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Looking to Africa's Future: The Promise of Transnational Ties

January 14, 2020

African_gradNearly seven years ago, when I became president of Yale University, five of the top twelve — and eleven of the top twenty — of the world's fastest growing economies were in Africa, even though the continent faced serious challenges. Amid discussions of sobering events and hopes for the future, Yale took a stand for the promise of education, scholarship, and research — a promise that is particularly significant across Africa, home to a vibrant and growing population of young people. That year, 2013, I launched the Yale Africa Initiative as a way to create new partnerships between Yale and institutions on the continent. 

Africa's economic development remains impressive, but even more spectacular is the growth and promise of its youth. The continent's youth population is expected to increase by 522 million over the next three decades, while in the rest of the world, over the same period, it will decline by 220 million. By 2050, one-third of people on the planet age twenty-four or younger will call the continent home. As they come of age, these young people will take their place among the world's leaders and innovators — meaning we all have an interest in Africa's future.

As a university professor, I am focused on higher education, though primary and secondary education are, of course, critical. Higher education is essential to economic growth, and it also delivers a broad range of benefits, including progress toward gender equality, improvements in individual and public health, strengthened civic  institutions, and enhanced creativity and skills among those who serve society. 
Collaborative research and teaching that bridge national borders and cultures can further amplify the positive effects of colleges and universities. Through student and faculty exchanges, institutions of higher education can engage with diverse viewpoints and experiences, improving the scholarship and education they support and deliver. In these enriching environments, students also learn what they can contribute to an increasingly interconnected global community. Yes, they gain the education needed to become productive workers, but more importantly they also acquire the skills and knowledge needed to become business owners, entrepreneurs, and employers; create new knowledge; and transform their communities, their countries, and the planet. Graduates of Yale Law School, for instance, serve as judges and officials for some of the most important courts in the world. These scholars and practitioners are taking the knowledge and wisdom they have gained through their international education to transform the landscape of jurisprudence across Africa and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, I learned about the accomplishments of Adebayo Alonge, a graduate of the Yale School of Management and Lagos Business School, both of which members of the Global Network for Advanced Management. Adebayo won the grand prize in the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge, a world-renowned startup competition, for RxScanner, a handheld nanoscanner that authenticates drugs and helps patients avoid dangerous counterfeits. The company he built around the technology currently operates in Canada, China, Myanmar, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria, and he has plans to expand it further. Adebayo's story is just one example of how the opportunity to study in the United States and Nigeria can help power innovation and entrepreneurship.

Like many global universities, Yale has forged a number of partnerships with educational and research institutions in Africa. For instance, Makerere University, Uganda's largest institution of higher education, and Yale collaborate on a variety of research, including investigations of treatments for non-communicable diseases, patient empowerment, and women's health. In the short term, scholars from both Makerere and Yale benefit from exposure to different clinical settings that widen their perspectives, knowledge, and skills. In the longer term, these types of collaborative efforts will increase clinical capacity, improve medical access, and enhance public health, in both countries.

As more nations take a step back from the global community and focus their attention inward, universities must step up and fill the void, providing transformative educational opportunities for students and fostering innovative discoveries that improve lives. There is so much more to do, from creating partnerships and forging transnational ties, to building on the tremendous promise of young people around the globe. As we move inexorably toward 2050, the future increasingly will look  like Africa — full of promise, energy, determination, innovation, and resilience.

Peter Salovey is the president of Yale University. This article was distributed by African Media Agency on behalf of Yale and appears here with AMA and Yale's permission.
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