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Fred Swaniker: Moulding Young Leaders in South Africa Through Education Programs  

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South Africa’s Fred Swaniker as an 18-year-old, helped his mom in running a small church school that she planned to establish in Botswana, South Africa for kids ages 5 to 12. “I became a headmaster at the age of 18,” he says. “I was teaching classes and managing other teachers. It was a pivotal experience.”

Obtaining a job at a young age in the education sector ignited a passion for education that Swaniker, ow 47, has carried throughout his career. After an MBA at Stanford in 2004, the Ghanaian entrepreneur decided to dedicate himself to building new programs that could develop students’ unrealized talent—and, in doing so, help to drive change for their communities.

“There are many challenges in Africa: healthcare, education, infrastructure, governance, food security, corruption,” Swaniker says. “I realized that there’s no way that I could, in my lifetime, solve any one of those issues. But if I could create an army of problem-solvers and innovators that would allow me to have a system for addressing all these problems.”

Upholding his vision, Swaniker et out to construct programs that could educate a generation of trailblazers. In 2004, working with colleagues he met while at Stanford, Swaniker devised a business plan for the African Leadership Academy with the goal of finding and training promising students from across Africa in entrepreneurship and leadership. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, the two-year high school now educates approximately 250 11th and 12th graders each year, selected from a competitive application process to which thousands of students apply.  

The academy’s success and the demand for the program it offers led Swaniker to open a new institution in 2015—the African Leadership University (ALU). The school, which has campuses in both Mauritius and Rwanda, offers bachelor’s degree programs in software engineering and entrepreneurial leadership to 2,000 students each year.

Swaniker aims for 3 million leaders to be formed with the programs’ curriculum by the year 2035. “Africa remains the youngest continent in the world, and will be 40 percent of the world’s population by 2050,” says Swaniker. “We’re looking at how to leverage the talent that’s there.”

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