Africa’s ‘Davos’ of top new generation leaders

I met Rakhee Mediratta, the chief operating officer of the African Leadership Network (ALN) at their Nairobi offices at the end of last month. A woman full of energy, she enthusiastically talked about the last preparations for ALN’s annual gathering while continuously messaging some of her ALN colleagues suggesting they could assist me in bringing my own Africa start-up plans into fruition. Raw networking in action – the ALN style.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame at this year's ALN annual gathering

Rwandan President Paul Kagame at this year’s ALN annual gathering

This year, from November 5-8, the annual ALN gathering took place at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, bringing around 250 ALN members together from across the continent and abroad. It is one of Africa’s biggest leadership meetings and growing in prominence each year.

I followed up with Rakhee upon her return from Kigali to get the latest about the joint ambitions of Africa’s new generation leaders.

Tell us what ALN is, and what you are seeking to achieve as a network?

ALN is a membership organisation of emerging leaders from across Africa and the diaspora. They come from different industries and backgrounds, but share the common goal of driving Africa’s prosperity. This means a majority of our members come from the private sector, but many also come from government, civil society/NGOs, and media and the arts.

Our main focus is on relationship building – we believe relationships and mutual trust are essential to creating the conditions for prosperity and growth on the continent. Our annual gathering is the flagship event for ALN in this regard, an opportunity to build relationships that lead to eventual collaborations that would not have happened otherwise. We talk about the gathering as the “Davos of Africa” – it’s the premier Africa-focused event for the continent’s top new generation leaders.

What were the meeting highlights for you?

I think given the history of Rwanda and seeing first hand what the country has achieved in 20 years since the genocide is extremely important for all Africans to learn from. There are still nations struggling to find mechanisms to overcome their own strife, and hearing first hand from President Paul Kagame, was certainly my highlight. I think his words that stayed with me the most were: “We have what it takes to make Africa a success, it starts with taking responsibility, the right mindset and partnerships.” Rwanda is living proof that through strong governance and a clear goal, African countries can fuel their own development.

Another highlight is to see the progress we as ALN have made since the last gathering in Mauritius. We have strengthened our resolve as a network to truly focus on entrepreneurship. This year, we launched our ALN Ventures programme designed to identify the most promising entrepreneurs and connect them to the power of the network. ALN Ventures provides them with mentorship, investment, and exclusive access to partner services — we’re looking to provide founders with everything they need to accelerate their growth.

When we met in Nairobi last month you suggested ALN will put the issue of Ebola onto the meeting agenda. Have you agreed on some action points in this regard?

Yes, we had a session on Ebola on the first day. We wanted to focus not only on details of the crisis itself, but what is already being done and what ALN members can do. We heard from Jon Lascher of Partners In Health, who is overseeing construction of Ebola treatment units and hiring local staff in Sierra Leone; Dr Faisal Shuaib, who led the incident control centre for Nigeria’s Ebola response; Thierry Nyatanyi of the Rwanda Ministry of Health, who described Rwanda’s work to prevent Ebola from entering the country; and Deogratias Niyizonkiza of Village Health Works, who shared his experiences building a health system in post-crisis Burundi.

While ALN does not lead initiatives itself, the conversation served as a platform for members to think about what they and their companies can do to contribute to the issue. One of the key takeaways was that the crisis affects all Africans, from both an economic standpoint (for instance, tourism in Africa is declining due to a lack of knowledge of the localised nature of the outbreak) and a humanitarian one.

What else are you planning to do throughout next year?

Our main goal is to focus on regional and member-hosted events. What makes ALN valuable is the opportunity for members to develop personal relationships. We don’t want to limit this to once a year, so are hosting more events and encouraging members to host their own. We are also deepening our commitment to entrepreneurship. As mentioned before, ALN Ventures has been launched and its first class of entrepreneurs begins in January. They will go through a nine-month programme that provides them with mentorship and networking opportunities.

Being at the centre of a network made up of many African business leaders, what traits do you see in those who have become so successful in recent years?

I’ve heard it said that you can’t be successful in business in Africa without relationships. This is true everywhere, but it is especially true in Africa. From what I’ve seen, the most successful leaders are the people who know how to connect with others and develop strategic collaborations. It’s not just about networking – it’s about building meaningful relationships around the common goal of driving Africa’s prosperity.

Dr Harnet Bokrezion is a senior international development consultant and the founder and CEO of Africa Business Jumpstart, a consultancy business that supports you to make informed and strategic decisions while pursuing your business ambitions in Africa faster and more confidently. Follow Harnet on Twitter at @africajumpstart