Fred Swaniker was always destined to end up in education. His grandmother founded a school in her native Ghana, his mother followed in these footsteps by founding her own school in her adopted Botswana and when he reached the tender age of 18 she gave Fred his first taste of running a school by making him the principal for a short while. A few years back this entrepreneur's dream project finally took shape as the African Leadership Academy, a world-class, pan-African secondary college, opened its doors. He talked to New African about his visionary initiative - to train the continent's next generation of leaders.
Fred Swaniker represents the new breed of Africans; heis well-travelled, well-educated and impatient to change the fate of the continent. He also strongly believes that one of the biggest problems in Africa is a lack of quality in our leaders. And so 9 years ago he embarked on putting together a mechanism to remedy this problem by identifying and shaping the future leaders of Africa. He started off by insisting that his approach is not one of revolutionising education but rather, strengthening the pool of highly talented individuals who can one day lead the continent in business, the public sector and civil society: "The Academy is not about solving educational problems but about addressing the issue of leadership - we want our leaders to be educated, but we go far beyond the realm of education, we like to develop other skills.
"The project has been going for nine years now. We spent five years conceptualising it, raising finance, running pilot programmes and developing the curriculum to learn and prepare for the second phase, which began four years ago - opening the doors of the academy. And now we are in phase three, which entails building and supporting a growing network of leaders that keeps them connected to each other and finding opportunities for them to develop as leaders. We are in the ninth year of a 50-year project, because the transformation of Africa is not a short-term project. African Leadership Academy is a 50-100 year project."
Speaking to people close to the programme and some of those who have visited the academy, located in the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, the students selected are truly inspirational. In fact, this seems to be the standard response. "The students blow you away," said one visitor. "You start questioning what you have achieved in your life and it really makes you want to roll back the years and go back to school. They're another breed; truly inspirational young Africans, confident, outgoing, driven and focused," added another.
The brains behind the project are Fred and his colleague and co-founder Chris Bradford. It is apparent that they have a clearly defined long-term vision and that they have thought about every aspect of this venture. "We borrowed ideas from different places, and also did things no one had ever done before. For example, the idea of a two-year programme comes from the United World Colleges Programme. [This was a programme launched during the Cold War to bring together young people from around the world and offer an educational experience based on shared learning, collaboration and understanding, so that the students would act...