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This February, faculty recipients of the University Education for Transformative Leadership in Africa (UETLA) grants shared their takeaways from a series of key papers that talk about the Talloires Network’s strategic initiatives. This ongoing conversation is taking place in our online community of practice website, TN Connects.

The assigned readings included the MasterCard Foundation Strategic Plan, the Talloires Network Leaders Conference Overview, and the year one report of the Youth Economic Participation Initiative. The MasterCard Foundation Strategic Plan shows the interests and focus of the initiative’s financial supporter. The plan begins by acknowledging Africa’s “persistent poverty amid rapid growth,” and several faculty members agree this paradox resonates with their personal experience.  Anthony Leone of the American University in Cairo points out that “young people are systematically excluded from education and from financial services such as savings accounts,” agreeing with the plan’s conclusions that this can “lock people out from fully participating in the economy.” While concerned by the worrisome statistics laid out in the MasterCard Plan, UETLA grantees also recognize their universities and departments are taking steps to strategically address this gap between economic growth and economic opportunity for all.

Martina Jordan of the University of Pretoria emphasizes the soft skills her students will develop while working at the Stanza Bopape Community Centre in Mamelodi planning and installing an irrigation project. These skills include “groupwork, teamwork, project management, time management and communication skills” wrote Jordan. Efiti Filliam of Livingstone International University in Uganda noted the importance of experiential learning and internships to her university’s business program. Elvis Akomoneh of Saint Monica University in Cameroon writes that the readings reaffirmed his conviction that the university’s formal coursework in entrepreneurship, grant writing, and telemedicine – as well as Saint Monica’s internship and mobile health clinic incubation project – play a critical role in helping students reach their professional potential. “This is not only aimed at integrating classroom theory with hands-on practice, but also provides an opportunity for the students to get an understanding of the employment world and make contacts with some industries before graduation,” writes Akomoneh.

At the same time, several faculty members detect a tension between their university’s responsibility to develop students that are technically skilled and ethically engaged.   Janice McMillan recalls a civil engineering student in her Global Citizenship course at the University of Cape Town.  The student wrote that the course “allowed me to re-examine where I see myself within the world and critically evaluate the ideas I have about development, and those we so often unjustifiably see as the ‘Other’ when we think about such engagements.”  For Janice, these words reinforced “the value not only of technical skills, but of values, humanity and ethics.”

Phumelele Kunene-Ngubane of Mangosithu University of Technology in Swaziland writes of another challenge: the importance of making community engagement purposeful and sustained; not a one-off learning opportunity for students. Dina Wafa, of the American University in Cairo (Egypt), is concerned with how to measure the impact of entrepreneurial education initiatives.

A common theme among faculty is a commitment to what the MasterCard report calls “thought leadership.” As Anthony Leone writes, “involving students in the communities of which they will become part while educating them so that they can take advantage of opportunities that confront them” is not simple, and will require sustained thought partnering and knowledge sharing—precisely what the nine recipients of the UETLA grants have committed themselves to doing.