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From the Archive: Alumni and Firm members gather for the launch of African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg

This feature on the launch of the African Leadership Academy originally appeared on the Alumni Center in May 2009.
Prominent Africans and global supporters, including fifteen McKinsey alumni and current consultants, gathered recently in Johannesburg, South Africa to celebrate the launch of the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a pan-African secondary boarding school with the mission of creating the next generation of leaders who will transform the African continent.

The school, which offers a two-year, intense academic program for 16- to 19-year-old boys and girls, is the brainchild of Fred Swaniker (JOH 99-01), Peter Mombaur (DUS, JOH 98-02) and Acha Leke, a current Principal in Johannesburg. The need for such an institution became clear to them during a McKinsey engagement in Nigeria. In the course of the study, they realized that many prominent Africans were sending their children to the U.S. or the U.K. for secondary school. At the same time, they had a heightened awareness that excellent leaders are needed in all types of African institutions.

The idea for the African Leadership Academy began to take root.

As Acha explains, “Lack of good leadership is one of the fundamental issues that Africa as a continent faces today, and this is exactly what ALA is addressing. 50 years from now, ALA will have trained 6,000 ethical African leaders who will have a significant impact on our continent.”

After concluding two years as a Business Analyst, Fred attended Stanford Business School, where he met Chris Bradford, who joined him in founding the school and now serves as its Chief Operating Officer. They both turned down promising job offers – including returning to the Firm – to devote their energies full-time to building ALA, spending five years securing funding and a facility, developing a curriculum, and identifying and attracting top students and faculty.

The founders have worked hard to give the students as many opportunities as possible, including an internationally recognized A-level curriculum, access to the world's finest universities after graduation, and a respected international faculty.

The students' education emphasizes leadership development, entrepreneurial training, and understanding African issues, equipping them to take senior roles in the future.

The inaugural class has 96 students from 29 countries. Those attending the ALA launch were impressed with the ambition of the students, while their varied backgrounds represent the recent history of the continent. Some have professional parents and have attended excellent schools, and at the other extreme, some have lived in refugee camps or are orphans.

Throughout the two-day launch celebration, several students shared their personal journeys to African Leadership Academy. Ngozi Cole, a formerly displaced seventeen-year-old citizen of Sierra Leone, was one of the students to share her story. As a young girl, Ngozi and her family were forced to flee to Gambia during her country's civil war. Ngozi plans to use her experiences and her education to work with children and refugees as a human rights lawyer. “There was a war in my country,” Ngozi said, “and I always prayed that it would never happen again. Here at ALA, I can always look on the future with hope. As a young African leader, what I want to see is peace.”

Jon Cummings, a current Director in New Jersey and previous Johannesburg office manager, was enthusiastic to attend and to see ALA in action. What impressed him most?  “The kids,” he says. “Their enthusiasm. Their commitment. Their maturity. Their love of each other. [And] the clear impact the academy is having.”

Acha explains, “The ALA launch was the culmination of five years of hard work. What started as a vision in our minds then is now a reality - with a campus, outstanding faculty, amazing students, and dedicated staff. It's really a dream come true.”

Fred is appreciative of the value of his McKinsey connections. He says, “Being connected to McKinsey has brought untold benefits – from the way I've approached problem-solving over the years using my McKinsey toolkit to the McKinsey partners and ex-colleagues who have served as informal advisors, mentors, and even as formal board members, such as Jon Cummings and Acha Leke, who both sit on our boards and have been instrumental in building ALA.

“Several current consultants and former employees and McKinsey-related organizations, such as McKinsey Kinderhilfe [a charity set up by German colleagues] have also financially supported us to bring this dream to life. I honestly feel the journey would have taken twice as long if I hadn't been part of the McKinsey family.”

Fred adds, “I feel incredibly fulfilled to see this dream we have been working on for so long come to fruition! I almost have to pinch myself each time I walk through our beautiful campus and see the young leaders engaged in discussions with our world-class faculty. The reality of the dream is so far exceeding my expectations.”

Stay tuned. This may be the first time you hear of ALA, but it likely won’t be the last!