African Entrepreneurship Program

Economic and social entrepreneurship in Africa is one of the most robust and fastest growing areas of interest at Harvard University and beyond. In the 2014-15 academic year, the Center for African Studies consolidated multiple initiatives, while fostering new ones, to launch its African Entrepreneurship Program. This Program creates and facilitates a range of activities at Harvard and in Africa that incubates innovative ideas, integrates entrepreneurship into the classrooms and study abroad programs, offers direct mentorship and internship opportunities for undergraduate and professional school students, and cultivates collaborative opportunities for the production and execution of game-changing ideas.

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The Center for African Studies’ African Entrepreneurship Program is Harvard’s focal point for individual and cross-school initiatives centering on economic and social entrepreneurship. In the past academic year alone, these include the Center’s launch of the first African entrepreneurship course in Harvard College which brought in over a dozen leading entrepreneurs to engage with undergraduate students; the direct support of Harvard Business School’s Immersive Field Courses in Africa, including the development of the course, “Africa: Building Cities,” which will explore how best to attract and deploy private capital and expertise in the context of rapid urbanization and resource scarcity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and the funding and mentorship of over twenty professional school students who traveled to Cameroon where they met with government and business leaders and hosted a youth entrepreneurship summit in Douala, bringing together 80 attendees, ranging from students to established business leaders. In addition, the Center has facilitated Harvard Innovation Lab’s nearly two dozen Africa-based projects, including three Presidential Challenge finalists; it has also extensively funded independent, student projects across campus with an African entrepreneurial foci; and is fully-funding additional course development and visiting lecturers from Africa, including David Adjaye, who will teach a three-year studio on urbanization and innovation at the Graduate School of Design. The direct impact of these initiatives has already been dramatic and globally recognized, with dozens of Harvard graduates launching social and economic entrepreneurship initiatives and earning accolades ranging from Rhodes Scholarships to selection as one of Forbes‘s 30 Most Promising Entrepreneurs in Africa.

The Center for African Studies is also a lead sponsor and facilitator of large-scale conferences and networking events, both on campus and on the continent. In 2015, the Center again sponsored the annual Africa Business Conference at Harvard Business School. This is the largest such conference in the world, with 1,450 attendees and 2,345 online participants. The conference’s theme was “A More Inclusive Africa: the pursuit of progress for all,” featuring keynote addresses by Arunma Oteh, Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Nigeria; Ken Njoroge, CEO of Cellulant; and Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Network and Africa Advisory Group.

The Center was also the lead sponsor and ongoing mentor for Harvard’s Africa Development Conference, which is an annual, student-run event. This year’s theme, “Looking South – Moving Forward: Fostering Development Collaboration Within The Global South,” drew upon Harvard’s Africanist strengths with several faculty members spearheading engagements with entrepreneurial leaders from Africa and beyond who are collaboratively engaging in the intersections between development, design, innovation, and Africa’s future. The conference attracted over 400 participants and featured His Excellency Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger, as a keynote speaker. In addition, the Center inaugurated a student entrepreneurial component to this year’s conference when it funded the Clean Water Ideathon. Convened by Sangu Delle’s (College ’11, HLS ’17, HBS ’17) non-profit CleanAcwa, this “hackathon” style competition drew nearly 100 participants, with the winning team presenting its innovation at CleanAcwa’s Clean Water Summit in Ghana.

The Center’s entrepreneurial engagement extends beyond Harvard with multiple collaborations across the continent, including its flagship partnership with the African Leadership Network (ALN), a membership community of the most dynamic and influential new-generation leaders in Africa. Founded by Fred Swaniker in 2010, the ALN now has over 1,500 members from more than 40 countries, representing top leadership in the private sector, government, civil society and academia.

In 2015, the Center is the exclusive academic sponsor of the ALN Annual Gathering in Morocco, where over 400 of the continent’s foremost business and intellectual entrepreneurs will convene. As the exclusive academic sponsor, the Center will:

  • Convene a panel of Harvard faculty, alumni, and members of the Center’s Global Advisory Board to analyze the Annual Gathering’s theme for 2015: “Boundaries: Define, Defend, Destroy;”
  • Share highlights from its recent work with all attendees at the Annual Gathering, including one-on-ones with Harvard faculty and affiliates;
  • Screen a documentary about the Center, directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning South African photojournalist Greg Marinovich, with all Annual Gathering participants.

The Center’s partnership with the ALN expands and deepens its relationship with the African Leadership University (ALU), a brand new network of tertiary education institutes also founded by Fred Swaniker, whose first campus, in Mauritius, will open in 2016. Oppenheimer Faculty Director Elkins is a member of the ALU’s Global Advisory Board, and together with Harvard faculty and students, is creating far-reaching initiatives with the ALU to leverage entrepreneurship endeavors, online learning, and cross-University engagements in the realms of innovation and teaching and learning.

African Entrepreneurship Program: Vision for Growth

Looking ahead, the African Entrepreneurship Program will continue its leading role in facilitating student and faculty initiatives on campus, and engagements with African-based organizations; it also seeks to launch the following, cross-fertilizing initiatives:

  • Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program. This program will attract entrepreneurs and innovators, such as current Center-sponsored lecturer David Adjaye, for anywhere from one week to several academic years to take residence at the Center where they can engage directly with entrepreneurship initiatives on campus, create new initiatives, mentor students, and offer seminars and other short-courses.
  • Annual, Endowed Entrepreneurship Lecture Series. This lecture series will leverage the success of the Center’s undergraduate course on African entrepreneurship and the Business School annual conference to offer a campus-wide lecture series that will monthly bring leading entrepreneurs from Africa to Harvard.
  • Annual, Endowed Distinguished African Business Leadership Award. This award will be given annually to a leading businessman or businesswoman who has demonstrated significant innovation, leadership, and impact in Africa and the global community writ large. The award-winner will deliver a keynote lecture in conjunction with his or her award ceremony.
  • Course Development and Design Funding. The Center will leverage its highly successful piloting of the African entrepreneurship course in the College, together with its support of professional school programming in Africa and on campus, to expand curricular development across the University in the realm of social and economic entrepreneurship.
  • Faculty Research and Publications. Faculty-driven research and writing is the lifeblood of knowledge production. In the fast-moving world of social and economic entrepreneurship Harvard must be at the forefront of expanding significantly the number of Africa-related cases at HBS and HKS, as well as the number of path-breaking monographs analyzing the impact of African entrepreneurship, and the business world more broadly, on the 21st century global community. The Center will provide direct support for these endeavors.
  • Global Mentoring Network. One of the greatest determinants of future success is quality mentoring. Currently the Center sponsors professional school student mentoring of undergraduates interested in African entrepreneurship and business. The Center will scale up this program to leverage its global network of alumni and supporters who will work directly with students across the University in mentoring, career advising, potential internships, and facilitating transitions to future careers in Africa.