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