“The future of East Africa is in good hands”: This was my tweet following the opportunity to sit on the selection panel for the Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Program on 21st May, 2011. Leaving the venue, my mind was awash with the hope, positivity and sheer wonder at the innovation that characterized that Saturday’s events. I often think about, and sometimes write about issues around governance, and particularly leadership. For a long time in Kenya, and to a greater extent Africa, we have taken issue with the quality of our leadership. Here, I was surrounded by the stuff that leaders are made from! A room full of mostly young (I confess to a bias for youth) people from across East Africa who were applying their minds and skills to transforming the conditions in their respective countries. These innovations were mindful of the challenges we face as a continent, and as such ranged from renewable energy to agriculture to provision of affordable health services.
In a region sometimes dominated by politics, it was most refreshing to experience leadership redefined: a group of people actively working to effect social change, and in so doing, demonstrating that leadership does not only emanate from the political sphere, but comes in a variety of shades, shapes and sizes. It is unlikely that all the finalists considered themselves leaders, but in my view, they most certainly are. Each and every one, without exception, has made a personal sacrifice to seek solutions to societal challenges. This is the kind of leadership East Africa yearns for: servant leadership acting in the interest of the public, and identifying sustainable solutions to East Africa’s problems.
Looking back, I must have made quite a sight wearing a strange grin on my face throughout the day (despite being confined indoors on a Saturday). From the elevator pitches to the group and individual interviews, I couldn’t help but smile in recognition of the events unfolding before my very eyes. Faced with these challenges, most people would think “…wouldn’t it be nice if someone could sort that out”, and barely give it another moments thought. Not this group! They are those who not only dare to dream, but then act on those dreams as well!
Never before had I come across such an inspirational group of people in one place! The level of commitment on the faces of each of the finalists was plain to see. One thing, however, set this group of finalists apart. Each and every one of them was passionate about their work and social change project. Passion was their driving force, guiding them to seek to become Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows. I feel a distinct privilege to have played some small role in the proceedings that day, inspired and enriched by not only the innovation in content, but also the diversity of ideas and individuals. All those selected as finalists should feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment, as their selection is an achievement in and of itself! With this kind of leadership, the future of East Africa really is in good hands!
Tom Mboya is a governance and anti-corruption specialist with Ni Sisi!, a nationwide movement uniting Kenyans to form a collective identity to drive transformation in leadership and maisha. Check out his blog here.
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Photo by Teddy Mitchener.