The Africa Leadership Academy was founded in 2004 by Fred Swaniker in an effort to build the next generation of African leaders. The two-year secondary school takes 120 of Africa’s most promising students each year and immerses them in an intensive entrepreneurial leadership curriculum, as well as in A-level Cambridge classes. The African Leadership Academy also offers the Global Scholars Program (GSP), a 19-day summer program open to secondary school students from around the world.
This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in GSP. For almost three weeks, 34 other students from North America, Asia, and Africa and I were taken through ALA’s own intensive Entrepreneurial Leadership and African studies curriculum, through which we learned not only about problem-solving and some of the challenges facing the continent, but also about who we are as individuals. Much of our time was spent working with three separate community-based organizations in Soweto, South Africa’s largest and most historic township. There we split into groups of two or three to come up with sustainable and need-based solutions to the problems these three local projects faced. A third of the students in my GSP session worked with a youth club at a local library, a third worked with a gaming center that focused on getting youths off the streets, and a third worked with an after-school arts program. By the end of our time at GSP, we had come up with what we believe to be sustainable and implementable solutions for these community organizations. We had learned what it truly meant to identify needs rather than wants, and to find answers that relied on the community rather than outsiders. We used the Africa Leadership Academy’s own BUILD model – Believe, Understand, Invent, Listen, and Deliver—to come to these answers.
While the work we did during my GSP session will stay with me for the rest of my life, it is the deep friendships I made with individuals from all over the world and especially for the African continent that are most transformative. I came away with connections that will last a lifetime, and new perspectives on many of the issues faced by the world and by Africa, in particular.
As someone passionate about gender studies, some of the most interesting moments of GSP were the conversations I had with girls from many different countries. Their perspectives and insights on gender relations in their own countries broadened my own understanding of what it means to be a girl in a global community and the broad range of issues facing women and girls around the world. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once explained so perfectly,
[[callout ” “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.””]]
There is no one story of African feminism, or of the female experience in Nigeria, Ghana, the United States, and other countries around the world. By having girls from countries across Africa and around the world share their own experiences and realities, the single-story mentality is shattered, and more voices are able to be added to this important global conversation on feminism.
WomenStrong gave me the platform to collect the stories of the girls of GSP. Each girl responded with great insight and wisdom to the prompt:
[[highlight ““How has being a girl affected your experiences, colored your views?””]]
[[highlight ““What are the societal aspects of the sexism you have experienced if any?””]]
[[highlight ““Do you have a sense of how those gender issues play out in the poverty women and girls experience in your country?””]]
In groupings of three to five, WomenStrong will be posting these young leaders’ responses and stories, thereby adding new voices to an ever-expanding narrative of the female experience.