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The New Frontier of Education

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Microsoft’s Pan-African Innovative Education Forum 2010

I just returned from Mombasa, Kenya where I had the pleasure of participating at Microsoft’s Pan-African Innovative Education Forum ( The Forum was part of Microsoft’s “Partners in Learning” education initiative (, which has already impacted more than 193.5 million students and teachers in 114 countries. The event brought together some of the most passionate and innovative teachers in sub-Saharan Africa, and it was truly inspiring to be amongst them and to see the ways in which they are integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into classroom learning and school administration.

The most exciting thing about the Forum was the changing nature of education (especially its delivery) in the 21st century, and the impact that it can have on the African continent. Rote learning and dusty textbooks (not that there is anything wrong with textbooks!) are being shown the door in favor of a new version of education – Education 2.0 – that embraces technology and new methods of learning. Education 2.0 especially caters to different learning styles; engages students in new materials; and helps ensure that this generation of students is equipped to compete in the global marketplace.

Education 2.0 holds great promise for students in sub-Saharan Africa, where education access and lagging standards have left African students at a disadvantage. As infrastructure improves, integrating ICT into classroom learning and school administration will open a world of learning to even the most remote villages across the continent and go a long way toward improving education access for the world’s most disadvantaged students.

The private sector has come to play an increasing role in the development and implementation of Education 2.0, as well as other social services. They recognize that such efforts are more than mere investments in the socio-economic development of future markets and strengthening of human capital – it’s the fulfillment of a commitment to basic right to education, healthcare and other social services. Microsoft in particular has helped take the lead on many private sector initiatives in the developing world, especially education.

The Pan-African Innovative Education Forum represents one facet of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, a nearly $500 million investment in the education of the world’s students that develops curricula, tools and resources based around a new generation of education and learning. The Forum brought together teachers from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda who truly love teaching, and they were committed to wanting to change the lives of their students by equipping them with the skills and tools they will need to effect change in their personal, family and community lives.

One of the highlights of the Forum is its emphasis on developing a network of educators who can learn from one another about innovative activities and lessons from around the world. They share best practices from their own classrooms and schools with one another, and it’s these efforts which help strengthen education networks, that allow educators to draw upon the extraordinary reserves of energy, innovation and talent of the African continent.

I’m proud to say that Leadership Africa USA is at the forefront of the Education 2.0 revolution. In a few months, we will launch our existing leadership course curriculum for middle school students in an online learning management system (LMS). The goals of the LMS are to present a creative way of delivering leadership development training to an age cohort who are already very aware (they may not necessarily have access) of the new technologies around (the cell phone, the Smartphone, the internet, the social networks, etc); and to provide a cost effective way of delivering this training to middle school students on a larger scale using information and communication technology (ICT).

It is always encouraging to be part of a solution to a problem when that solution is developed by those directly affected by the problem. In this case, it is the African educators and the private sector who have decided it is in their interest to tackle the problem of the education quality and access themselves. Leadership Africa USA salutes the innovators of the Pan African Education Innovative Forum.

Happy 10th Birthday AGOA

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Shehnaz Rangwala

One of the most obvious examples of how integrated the world has become is the rise in global trade. In 2007 just one percent of world trade was worth $199 billion – much larger(actually 4 times larger) than the total development assistance to Sub-Saharan African countries from G8 member countries that year.  Yet regions such as Africa still face considerable problems accessing the enormous benefits of increased global trade. These problems range from inadequate or antiquated infrastructure; weak regulatory environments; to insufficient local capacity.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law on May 18, 2000, was a response by the United States to provide an arrangement for African countries to bolster their trade opportunities with the U.S. with the end goal of strengthened free market economies and improved economic environments in these countries. Since its inception, AGOA’s impact on economic development in Africa has been significant - more than 300,000 jobs have been created in Africa; non-oil exports have increased by 340% and imports have grown by an equally impressive 51% from 2007 to $5.1 billion in 2008. In Kenya alone, the exports to the United States have more than tripled! Apparel exports in Kenya have remarkably increased from $111 million to $344 million in 2008 .  

The Honorable Dr. Timothy Thahane, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, The Kingdom of Lesotho,  during his remarks at the celebration of the 10th year anniversary or AGOA also extolled the benefits of AGOA to the Lesotho economy. He noted that small textile industries that were previously employing less than 10,000 women, currently employ about 50,000 women under AGOA. AGOA is having a lasting impact in many African countries.

The challenge of AGOA is in maximizing the benefits of the global economy and ensuring all people share in those benefits. There is a need to re-double efforts in building the capacity in Africa in order to exploit the full potential of AGOA.  These range from:

  1. Training entrepreneurs on the fundamentals of business proposal development, identifying the target market, and understanding the different regulations affiliated with exporting a particular product;

  2. Conducting targeted trade missions to highlight viable opportunities for U.S. businesses in African countries;

  3. Expanding access to information regarding available opportunities that exist through AGOA;
  4. To Establishing support networks for SMEs (small to medium enterprises).

Equally important for AGOA and beyond, is the need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among Africa’s large youth population. African governments should focus on creating a generation of Africans who are ably equipped to tap into the vast opportunities affiliated with global trade. Leadership development training is one such means to prepare Africa’s youth to be leaders in the fields of business, education, science, politics, agriculture and the list goes on.