“To solve the world’s great problems, you need to adopt a much more interdisciplinary approach. We want to create people who are able to think in this interdisciplinary manner and who start with the question- “which problem do I want to solve, and how do I get the knowledge and skills to solve that problem?”- Fred Swaniker, ALG CEO and Founder.
The norm of many learning institutions across the world is to offer students resources to acquire great knowledge with the presupposition that the students will, in turn, go out into the world, figure out which challenges they would like to solve, and ultimately use this knowledge they have acquired to solve the problems. However, ALU adopted a different approach.
The ALU learning model implores students to declare missions from the very beginning, in which they are challenged to think deeply about the world around them and the issues that they feel strongly inclined to solving as well as the opportunities they believe would be essential in countering these issues. Once there is an innate understanding of each student’s mission, then the journey to curating knowledge and skills around this mission begins, and identifying the tribe of people that share this common purpose becomes much easier.
The world has a great set of challenges and an even greater plethora of opportunities. However, with closer observation, all of these can be grouped into niched sets, making it possible for students to identify and begin to find ways to solve them. ALU has grouped the missions into 14 Grand Challenges and Great Opportunities which include Urbanization, Education, Healthcare, Climate change, Governance, Job Creation, Infrastructure, Agriculture, Natural Resource Management, Wildlife Conservation, Regional Integration, Arts, Design and Culture, Tourism, Women Empowerment.
Tools for problem-solving
In the words of ALU Rwanda graduate, Jerrylynn Kariuki, “while coming up with a mission may be quite an easy task, understanding the field of choice and what it is about can be difficult.” In recognizing this, ALU has not only made learning self-directed, where students take control of their learning journey but has provided tools for them to bring these missions to life. For students who are keen on taking a more academic route, an interdisciplinary research course is taken by the students throughout their degree program. This research course empowers students with skills in “methodology, theories, techniques, and ethics for exceptional and effective research’’ which they can, in turn, use to “write research proposals, academic research, and other publications in line with their fields of interest”.
On the other hand, students who are motivated to take a more entrepreneurial approach to solve these grand challenges are encouraged to and supported in starting up their businesses through campus programs like the Student Venture Program (SVP) and the Leadership Core program. SVP mentors startups provide opportunities & resources for young entrepreneurs, and also helps students legally register their businesses.
The Leadership Core programme is delivered in the first year and is designed specifically to equip students with the 7 meta-skills, one of which is entrepreneurial thinking. This kind of thinking consists of Systems thinking, identifying opportunities, human-centred thinking, creativity, and innovation, as well as continuous iteration.
Some of the students actively working on their missions include students like Smangaliso Mbili, who believes in solving world issues through creating platforms for public discourse. One of the projects that he led was bringing the TEDx franchise to ALU Rwanda and launching the very first TEDx ALU Rwanda. This memorable event’s stage was lined up with industry experts and students who taught and spoke passionately about their various fields. When asked about the motivation to launch this, said, “I love conversations and asking questions as this unearths a lot of ideas which have the power to change realities, lives, and domains. Both staff and students have amazing stories and ideas to share, and I felt like the world needed access and exposure to that”.
Sisekelo Dlamini, a recent ALU graduate, is another student who relentlessly pursued his mission and contributed to solving one of his country’s greatest challenges. After discovering that his home country, the Kingdom of Eswatini did not have any online purchasing platforms despite the growing population, he decided to solve this problem by launching his first venture- an online shopping platform. Sisekelo says “found this really unconventional, especially in our generation. I knew I needed to find a solution’’
The ALU Global Focus
When students are not busily trying to solve the world’s problems and harness opportunities for the benefit of their communities, they are writing about their findings on their various projects, on the ALU Global Focus. This is a student blog with Insights on Africa’s Greatest Challenges and opportunities from the African Leadership University students.
On this blog, ALU students can choose to write about one or more of the 14 Global Challenges and Opportunities.
ALU faculty member, Chiedza Skyum, says that “Through blogging, they build creativity and learn to argue and critique in a safe online environment. With over 200 blog articles submitted since its launch, ALUGlobalFocus.com’s original content promotes discussion among students about African issues as authors establish rapport with their readers by responding to their follower’s feedback and comments. Both writers and readers work together to solve problems and come up with solutions. Student Bloggers are also pushed to grow their design skills as they must express their perspective and personality visually through custom click-worthy titles, layouts, designs, and pictures.”