Students From African Student Union Attend Africa Harvard Business Conference
BY XOLO MSOMI
On March 27 Kwame Odame (Swaziland/Ghana), Moussa Sall (Senegal/USA), Joseph Munyambaza (DR Congo) and Xolo Msomi (South Africa) attended the 17th annual Africa Harvard Business Conference, at Harvard Business School in Boston, Mass. The theme of the conference was: “A More Inclusive Africa: The Pursuit of Progress for All”. The event included the screening of a documentary titled “Poverty Inc.,” plenary sessions and panel discussions. Notable speakers included Ken Njoroge, the co-founder and CEO of the web development firm Cellutant; Fred Swaniker, the founder of the African Leadership Academy, a highly revered high school based in South Africa; and Arunma Oteh, the Officer of the Order of the Niger and has worked for the African Development Bank.
The conference housed a think-tank of aspiring leaders –students and established professionals—with an interest in learning and networking via formal breakout sessions. Entrepreneurship and start-ups, both small and big, were of were a major topic of discussion: how to start them, how to assess their feasibility and capital, and how to determine that social investment needed in the context of various African countries and currently thriving businesses.
Tunde Kehinde, co-founder and co-management director of Africa Courier Express, spoke at the “How I Started My Business” panel discussion. Kehinde is also the co-founder of an Amazon.com model based in Nigeria, known as Jumia.com. This discussion, which included other established professionals, focused on entrepreneurship in various African countries like Nigeria and the failures and successes the speakers had in actualizing the vison of their companies. They spoke of how they stood the test of time against corruption in the Nigerian government, and created many jobs and increased the economic productivity of the country.
Another notable moment of the event was the screening of “Poverty Inc.,” which was directed by Michael Matheson Miller and Dr. Jonathan Witt, both research fellows at the Acton Institute. This documentary criticized the power of Western foreign aid in third world countries. Whether it be USAID, or Bono leading another ‘poverty alleviation’ campaign or fund, there seems to be an optimally ineffective force of betterment for the livelihoods of those in need, via foreign aid, according to the speakers.
The crux of the documentary resonated with a central message that aid is not necessarily bad because indeed it helps the poorest of the poor, but it does not allow those at the bottom line to be empowered. It only gives short-term solutions to a greater long-term problem, which is the lack of tools to learn a trade and work, which is better than being a “beggar for the rest of your life,” as Herman Chinery-Hesse articulated in the production.
The greatest criticism of foreign aid is that it does not establish a bilateral partnership with governments, and actually hinders the poor from getting the tools to work rather than receive food parcels for the rest of their lives. Hesse’s blunt reasoning behind this issue of aid and its short-term solutions was that, “I have never heard of a first world country which has developed on aid [alone,” and after this movie there was greater knowledge to be extrapolated from Swaniker’s keynote address.
Swaniker spoke of the need that Africa has to realize its true potential and opportunities as the continent with the youngest age average, a plethora of resources but a lack of effective institutions to steer even the poorest of Africans on the right path for a sound tertiary education. Hence, he spoke of his plan in motion, the Africa Leadership Unleash initiative, which aims to create several African-based universities for Africans, under a model that combines education and work experience both in rigor and duration.
In effect, the goal is to make sure that by the time students graduate, they will have learned under an educational model of practical learning, which deviates from the current research-based model of education. Therefore, they will have the necessary foundation to walk straight into the profession of their interest, regardless of the changing factors of a constantly developing society.
Odame, Sall, Munyambanza and Msome are in a consensus that what they learned and gained from the conference intellectually and socially surpassed their expectations and opened their eyes to what they can do to play a role in their home continent, which is currently the continent of the most emerging economies in the world.