ALX - A Mission to Transform Africa

Cheick Traore

I spent my summer in Nairobi, Kenya, interning at ALX, which I refer to as an education startup, but which is ultimately much more than just that.

ALX is on a mission to transform Africa by developing and connecting a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders.

The AL Group founder, Fred Swaniker, is a serial entrepreneur with a pan-African and global vision of transformation. ALX is the latest addition to his endeavours, drawing on over 15 years of combined leadership development experience. Together, the AL Group entities are a catalyst for change.

  • African Leadership Academy (established in 2004), based in Johannesburg, is the continent’s only pan-African high school. It offers a two-year pre-University Diploma Program geared at young leaders aged 16-19 who have the potential to catalyse positive change on the continent.
  • Africa Leadership University (established in 2013), a network of world-class innovative tertiary education institutions with the mission to develop young leaders into innovative problem solvers. ALU has campuses in Mauritius and Rwanda.
  • African Leadership Network (established in 2010) provides a convening place for those who share the vision to transform Africa through leadership.

Graca and Fred

Interning at ALX was a no-brainer for me.

Their vision to "develop three million ethical and entrepreneurial leaders that can create transformational impact on the continent” deeply resonated with me and my story. I am a national from Burkina Faso, and a firm believer that Africa’s development will require local people empowerment. Upon finishing high school in 2003, and before moving to France, I attended the University of Ouagadougou, one of the then two public universities in the country. There, I would have to wake up at 4am just so I could secure a seat in the classroom. There were no microphones, no wide-screens, and too few seats for the 400 students who sat through the lecture. These were difficult times, but proved to be eye-opening.

In hindsight, I realise that the problem didn’t lie in the academics because what I learned in Burkina helped me in France. The problem rather sits in the means and the scale. Thus my experience at the University of Ouagadougou sparked my deep desire to improve people’s circumstances in my home country, Burkina Faso, and ultimately in Africa.

What ALX is doing is just that: help alleviate those pain points by providing access to world-class education (for both young graduates and mid-managers) in a mix of online/on-site classes and creating a community to connect entrepreneurial leaders and innovative problem solvers. Hence, taking part in the development of ALX was in line with my desire to give back and educate leaders on the continent.

Upon joining ALX, we - I was interning with six other INSEAD students - took part in “Central Academy”, the annual seminar and strategy retreat during which the founder presented the vision, mission and new orientations for the company, building on the learnings since inception in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018.

Following the seminar, I was tasked to outline a five-year strategic plan for ALX, that would be shared with employees, new hires and investors. I produced a document after a couple of working sessions with Fred Swaniker, the founder, Victoria Peill, the Head of ALX and other executives (head of Products, head of People, Strategic projects lead). The final document highlighted the strategic direction over the next few years, giving a timeline and an action plan for each year, all while emphasising on the expected growth (four new locations - Lagos, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Casablanca - by the end of 2019, and approximate 50 by 2023) and the new capabilities that would be needed.

To reach its ambition (especially on the mid-manager front), ALX is also building a sales function, to which I contributed through an (African) prospects database of 10k+ businesses.

ALX Team

Looking back at this experience, which, as strange as it may sound, was my first professional experience in Africa, I really learnt a lot.

  • There is a momentum building on the continent. Nairobi is a big hub for start-ups and I now know why it’s called “Silicon Savannah”. This means that people have funding, but also the human capital required to launch their businesses. I myself was pleasantly surprised to see the number of repats, MBA holders or ex-consultants that work in the country.
  • I had been to Nairobi in 2009, and fast forward 10 years later, I could see the difference. The story about the rising African middle class is not a myth. I can say that technologically, Nairobi seemed more advanced than many Western economies. Indeed, I could literally live with my phone: I could use it for transport (Uber, Bolt and the likes), Food and Groceries (Uber eats, Jumia, Glovo), Payment (M-Pesa). And all these services are tailored to the local market.
  • Interacting with Fred Swaniker, which never in my life I would have deemed possible, and seeing his simplicity and the way he empowers people, was a valuable leadership experience. I won't forget the moment I met Mrs Graça Machel, independence freedom fighter, former Minister of Education, former first lady of Mozambique, and Nelson Mandela’s widow. She serves as Chancellor of ALU and gave a very moving speech on education and women empowerment in the African context.

I am truly grateful for the INSEAD Social Impact Award that I was granted to pursue the internship. It was clearly in line with the Business as a Force for Good spirit that we value at INSEAD. As I put in my INSEAD application, “Inspire, impact, and empower, that is how enriching I expect my MBA journey to be.” My summer internship alone has clearly ticked all those boxes.