African Entrepreneur Fred Swaniker Talks About The Air And Water In Silicon Valley

African Entrepreneur Fred Swaniker Talks About The Air And Water In Silicon Valley

From WhartonUniversity. Story by Katherine Klein.

Fred Swaniker is an entrepreneur and leadership development expert making a huge social impact in Africa, where he founded the African Leadership Academy, the African Leadership Network and his latest effort, the African Leadership Universities.

Named one of the Top 10 Young Power Men in Africa by Forbes magazine, among other honors, his long-term goal is to revolutionize the continent’s economies from the educational system up. In a recent interview with Katherine Klein, vice dean of the Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative, Swaniker explained his ambitious plans for Africa.

His 10-year-old African Leadership Academy is located just outside Johannesburg.

“I went to business school at Stanford. And one of the reasons I was curious about going to Stanford is I really wanted to understand what’s different about Silicon Valley that creates all these tremendous entrepreneurs that changed the world.

Is there something special in the water that they drink there? What is really unique?

I went there, and there’s nothing special about the water or the air in Silicon Valley. The only difference is that venture capitalists, investors take a 17-year-old kid with an idea seriously. And next thing (you know), a Facebook is created.

So, I thought, what if we could go around Africa and find the same equivalents, the African Mark Zuckerberg at 17, the next African Steve Jobs or the Bill Gates or the next Nelson Mandela at the age of 17, 18, 19? And then bring them into a special program where you develop their entrepreneurial leadership skills.

You give them more class education. And then you also plug them into very a powerful network — because I believe that no matter how good your skills are as a leader or an entrepreneur, if you don’t have access to the right mentors, people who can invest in you who can open doors, introduce you to your first customer, etc., you’ll never be able to take your potential to the full level.

So, that’s where we started.

The African Leadership Academy is a two-year program. We get about 3,000 to 4,000 applicants a year from across the continent, 48 different countries. We select the top 100. They join this program for two years. We educate them. They get hands-on practice.

We’re admitting about 3 percent of the applicants. This is really the cream of the crop of Africa, but we’re selecting them not because of the financial means they have. We’re selecting them because of the potential impact they can have on the continent. Many of them at the age of 16 or 17 have started companies, they’ve invented products, they’ve led political movements in their countries and so forth. And we say, “OK, if you did all this on your own without anyone investing in you, imagine what we can do if we bring you into this network, invest in your development, educate you and then plug you into these networks?”

So, they leave the Academy and then go into top universities around the world. Then they’ll have a contract with us that they must return to Africa by the age of 25 and serve on the continent for at least 10 years.

Read more at WhartonUniversity.