Column: Young Movers & Shakers (the Leadership Equation)

I met the dynamic ladies behind the vision of Campus Lounge at an executive training for entrepreneurs I taught last year.   My workshop was focused on Leadership in industry.  I guess I did a pretty good job, lol, cause afterwards they asked me to be a columnist for Campus Lounge’s monthly magazine for South African youth called Young Movers & Shakers. More of YMS Magazine on Lead SA

Here’s my second piece in my monthly column for YMS:

2012! this is a big year for all of us…well isn’t every year. In actuality, every moment is a significant moment in each of our lives, because in every moment we make choices that shape our lives. These choices and the way we make decisions about them is one way to think about what leadership is all about.  What is leadership? In each decision that we make, we have the opportunity to display leadership, which in its simplest definition is just being able to make a decision that influences others in the decisions they make. So think of someone like Lira for instance, the decisions she makes about what to wear, how to do her hair, what lyrics to write in her music, these all have influence on many other youths as to what they want to wear, how they choose to look, and what they even say or believe. Can you think of someone else like that? Who’s words or actions influence they way someone else makes decisions. Think about folks like Dr. Mandela, Proverbs, Julius Malema, or even your gogo.

But just as with them, we as young people also have influence over each other. Sometimes your friend makes a decision about not pitchin’ up to school today, and they influence you to also skip. Or your girl decides to wear her hair in a ponytail and so you put yours in a ponytail too.  So we can all exhibit leadership in different moments of our lives. Maybe it’s asking Mom & Dad for ice cream or its convincing your friends to see Fast Furious 5 instead of, um, Happy Feet 2. However, what I believe begins to elevate you to being a leader is your consistent ability to make choices that lead or influence others. So though we all have the ability to lead not all of us are yet leaders, or are considered leaders by others, because we don’t exercise that personal ability to make influential decisions/choices on a consistent basis.

One thing to remember though is that leadership in and of itself does not take a positive or negative value.  Being a “good” leader then is not automatic. So what is good leadership? Good leadership is the aim of our work at African Leadership Academy, and what we understand is that it takes a conscious choice to make decisions that are both effective and ethical in order to truly be a good leader.  Think about like a simple math equation Effective + Ethical = Good Leadership. So what does it mean to be effective? Think of a few other words that come to mind when you hear effective…You might have thought of things like getting things accomplished, results, productive, moves others to do things. Now can you think of person you know who or have heard of who might fit the description of being effective? But as you may have noticed, still at this point being effective does not have a negative or positive value judgment associated. So in fact you could consider individuals like George W. Bush, Thabo Mbeki,  Zola, Idi Amin, Mumar Gaddafi, (need more SA examples, also of women)  as being leaders who got things done, who motivated lots of people to do what they wanted. And for that it is right to consider them as effective leaders. However, they would not be yet equal to good leaders, because as our equation requires they must be effective and ethical.

So let’s take the word ethical, what similar words come to mind when you think of ethical. Typically my students will say things like: consistently does the right thing, respects people, values life, or moral. Who are some people you know or have heard of that you would quickly associate as being ethical type leaders. Maybe Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dr. Mandela, Wangari Mathaai.  Remember , this is a critical piece of the equation, the demonstration of a consistent character to do the right thing, to value the life and rights of others to do the right things. This is what defines the other element of good leadership. However, it’s important to note that you also wouldn’t be considered good leaders by definition of our equation if you are ethical but ineffective as a leader. Dr. Mandela was able to move people, to get things done, and to do it the right way. Thus he qualifies as a good leader.

Good Leadership is what we need in our families, our communities, our municipalities, and our countries.  Look around you, who would fit this equation of good leadership? Why or why not? Does Julius Malema pass our equation? Does President Mbeki? Does Gaddafi? Does Obama? Do you?! We need good leaders for the future of this country and for the continent. Will you be the generation that does it? Will you be a good leader…hmm, I don’t know?!

Check back in with me next time to read why I have my doubts. As usual, if you have questions for me, email me at with the subject line Mr. O’s Questions.

Cheers from Jozi, Mr. O


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Flashback: Seminal Readings: a unique approach for a lasting solution

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African Leadership Academy

This post was originally made two years ago, during my first ever Seminal Readings experience at African Leadership Academy. Next week I begin all over again, but this time without the 6 young people with whom I journeyed with . Bitter-sweet. Let’s see what happens…

So folks, it’s been a minute since I’ve had easy access to the internet or free time. But I’m here again to share some of the happenings with me.

I’m gonna start for the next few posts sharing with ya’ll ( i miss saying that, :/) a bit of the teaching that I lead our young leaders through.

So back in September, we began our first week of school with a crazy idea, which I had never heard of, but maybe you have, of stopping class for an entire week to focus on a series of readings that set the tone for the level of inquiry and dedication we expect from our students. We call this the Seminal Readings.

I and one of my favorite people, Miss Sue (an expert teacher from a 800+ year old boarding school in England — the school is twice as old as the US itself, no wonder the Brits esteem themselves so highly, smile) began our first session with our grouping of 5 advisees. Now the schedule for the week was  a 2-hour reading block the night before followed by a 2 hour discussion period at the top of the morning, then another 2-hour reading followed by a second discussion block. after lunch.

Well we jumped right in to a very meaty, thoroughly inspiring, and mentally-stimulating reading: I Am Prepare to Die by Nelson Mandela.  Wow, what a way to get to know a group of 10 adolescents from 10 different countries speaking Amaric, French, Arabic, Zulu, Swahili, Portuguese, and more.  So many tough issues and questions arose from this reading like:  is violence ever justifiable ?and when is someone’s liberator another persons terrorist? But in the end this reading was consumate depiction of a value we believe is necessary for transformative leaders who will affect positive change in Africa — Couraage. If you haven’t read this before, check out the excerpt below (but here’s a link to the full speech) the strategic and reasoned thinking in combination with the courage and honesty of this man are truly awe inspiring:

I am the First Accused.

…. I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an interracial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute…

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on color, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

…During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

… As I look back on this text now, the question is again raised for me at what point is someone’s terrorist another person’s patriot/liberator? I never knew before  arriving in SA the willful and conscious part Madiba played in using violence in the struggle. Did you? Does Mandela’s arguement that their actions weren’t terrorism make sense?

Does that change how we see him? Or rather should it change how we judge violence in movements of struggle?

For instance what is the difference between the Black Panthers and Umkhonto?

Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964


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Home Cooking for the Microwave Generation

Ok, so there’s the Gen Y and Gen X and the Me Generation, but my new term is the Microwave Generation. Yea I said it. Weather it’s the microwaves we grew up with that made almost anything instantly edible or the micro-waves that transmitted images of perfect people, perfect places, and perfect lives; either way we have fallen into it’s death ray (cue eerie sci-fi music).

I mean, think about it, think about your peer group, those folks between 21-35. How many of them would you say see life through the microwave perspective. What is the microwave perspective: well let me break it into two observations
1) we want it now. not now, now, or just now, but now (my SA friends will get that, smile). We want a pizza not just in 30 minutes but 30 seconds: hot pockets, pizza bites, etc. We got so used to the idea that something can become great by just sticking it and allowing some special scientific formula to automatically super-impose, at the speed of light, completion to it. How many of us have thought 2 years at this company is enough to start running the dahg’on place? or that because I bought this house like Suzie told me too, i should be able to sell it in 5 years and retire off the appreciation?

That’s how come things, that make no logical or common sense, like the following exist: the electronic ab contracting belts; the shoe that exercises your body as you walk, the pill that cuts away body fat.

(There’s plenty others, make up your own list and share it in the comments section, lol).

Yet as I thought about it some more, the common phrase that came to mind was “use this _____  to do “X” so that you don’t have to”. And the idea “you don’t have to” is such a farscial one. Is there really any sensible way to lose weight and keep it off other than a healthy lifestyle and exercise that you consciously choose.

2) the other micro-waves that come from our televisions. This micro-waves have had another effect on us, it is made us simply accustomed to the end products. We see, and more importantly often only remember, the pristine and seemingly perfect products, relationships, lives, careers, and stories portrayed on the tele. So, like me, ya’ll all probably thought every marriage should look like Claire and Heathcliff’s (don’t lie)? or if I just stick my tongue out I could be as clutch as MJ?

These two elements are what have shaped our microwave mentality. So we see Oprah and think, oh, she simply talks nice to people and she’s so rich and famous, when in reality there was no microwave for Oprah — she had to do it, with a lot of effort, work, and some good fortune. There is no microwave or “scientifically formulated” product for healthy relationships that lead to healthy marriage — you have to do it. Youcan’t depend on a Nike or Gatorade to make you like Michael — you gotta do it.

The sooner we, the microwave generation, learn how to cook from scratch then we will realize the best and most satisfying meal is always — home cooking.


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I’m looking for someone loyal, fun, available, and cuddly…

…so I decided to get a dog instead, lol! I mean, dahng a brother can’t hold out no longer, plus they even kiss you, too.

I once heard it said that every boy should own a dog, because it teaches them the discipline of how to care for a dependent. Well I wonder, if every lonely heart should get a dog, too, so we can learn what it means to love and be loved.

Ever since I met this cute beagle named Max, I’m so excited I can’t stop thinking about it: the idea of my very own dog.

But what should I get. I’ve always wanted a Jack Russel terrier, but I hear their so full of energy and a brother don’t run like he used to (still fast enough to beat Alvi, though, hehe):

Or it was suggested to me that I consider a Corgy, but they look to chubby and prissy for my liking, after all the Queen of England has a pair:


Or maybe I get a bigger dog whose presence will dominate, and project my need to compensate for my weaknesses in life (ooops, did i say that, no offense to fellas with big dogs, hehe):

Ah, I don’t know maybe it’s best I just go to the shelter in Joburg and see which dog comes to me first, :)

What kind of dog, do you think I should get? Keep in mind I live in an apartment in a gated complex with little to no grass.

….so I was thinking what really got me on this kick about dogs. And the more I think about it the more I realize, you know what, brotha is almost thirty-something.  And for the first time my career/occupation seems destined from more than 2 years. I feel like I’ve found a work worth sticking around for, and with that I have, really for the first time, I have a sense of settling down.

Yes, i said it “settling down”.

It’s odd because I was just telling my good friend Moose how eerie it seems to look around and see all our friends being grown-ups. Buying cars, pushing strollers, working on home DIY projects.  But it’s true, and I’m starting to feel that way too. Some say that at thirty you just feel ok with you are in this life, so maybe it’s the onset of that. But whatever it is, I find myself wanting to have a reason to come home early for work, a reason to skip the late night dinner and cocktails and just retire to the crib with a familiar and cozy companion.  That’s what a dog will provide.

Yet, if I even go further, it’s also me telling myself that I can’t buy into the “microvave generation” fallacy (more on this in a future post). If I want day want to be a great father and a husband — which I do — then it’s not just gonna happen because I say so. Plus, honestly, the way I’ve become accustomed to living as a semi-workaholic, semi-starved, bachelor won’t cut it with kids and a wife. So getting a dog is also my way of practicing those habits now, for a future soon to come — I hope.

So again, I ask what would be the right dog for me? Considering that I’m not yet fully acclimated to the habit of returning home from work at decent hours. Or that I often can forget that I’m at a friends house for hours on end.  What kind of dog, could handle that learning curve, and still love and behave.

By the way, as I right this I wonder how much one can tell about a person’s needs in a relationship by their choice of dog/pet??


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REwind: the Awesomest (yea i said it) year ever! — Aspen

Ahhh…Aspen. Where the air is crisp, the mountains high, the snow packed, and the houses average a cool twenty-five mil. I know you’re asking what I was doing there, but you never know I might be ballin’ in secret. (Jus’ saying you never know).

Segun at the top of Mt. Aspen

Segun at the top of Mt. Aspen


Anywho after 38 hours of traveling, count ‘em thirty-eight, from Johannesburg to London to Chicago to Denver and finally Aspen, I and 5 of my students from the Academy finally landed at 1 a.m. in Aspen. So it wasn’t until the next morning that we got the full picture of just how majestic our surroundings were (see my pic).


After taking in the breath-taking beauty of land, we then prepared ourselves to get down to the business for our presence: the Bezos Scholars Program. Each of us had been selected as Scholars of the Bezos Family Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

Reflections on Aspen

When I look back on my time at Aspen, one word keeps coming to mind – exposure. I can’t help but think back to the fact that I was flying with five incredible young people from vastly different backgrounds, all heading to the US for the first time. Their exposure to that unique opportunity placed them in rare company amongst their peers back home.  I still smile, when I think back to the day Annie, a super-friendly Aspen local and, hopefully, future ALA teaching fellow, took us on the Gondola ride atop Mount Aspen. It was there that Esther said “oh my gosh it’s so cold” that was here response to touching snow for the first time.  Meanwhile, I stood there silently marveling at the majestic mountains, moved by the great vastness of it all. That was exposure beyond even the thought leaders we sat down with at the Festival, which included Fmr Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Stephen Breyer, David Brooks, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Tiffany Shlain, Mark Bezos, and more.

Attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, I was also struck by the great pains and lengths individuals and organizations like the Bezos Scholars Program and the Aspen Institute have gone to expose “others” to ideas.  Why were ideas so important for us to be exposed to? This investment for the sake of ideas should not be overlooked, in fact, for me, it all the more emblazoned in my mind just how powerful the power of ideas.  That no matter the action, change, or innovation desired it is first spurred by an idea.  And here we were young and well, let’s just say less young, alike being spurred on toward action by the myriad of ideas set before us.

Again, this was crystallized in an unexpected conversation I had with one of the Scholars, who matter-of-factly asked me if the book store gift was in cash.  Why, did it matter, I wondered. Then it became clear– one hundred dollars in cash could go along way in his community and he would rather take it back to improve their lives.  That hurt my heart to the core, yet it signalled two significant thoughts in my mind:

First, I had to convince him that the power of the ideas he (and his peers) could derive from these books could far outweigh, in the long-term, the impact of just $100 today (at least that is our hope).  That it was an investment in the mind, which few others would have the opportunity to be blessed with.  Though, this was hard to convince even myself of, as I stood there looking at the eagerness and sincere concern he had written on his face.

Secondly, I recognized that clear conviction that I and this Scholar owed it to ourselves and to those, for whom the generosities of this experience would mean life and death, to devote ourselves to leveraging this new knowledge for maximum good.  That is the charge, for me, for each of us.  I must soberly take on the responsibility to make good and multiply the effect with the power of ideas. Let it Ripple!

Again thanks to the Bezos Family Foundation for their considerable generosity but also for their expectation that we do meaningful work with that to which we’ve been exposed.  Thanks to all the scholars young and not so young, smile, for your kind words, encouragement, and high-level of engagement it made the work enjoyable.  And thanks to the people of Aspen, the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve been in the US not in North Carolina, smile.


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REwind: the Awesomest year ever — immortalized in cartoon glory!

Liam immortalizes us in ALA cartoon glory

Contrary to popular belief, I do not live a life of lackadaisical freedom, unencumbered by every aspect of student life, from community hours to classes. Although I probably sleep about two hours more than the average ALA student every night, I also take six subjects and work as an assistant in the Leadership and Entrepreneurship Office. For example, I’ve researched Corporate Social Responsibility in Africa, catalogued some of the office’s library, and gathered information on community service sites. But enough about me. The best part of working in the L&E office is the L&E faculty, who I will now attempt to describe. Here’s the lineup (click to enlarge, as always): This is the beginning of my student Liam’s blog about his interpreation of myself and my Leadership and Entrepreneurship colleagues. Hillarious stuff, but also quite substantive.  You will realize that once you take that leap to pursue your purpose doesn’t mean everything will be easy and breezy.  His characterization of one of my teaching moments was the encouragement that kept me through a very difficult first year of teaching:  ”A few days ago, he told Lailat to “find the words” when she was struggling to explain something in English, and he waited while she did. The class ended up clapping for her after she made her point elegantly, and it was one of the best teaching moments I have ever seen.” You know the guy is good, because the day he posted it, a number of faculty and staff room were asking if I had seen it. Liam is headed to Berkely to study architecture, but I often wonder, Liam, if your greatest gift to the Africa wont be using your writing as the architect of a new idea and image of Africa. Read the rest of Liam’s post here


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Interview with Mawi Asegdom, a black belt in Mental Karate

So thanks to a good friend, Tayo, I was introduced to Mawi Asegdom this summer. Mawi, in many ways, is a maverick of the Leadership Education space. From a very early age he has taken on the mantle of leadership and has succeeden in a space that few African nor less than forty-somethings have.  How do I know he’s good? Well, Oprah…duh! The Oprah factor, is better than a microwave: but seriously when Oprah says she found you to be inspirational to her then that’s just dope. Mawi has also written over a dozen books and his prominent work Of Beetles and Angels tells his story from a refugee camp in Ehtiopia to graduate of Harvard.

Mawi, has traveled and spoken all over. He has also applied his knowledge and passion to creating and educational system for developing leadership in youth. He calls it Mental Karate.  In his, course students can matriculate through different color belts just like in actual Karate. Not only is Mawi a black belt his is a Jigna…you’ll have to read more  on his site

check out the interview below…

Interview with The African Leadership Academy

by MAWI on AUGUST 12, 2011

The African Leadership Academy (ALA) is widely considered one of the most inspiring schools in the world. Opened in 2008 in South Africa,  ALA brings together Africa’s most talented teenaged students and challenges them to solve Africa’s most intractable problems.  Here is an interview I was lucky enough to conduct with Segun Olagunju, ALA’s Head of Leadership.

How has ALA inspired so many people around the globe?

To me, there are several elements to the inspirational momentum behind the Academy. Most important, I believe is the boldness in our vision; that for once someone explicitly states that there is an expectation of creating a prosperous and peaceful Africa. There’s no two ways about that. And I believe people love the hope that is engendered in that declaration.

Secondly, I believe the support we receive is also derived from the fact that there is a clear focus on creating a “home-grown” approach. The Academy was founded by Africans, is operated by Africans, and seeks to empower a new generation of Africans to be their own agents of positive change.  For me, those are the two elements that stand out as the common inspiration among the people I meet.

Can you tell us about an ALA student who makes you particularly proud?

I am proud of so many of our young people. I am particularly proud of Abdramane Diabate. He is a young man from humble upbringing in Mali. He was raised in an educational system where French and/or Arabic were the only languages of instruction and communication.  He and his other Francaphone peers struggled mightily at first, yet within just 9 months, he now speaks English proficiently (enough to even perform jokes, which he translates from French to English, in front of strangers).  But more rewarding to me is the absolute courage and compassion he demonstrates every day while overcoming such odds. He received our highest recognition of leadership this past term for a First Year, and this summer was selected to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival as a Bezos Scholar at the prestigious Aspen Institute by the Bezos Family Foundation.

How do you and ALA define leadership?

At ALA we challenge our young leaders to consider three definitions of leadership: effective, ethical, and toxic. Effective meaning those who are able to accomplish tasks and objectives, ethical being those who do the right thing, and toxic those whose leadership leaves a negative legacy/outcome. Ultimately, we seek to shape young people who will act consistently to become ethical and effective leaders. We believe it is time for a generation of leaders on our continent who esteem solutions creation and participatory leadership.

Why is entrepreneurship such an important part of ALA’s curriculum?

Among our team here, we often refer to what we do as Entrepreneurial Leadership. The entrepreneurial mindset is such a powerful tool in overcoming the challenges that face the continent. It is more than just writing business plans and a profit-motive. Rather, at its best it is about perseverance, creativity, learned optimism, and meeting needs. We employ a Human-Centered-Design approach to our education of these developing leaders, because we believe that for far too long as Africans it has been easy to simply complain about the problems that face our communities. Instead, for the future, what we need are emerging leaders who tackle challenges with an opportunity mindset and are relentless in finding solutions that meet the needs of their target audience and benefit society. Entrepreneurs have a wonderful ability to overcome and innovate around existing obstacles and impediments in order to achieve their goals. We want that to be characteristic of the next generation of leaders across Africa.

The year is 2020.  How will the world be better as a result of ALA and its students? (Please be as specific as possible.)

For me, personally, I believe the world will be a better place because Africa, her countries, and her people will be a growing force for innovation, collaboration, and action in the world. I can envision the White Fingers Peace Initiative (started by one of our graduates) bringing widespread peace among the diverse factions of the Kenyan youth. I can see Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge (created and run by a team of our graduates) funding a number of successful small to medium size business ideas that create new jobs for the young people of Morocco.  Less tangibly, I see a growing sentiment of hope and a sense of empowerment permeating throughout the youth of the continent: that they have the power to catalyze solutions that bring about real change in their communities and countries.

What can people do to support and contribute to ALA?

We are still such a young organization; we need the support of old and new friends alike. A couple of simple ways to help is to join one of our growing Chapter clubs in cities around the world. Through these chapters you can act as a host family and/or mentor for our alumni who are studying or working in your area. Secondly, you can give financially. Every amount counts towards creating a world-class investment in the future leaders of the continent.


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Last post of 2011

Wow! What a year it has been. I already feel like a much different person than I was just a year an half ago when I was living in hoods of NE DC. Admittedly, some of that difference is both good and bad. As I often tell my friend Asa or PaPa I’ve never worked so much in my life. It has been the most exhausting year of my life. Not simply because of the physical hours committed, which have been 60-70hrs, 6-days a week; but also because of the emotionally taxing nature of the work we do. Then also is the reality of moving some 8,000 kms away from any and everything I’ve known for the last 20-odd years makes for interesting stressors.

When I look back on 2011 I think about the family and friends I left behind in the States. The wonderful network of family and friends that stretches from Orlando, Florida to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and of course to DC-MD-VA areas. I have missed you all at some point or another along this journey of mine. Yet in many ways it is the thought of you all that has continued to motivate me to pursue the daring dreams that have dominated my spirit for the last 7-8 years. I do truly hope that all of you will take some time to come and visit me at some point wherever I may be in Africa in the coming years.

But then as providence always seems to bestow on me, I was blessed to find a new network of friends and family. Can’t tell you how much the people I work with have engrafted themselves into my life. Often people always ask how come we at ALA always seem to hang out together, and the trite answer is that we work the same hours, but honestly I love spending time with these folks. They are some of the most intelligent, committed, considerate, and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I, without a shadow of a doubt, consider them to be the young leaders who will change the continent in the short term.

And of course the special young people that I have had the great privelige to meet, teach, and journey with.  It was a wonderful experience to be inaugurated into the tradition of teaching with such excellent and committed students. I was so proud to see my first group of students graduate last year and I wait with much anticipation for the ones whom I have spent two years with. I’m especially anxious to see my 6 amazing mentees at graduation, don’t know if I will be able to keep it together. This and many more special moments I look forward to in 2012.

My hope is to be the On-Purpose Person that I desire to be in not only my vocational life, but in my spiritual, family, health, financial, and intellectual life.

I wish the same for you in 2012. Know thyself!

Happy Holidays and Cheers from Jozi,

My advisee family -2011


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Selling toilets…is this why I work so hard? Yes!!

So I did an audit a couple of weeks ago to see how many hours I spent at work. It turned out that I worked 6 days and put in a little over 64 hours!  I always tell y’all that I’m working harder here than I’ve ever worked before.  But I’m also more proud of the fruits of my labors than ever before.

One example is a young lady by the name of Miriam from Kenya. Miriam was in my second-year Leadership & Entrepreneurship class last year. She was a quiet but very thoughtful learner. Together with her partner in crime Caroline they worked that year on a culminating project, which for them was running a social venture aimed at transforming the educational opportunities open to South African children.  Every week they served at a local informal settlement area called Refilwe and worked to augment the learning curriculum with a special after-school program they had created.  Miriam as part of  my class had to craft mission & vision, design and implement a strategy and SMART goals, as well as manage a team of 4-6 first-year students every week.

Well Miriam ended up taking a gap year after she graduated from African Leadership Academy, and here’s what she’s doing with the skills she developed and practiced with us… she’s selling toilets in the slums of Mukuru, Kenya. So very proud of you Miriam!

Miriam Atuya has pioneered much of our Fresh Life Toilet sales process. As we approach selection of the first Fresh Life Operators, Miriam reflects on the the relationships she has built with local entrepreneurs – and the inspiration that they have given her.

As we have introduced the Fresh Life Toilet into the slums, the Sanergy sales team has met all of the challenges of culture, competition, and personal preference that typically accompany a new product launch. To respond to these potential obstacles, we had to understand the community that we were entering. To learn the area’s norms, we met with many community-based organizations and their prominent local leaders. To learn how the existing successful businesses acquired their market share, we spent countless hours with companies like M-PESA and Coca-Cola and with their local franchisees and vendors.

Finish the rest of Miriam’s story by visiting her blog at Sanergy here.
See more on the Echoing Green award-winning enterprise Sanergy here.
Or just read about how they are “Turning Shit into Gold” by the Huffington Post.


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Leadership stories for young people…my first column in Young, Movers, & Shakers

"the Mother City"


I met the dynamic ladies behind the vision of Campus Lounge at an executive training for entrepreneurs I taught last year.   My workshop was focused on Leadership in industry.  I guess I did a pretty good job, lol, cause afterwards they asked me to be a columnist for Campus Lounge’s monthly magazine called Young Movers & Shakers. More of YMS Magazine on Lead SA

Here’s my first piece in my monthly column for YMS:

In the latest issue of Young Movers and Shakers Magazine, we introduce you to two young scientists who were awarded for innovation at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. In this issue we also let you in on how we can all do our part to lead SA and we take a leadership journey to South Africa with Mr O from the African Leadership Academy. Staying on the theme of leadership we get great leadership insight from Dr Vincent Maphai of South African Breweries and Dr Cornel Malan of Xstrata.

"the Mother City"

Downtown Cape Town

My Leadership Journey to South Africa

As of last year I had been living in Washington, DC, capital of the United States, for almost 5 years. I had worked for a bank and two non-profits while there in “Obamaland”, as I jokingly call it; my last job there was as director of a financial literacy program that focused on teaching youth how to use money and credit wisely. I was on the edge of DC’s line, about to be priced out of the city like so many others, and then one day I received an email from a good friend about a teaching fellowship opportunity in South Africa (Tip#1: it pays off to share your dreams and goals with people who care about you. Four eyes are better than two). Immediately it piqued my interest, and after doing my due diligence I applied. I was selected, sold my stuff, donated my car, and was off pursuing my passion and purpose.

I often tell my friends that nothing compare to the hidden gem I have discovered in South Africa. This country, your country is beautiful, not simply because of its marbled malls, or towering tolls, or magnificent mansions, though this infrastructure rivals and surpasses in some cases what I’ve known in the States. Rather, I see the beauty in the pure aesthetic pleasure from the undulating hills to the looming mountains, the shark and penguin waters to the picturesque grasslands, it is undeniable the wonders you see in the land. And silently there’s a pride that wells up inside of you when you realize that even before the advent of colonization and other foreign influences this land was and has always been — stunningly spectacular. So it dawns on me, like a dull bulb that has been on the whole time but never noticed, that Africa is beautiful, that there is a real unquestionable beauty that comes from us, from our people, from our Motherland.

Yet, we at ALA believe strongly that bad leadership is the single most influential obstacle that has kept many of our communities and countries from reaching their potential in the last two generations. We believe all leaders should be agents of positive change. What will unlock this gem for the entire world to see? I believe it will be Africa’s people. Especially young people like you, who commit themselves each day to courageous acts of leadership both when it is convenient and not. I will spend some time in the coming months sharing with you how here at African Leadership Academy we approach the development of leaders.

However, first, we should tackle the issue of how to define leadership. You may think you already know what leadership is all about, but hopefully if you read enough you might learn one new thing about how you can be a leader. If I were to ask you, “What is leadership” you might respond as many of my students do by saying: it is power, or control, or influence. But at the core, leadership is as simple as being able to influencing someone to believe or act a certain way.

Now you might be saying to yourself, this Mr. O guy can’t really be too bright, because anyone can do that. Well you would be right, not so much about me not being too bright, lol, but, rather, about the notion that according to this definition anyone could lead. Tip #2 – Anyone can exert leadership anywhere at anytime at any age. You can exert leadership with your siblings, with your family, your friends, even online. Moreover, leadership is not by itself good or bad, but it is how we use our leadership that will determine whether our leadership is determined to be positive or negative. The really hard part though is being able to distinguish what good vs. bad leadership is – for instance, how could you make an evaluation of whether Julius Malema is an example of a good leader or not?

I will share some tools that might help you tackle that question in my next conversation with you.

Cheers from Jozi,

Mr. O



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Interview with

African Leadership Academy Molds [Continents'] Next Great Thinkers:

Various countries in Africa have been in the news cycle a lot lately but not for their positivity. Regime turnover, civil wars, famine and corruption may dominate headlines but there is another side to Africa. A side that is forging ahead, determined to build generations of educated, able and pioneering men and women to help rebuild a continent still recuperating from decades are instability.

Segun Olagunju, a graduate of the Kenan-Flager School of Business, decided to take his corporate and non-profit management experience to help cultivate leaders at the African Leadership Academy, a secondary school for the continents’ outstanding young leaders.

As head of the school’s leadership department, Olagunju, 29, and his team have molded students through networking opportunities and student-run projects, which expose students to “real world” challenges.

Loop 21 sat down with Segun Olagunju to discuss his personal experience that has led him to teach Africa’s youth.

Loop 21: Can you briefly explain your background and previous experience lead you to the African Leadership Academy?

Olagunju: I studied business at [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.] I later went on to serve as a fellow for a faith-based organization called Campus Crusade for Christ International, which reaffirmed for me my passion for the youth. From there, I chose to enter into banking and was selected into the Leadership Development Program of BB&T bank. It’s through the bank that I made my move to Washington, DC.  A couple of years later, disheartened and unsatisfied, I joined the team at theInstitute for Responsible Citizenship (I4RC). It was here that I rediscovered my passion for mentorship and youth development. Soon after that I went back to my hometown to start my own small business with some of my high school friends. Though it wasn’t terribly successful, it still remains in operation today and provided a grounding experience for me. It was about four months in that I finally acknowledged that my heart was in D.C.  I was fortunate to later find a job with a great mentor named Jackie Starr for whom I worked while atOperation HOPE before eventually joining African Leadership Academy.

Loop 21: Where are you from and how does that tie in with your work and mission in Africa?

Olagunju: I was born in  Nigeria, but spent my grade school years on up in Delaware. I’m not sure if Delaware had much to do with anything, other than the inspiration to get away, but being a son of a Nigerian always stayed with me. It’s ultimately for the empowerment and betterment of her people that I am driven to realize through my work.

Loop 21: How are you crafting, shaping leaders at the academy? 

Olagunju: We are particularly focused on a method for shaping leaders that focuses on identifying youth with existing leadership potential, placing them in an environment where by they practice leadership, and finally connecting them to peers and key networks that will help them leverage their potential into reality.  I, in turn, am particularly focused on creating a curriculum and experiential experience—like none other—that will nurture young leaders of the highest integrity and launch them into their greatest potential.  That is the mission of my team and department.

Loop 21: How do young Africans view America and President Barack Obama?

Olagunju: Young Africans have quite a diverse view of President Obama. It really depends on which of my students I’m speaking to at the time.  For some from North Africa, they find him disingenuous and at worst hypocritical. For the East Africans they love him and consider him one of their own. In Southern Africa, young people like him, but are quite varied in their views of his politics and policies—especially as it relates to intervention into sovereign affairs.  So it’s truly a gamut of perspectives, and just as important often a gamut in terms of factual knowledge of the President.

Loop 21: Can you explain your Michelle Obama encounter?

Olagunju: African Leadership Academy was fortunate to have Mrs. Obama come to view one of the sites where our young leaders practice social entrepreneurship. She visited a community center were we work with a network of other non-profits to serve the beneficiaries of an informal settlement. As director of the community service programs I was fortunate to have the opportunity to welcome her to the site and introduce her to the cute little kids who live and play at the community center.

For the full interview … click here


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From lofty goals to tangible reality…shaping my career

It’s hard to believe it was almost 4 years ago when I gave this interview to my Alma mater. But I think it speaks definitively to my approach to life and pursuing one’s purpose, passion and presence. I feel so fortunate to be able to say that 4 years later I’m living out the desires I laid out in this conversation:

Olagunju’s vision is in Africa, where he wants to help economies by working with banks or consultants who support small businesses.

“Small business is a big part of why the United States is where it is,” says Olagunju who, at 7, moved to Newark from Nigeria with his family in 1989 for more educational opportunities. “That’s something that’s lacking in developing countries around the world. Being able to create financial intermediaries that can give access to these kinds of businesses can really jump-start or sustain these kinds of economies.”

Olagunju’s interest in international connections is a theme for him. He developed the concept at the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, a summer leadership program for African-American men in college. Founder and president William Keyes is a UNC alumnus and board of visitors member. Olagunju created a plan to take a group to Ghana for an international program on scholarship, leadership and service.

His idea was inspired by Kenan-Flagler’s Global Scholars Program, in which Olagunju participated by living in a dorm and taking classes with students from business schools from around the world.

“One of the unique things about UNC is that there’s really this bent toward public service. It’s something that UNC preaches a lot,” Olagunju says.

That resonates with the self-described idealist. He wants to combine economic empowerment and the sort of social responsibility and sustainability he learned about at Kenan-Flagler.

“I’m really trying to take stock of what I’ve done thus far and how I can meet the best of both worlds for myself. One of the things that was really important to me about (the Institute for Responsible Citizenship) was the feeling every day like there was purpose to what I was doing. I want to combine that with being involved with the economic development of Africa,” Olagunju says.

Read the full interview here.

So recently, as I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing I started to ponder How did I get here? What helped me realize these dreams? Is there something transferable to be gleaned from it.

I remember a couple of key conversations that helped me in shaping my thinking about my career. One of those was from a fellow Kenan-Flagler alum…

Cheers for now,


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The re-vamped and re-launched blog

I’ve spent some time and energy rethinking what this blog is about and hopefully you will see and enjoy some of the changes that we’ve made (Kudos to Adam for all the assistance). In short, my aim is to become a leading voice on personal and organizational leadership development in Africa. To that end, we have reorganized the posts to speak to my interests: Edutorials – a platform for sharing my opinions about new learnings or raising relevant questions on any and everything; GoodAfrica – my personal initiative to aggregate and tell the oft untold stories of Africa and her people doing great things; and Leadership – my take on leadership challenges, current events, and practices that can transform our personal and organizational lives.

In conjunction with the blog, my twitter account will function as a sounding board for immediate reactions or for broadcasting new articles. Soon we will launch a Facebook page which will be a place for interacting in conversations and pictures with you all.

As I continue on my journey, I’m excited to share it all with you. Please send questions/comments as I really communicate better when I have someone I feel I’m speaking to directly.

Cheers from Jozi.
Segun Olagunju
“the Professor”


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Eyedeas and Images of Africa

Ideas and Images of Africa – this theme arose in a myriad of places over the past few weeks. I recently read about it in our opening Seminal Readings text for the Global Scholars Program titled How to Write about Africa (how sad but true). That if you simply google “Africa” you get pictures of sunsets, animals, tribal rituals, etc. Then it showed up again in this video teaser for our GSP Speaker Alan Knott-Craig Jr.

This really reminds me of why I’ve moved to South Africa and back to the continent. In so many ways, I was fed up of the images, the stories, the under-development that had become synonymous with Africa. I remember, staying up late in DC and catching those infomercials asking for charitable donations for starving children. Though laudable for their willingness to act, I always believed in a different approach for Nigeria and ultimately Africa’s development. Having visited S. Africa in 2004 I knew just how different the story was in various parts of the continent. I wanted to be part of that new story. So when Kaya (thanks Kaya) put me onto the African Leadership Academy fellows program I jumped at the chance to apply.

I no longer want a single story to be all that the world sees or hears of our countries and the continent at large. But I realized this summer that I was a culprit  myself. I was challenged by two of my young campers from Israel, because I automatically was taken aback that they spent their summers there. I knew only one story and that was of bombings and gunfights and rocket blasts. That’s when the realization hit me that one has to actively work to provide multiple stories to combat the risk of the single story. However, I now believe that responsibility is two-fold: with the content producers and individuals.

Does your image of Africa fall into the same old images — that same single story? What can you do to add other narratives to your idea and image of Africa? Need a few sources? Stay tuned here and on twitter, as well as with our friends at

Cheers from Jozi,


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Mixing it up with the owner of Mxit (pronounced mix it)

One year ago, Alan Knott-Craig’s investment holding company bought Mxit, Africa’s largest social network, from its founders (for reportedly, 500M ZAR = 40M USD). We had the great fortune at the Academy to bring him to share his insights and thoughts with our GSP class of 2012.  It was like having the African version of Evan and Biz from Twitter speaking in person with us.  One of the ideas he shared with the GSPers stuck with me:

Don’t try to build a business that makes money, rather build a business that makes something then the money is a by-product.

Watch more of Alan’s talk at the Academy at our Entrepreneurial Leadership website:

This pithy statement, really is at the core of what I believe is central to finding great success in our professional and personal lives. It’s the idea of purpose. In my work at ALA we describe it as a needs-based mindset.  Focusing on what impact you want to bring in the world around you first and then figuring out the best possible ideas/solutions to bring that to life. This design-thinking approach to solving problems has proving to be much more effective; just ask companies like IDEO, Terrestrial, and Apple. Pursuing the dollars will often lead us to unsustainable and short-term satisfaction.  We need more people like you and me leading with a needs-based mindset.

Cheers from Jozi,


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Special Family of “O” Guest Blog: “I am taking a Gap Year!”

My mentee and recent ALA graduate, Hind, writes dynamically about the real challenges of taking the leadership ideals and ethos she learned while here and translating it into the actual workplace. Read and feel the powerfully expressive writing of this 19-yr old from Morocco (eish, what was I doing with my life at 19!).  She is one to watch. Read her first full length English blog post below:

“ I am taking a Gap Year! “ …

A sentence that I have repeatedly used in different occasions.  A sentence that also helped me distinguish myself in the eyes of some (entertainingly)astounded ALA guests. Rather than speaking about my triumph in getting into some world renowned university (that I did not get into anyway) I would pitch my Gap Year plans with an ambitious tone and excited smile, successfully captivating their attention for the rest of the tour.  It saved me from filling out the housing forms, the admitted student’s surveys, the meal plans forms … and all the boring stuff (hum … humm). This Gap year allowed me to enjoy my summer to the fullest; sleeping until my body refused to do so anymore and planning my days as I wake up. I enjoyed every bit of it … so far…Until today!

My days were glorious. I took a gap year as I always wanted to, I succeeded in my NEC roles, I started taking intensive German classes, and most importantly … I found THE job. After a meeting set by Mr Oummih with the director of the Regional Investment Center of Casablanca, the latter invited me to work for the Moroccan Student Foundation in Casa. The Moroccan Student Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides support, guidance and financial help for high school seniors who come from orphanages but who still achieved really well in the national examination. When I read the foundation’s mission statement I was absolutely in love with them. Moreover, my job required me to design a follow up program for the MSF’s scholars and alumni and therefore convert the administrative relationship that the beneficiaries and the benefactors share to a more amicable and familial one. For someone who is all about education, self-development and event planning, there was no excuse not to take the job.

Soooo … as enthusiastic as I sounded in the previous paragraph, I started work on Monday. I went to the office with so many ideas about what I want to achieve for the foundation that my head ached half way between the train station and the office building.

I was ready… Bring it on world …I am an ALA GY and I got all the time and effort for you! LOL!

Monday … was utterly unproductive… [Read the rest of it here]



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Blog: Paradigms of Leadership (tall men are better leaders?!)

Leadership is  never easy to define; but we all seem to have our ideas about what it is and how it looks. This proves problematic in that such varying definitions surely mean varying measurements of success and even accountability.  For some leadership is solely about the ability to influence or persuade others.

This week in my Entrepreneurial Leadership class we are tackling these questions with our 17 and 18 year old emerging leaders (lol, what where we doing at 17?). The aim is to enlighten their thinking and challenge them to ask questions that which require a critical review of their existing definitions of leadership. See how you would handle some of the questions we throw out to our young leaders:

  • What is leadership to you?
  • Does leadership depend on your status, role, title?
  • What about ones gender, age or height? (Interesting fact: researchers have found that we psychologically assume taller people are more likely to be leaders, especially when we look at a group. Read more. )
  • What characteristics do you think a leader must have?

Paradigm: Shift Happens (from


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It’s actually quite an emotional time for me right now. In 21 days a major part of my life over the last five years will end. In truth I have never given so much of myself to anything as I did teaching leadership here at African Leadership Academy. Why because nothing else had to this point in my life married all the great virtues and passions of my heart: Africa, youth, self-discovery, leadership, business, startups, values, strategy.

Over the next twenty-one days I want to purposefully do what we don’t normally do which is acknowledge and celebrate oneself and those who helped us along the way. In some way I hope this will also chronicle my professional and personal journey, and ultimately enable me to move on the next season of life.

21daystogo: the colleagues who became friends who became family

Who need's godparents when you've got friends like these








20daystogo: over the years I’ve grown from calling them students, to learners, to advisees, and coachees…




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