field training experiences in Botswana.

University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.) will implement a program that includes the core curriculum, building on University of Florida’s expertise in conservation and sustainable development, especially in Latin America. The program also incorporates faculty and student exchanges and a field-training program in Botswana, in partnership with University of Botswana.

University of Ibadan (Ibadan, Nigeria) will build on existing graduate programs in health, science, and natural resources with the long-term goal of creating a Centre for Development Studies. It will also serve as a MDP program hub for English-speaking West African nations.

The universities are expected to produce 250 graduates with a Master’s in Development Practice degree by 2012, with a total of 750 students enrolled. They were selected based on five criteria, including support from top university leadership, excellent infrastructure and academic programs, and the ability to serve as regional hub; geographic representation among students and exceptional faculty across the four core competencies of the natural, health, and social sciences and management; and a timeline and business plan for financial sustainability when funding ends in three years. In 2010, MacArthur will fund up to five additional universities to create additional MDP programs.

The African Leadership Academy and the global MDP program are two exciting steps in a growing educational movement that is connecting classrooms in all corners of the world with international networks of common ambition and expertise. The future of socially minded leadership and public problem-solving shines brighter with each such initiative that takes hold.  


John McArthur is the CEO and Executive Director of Millennium Promise. He is based in New York. Follow John on Twitter @johnmca or email him at john.mcarthur@millenniumpromise.org.


1 Comment

  1. Sue Massey July 1, 2009

    I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

Leave a Comment