Buffett Award 2018 recipient talks education in Africa, global responsibility


Alison Albelda/The Daily Northwestern

Fred Swaniker speaks at a Buffett Institute event on Wednesday. The Ghanaian entrepreneur discussed his experience building an educational foundation for Africa’s future leaders.

Amy Li, Reporter

Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker, recipient of the 2018 Buffett Award for Emerging Leaders, told students Wednesday that the only way to justify the privilege of education is to use it to solve global problems.

Swaniker, who spoke at an event sponsored by the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, is renowned for his innovation in higher education in Africa. He is the founder of the African Leadership Academy, the African Leadership University and several other institutions that focus on building an educational foundation for Africa’s future entrepreneurial leaders.

“I came to see that Africa’s greatest potential is our people,” Swaniker told a crowd of about 40 people. “It isn’t our gold, or our diamonds. It is the people that we have above ground.”

Swaniker said he decided to open ALU after 4,000 students applied to ALA when the academy could only accept 125.

“I saw this tremendous hunger, and a need to do more,” Swaniker said.

However, Swaniker said he was faced with challenges in finding professors who could accommodate the growing demand for education. Eventually, he decided to innovatively shift the focus to online learning and student collaboration, he said.

Instead of designing a university around the scarce resource of professors, Swaniker said he chose to design it around the abundant resource of “brilliant African students.”

Swaniker said Africa will have the largest workforce in the world within 17 years, and by investing in education, the continent can ensure that the emerging generation will be a source of “innovation and prosperity.”

However, the 17-year time constraint calls for “rapid, unconventional solutions to education,” Swaniker added.

He closed his speech by issuing a number of “challenges” to the attendees, one of which is to “choose to be bothered” by the problems faced by the world. Swaniker said the future of the world is intertwined, and it is no longer enough to be a bystander.

Bruce Carruthers, director of the Buffett Institute, said the Buffett Award recognizes outstanding people early in their careers for their leadership in areas of global significance.

“We really styled this not simply as an end-of-career award for a job well done, but as a mid-career encouragement,” Carruthers said.

To engage the undergraduate community, the Buffett Institute allows undergraduate affiliates to research and nominate the nominees. Carruthers described the process as “campus democracy at work.”

Weinberg senior Nneka Onyeka, who nominated Swaniker for the award, said she is passionate about development in sub-Saharan Africa and has understood development to occur only through the investment in African people.

“True leaders are individuals who can not only dictate what needs to be done and when, but someone who is willing to invest in those around him,” Onyeka said. “A leader is someone who sees potential and nurtures that potential.”

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