Taking leadership beyond conference rooms

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While global players were tied up at last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) gathering, emerging leaders were facing up to Africa’s challenges beyond hotels and meeting rooms.

WEF runs a project called Forum of Young Global Leaders (YGL) and its participants visited a number of grassroots initiatives across Cape Town to find out more about the development hurdles on the continent.

YGL is an “independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders from across society”. Its members, also known as YGLs, are recruited from businesses, civil society structures and governments.

They are “influential next-generation leaders who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to making a positive impact on the world”.

Some YGLs visited Christel House school in Ottery where learners from the poorest parts of the city receive education alongside nutritional, medical and psychological support.

YGL head John Dutton, based in Switzerland, said YGLs visited Christel House high school to examine its model aimed at eradicating poverty. The school is run by an international organisation and depends on donations.

Dutton said YGLs regularly met at parallel events during major WEF meetings to brainstorm solutions to existing societal challenges.

Those who visited Christel House aimed to “assess how public-private partnerships can be replicated to educate children from poor, violent and drug infested communities and develop highly employable (persons)”.

YGLs also shared their real-world know-how with Christel House learners during workshop sessions at the school.

Dutton said YGLs “have a 15 to 20 year track record of success” and for them these meetings were also a “learning moment”.

“They’re learning about a new generation while exchanging knowledge,” said Dutton.

“The ethos of our YGL community is about creating a better future. This is a really important complement to the business and public leaders the forum has. “These are younger leaders who have innovative ideas that are pushing the other (older) leaders to think in a different way and respond to new challenges in the world.”

Dutton added: “YGLs are reaching positions where they have influence enough to change the minds of policymakers and CEOs. But they are still in contact with a younger generation.”

“They are willing to give back, roll up their sleeves and open their door to make something happen.”

Cyrille Nkontchou, a businessman from Cameroon presently based in Johannesburg, said his asset management business ran a subsidiary called Enko Capital, which invested in private education.

Nkontchou said he was impressed with Christel House’s recruitment process.

“The more impoverished you are the more chance you have of getting into this institution (Christel House). They give poor students an opportunity,” he said.

“You need more institutions that help students from poor backgrounds to become successful.”

Nkontchou said YGLs wanted to “look at innovation in education”.

“We came to this school to see what they have been able to do with their resources. It has been a great inspiration for me,” he said.

He also said YGLs were focused on a “desire to make an impact”.”

“We come from a diverse background but we have a leadership ability in common. As a result there have been a lot of initiatives that have been taken forward though our network. There is also mentorship in our community.”

Irene Tinagli, an Italian parliamentarian focused on youth employment and social mobility, said she wanted to focus on education as “one of the biggest tools we have to improve young people’s lives”.

“It was amazing to see the degree of their maturity,” she said of Christel House’s learners.

“I think this is related to what they have endured to get to where they are. It has been difficult for them to part from a culture that was dominant in their neighbourhoods. They are aware they made a choice to depart from that.”

Tinagli added: “I was struck by how much they want to give back to their community. They are here to improve themselves and their community.”

She said YGLs gained from these experiences as it “makes people that work in companies and institutions aware of what the real purpose of their work must be”.

“YGL is not structured like a company to produce services or products. It is to change the way you view the world and interpret your own job; seeking in your daily job how you can make a better world,” said Tinagli.

“It is about building a new culture and awareness. It reminds successful people that success must be shared and made useful to others.”

She added: “We also see other realities. We see what the potential could be. We get an international perspective. We see problems and solutions. Some of us go back to our countries and fund NGOs or create solutions.”

Christel House chief executive Nicky Sheridan said their model to run a school has ensured a 100% matric pass rate and “95% of Christel House graduates are either gainfully employed or studying at university”.

He said: “People need to be well educated to fuel economic growth and maximise Africa’s competitiveness… Our goal is a sustained fight against poverty; not just in helping learners pass matric, but critically to find quality employment after school.”

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