Fred Swaniker
Fred Swaniker: Credit Ted Talk

How Africa stands apart

The rest of the world stands to learn a lot from Africa and how its people have tackled the many challenges that have come their way. So says Fred Swaniker, founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group and also recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people of 2019.

While much progress has already been made over the years, according to Fred there are currently 7 main opportunities and challenges in Africa, of which leaders of all ages need to be aware to drive the continent forward:

  1. Agriculture: We are currently spending upwards of US$40 billion per year importing food despite the fact that the African continent boasts ideal conditions for growing it ourselves. According to Fred, it’s a travesty that we could be creating agri-business billionaires, but we aren’t.
  2. Empowerment of women: Leaders need to be focused on unlocking women’s true potential across Africa. Considering how half of the population’s skills and knowledge remains largely untapped, it’s obvious that addressing this pertinent issue could work to drive Africa forward.
  3. Wildlife conservation: Africa has been blessed with incredible wildlife, a natural asset that spurs the economy on and yet is constantly incurring damage as a result of problems like poaching and climate change – problems that we all have the power to remedy.
  4. Tourism: There is infinite opportunity to attract tourists from all over the world to Africa due to its indescribable natural beauty and cultural assets. How do we leverage this opportunity better in the future, particularly in a post-COVID world?
  5. Arts: Africa is a creative continent; it is in our genes. This opportunity does not require a great deal of capital to be harnessed. All it needs is the inherent creativity of Africans.
  6. Regional integration: How do we get African countries to trade with and invest in each other more, and collaborate across borders?
  7. Natural resource management: Africa has been blessed with an abundance of resources: gold, diamonds, cobalt, and coal, yet we export these at about 5% of their value.

“Constraints drive innovation – and we have a lot of them in Africa. This forces us to be imaginative and to actively and quickly seek out solutions to create positive change.”

Moulding future-focused young leaders

It’s vital for all developing leaders to be well aware of the various opportunities and challenges that exist across the continent. As such, in his approach to moulding and mentoring young leaders, Fred has done away with encouraging them to choose a major. He insists that they work through a ‘menu’ of opportunities and declare a mission instead.

“Once the individual has selected the mission that most resonates with them, we then curate their entire learning experience around this decision. Some of the missions available include making improvements in the realms of healthcare; youth and employment; climate change; and education. All areas where innovation, problem-solving skills and imagination are paramount,” he explains.

It’s evident that Africa’s overall progress is dependent on the young leaders of this continent, which is why Fred plans to have developed three million leaders by 2035. It is his fervent hope that these young, inspirational leaders use their learnings and experiences to create jobs as entrepreneurs, drive change in government and adopt a forward-thinking approach to move the continent forward.

“My hope is that 10 years from now, we’ll be looking back on a period of rapid change. Of innovation and re-imagination. Of widespread digitisation and collaboration. Of notable progress – and all at the hands of our young, hard-working leaders,” Fred concludes.

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