“UWC’s mission only makes sense if we view it through the lens of alumni impact. That mission – to make education a force for a more peaceful and sustainable future  – can seem beyond ambitious, certainly lofty, maybe even unrealistic and naive, unless we accept that it is the actions of UWC alumni that give it meaning and make it attainable”

Keith Clark,

Former UWC Executive Director, (1999-June 2015)

UWC’s Role in the Growth of Africa

Keith Clark, Former UWC Executive Director, (1999-June 2015)

This focus on alumni impact is not, of course, unique to Africa – far from it, it should be universal. However, it cuts to the heart of the challenge of understanding any contribution that UWC can make to Africa’s future. Everyone in UWC, whether in the schools and colleges, in national committees, in UWC International or in the wider body of supporters, friends and donors, surely shares the idea that the key aim of the UWC approach, and specifically the UWC educational model, should be to produce students who leave the colleges committed and equipped to make a difference in the world. We have to be careful that in focusing on alumni impact we do not create a pressure that becomes counterproductive and generates an individual and collective angst that our impact is never enough. However, I think the colleges in particular have become better at conveying the expectation in an appropriate way: the idea that making a difference can and should be at every level – in families, in universities, in the workplace and in local communities as well as on a bigger stage when that is feasible. I think we have also come to realise that impact is less about what what alumni go on to do than about how they do it.

I also feel strongly that we should not get caught up in the ‘return home’ idea when there are always opportunities to make a contribution from outside the continent. UWC Pearson College alumnus Dr. Abiodun Williams has been one of Sierra Leone’s greatest ambassadors, including in influential roles in the UN and in his leadership of peace-related organisations, most recently as President of the Hague Institute for Global Justice. His efforts to build a better understanding of Africa’s challenges and the possible solutions have been considerable, even though he has not returned to Sierra Leone. In a similar vein, Kenyan UWC Atlantic College alumna Lydiah Bosire, currently working at the UN in New York, has become passionate about creating a fund to provide postgraduate scholarships for African students because she sees the absence of opportunities at that level as a major obstacle to developing Africa’s human capital. The point here is not to say that Africa’s future can or should be shaped from outside, but to highlight that with creativity and imagination, and a good deal of commitment, there are all sorts of ways to make a difference.

We will also need further UWC colleges in Africa. With 15 schools and colleges in 2015, it is frustrating that only Waterford can fly UWC’s flag in Africa. UWC has for good reason relied on what we sometimes term opportunistic growth, requiring individuals and organisations committed to establishing a UWC college to approach us and pass through our various stages of approval. A new college is an extremely expensive proposition if it is to maintain adequate levels of financial support, and that has been the most significant hurdle for otherwise promising projects. I have tended to be cautious about the sustainability of a more strategic approach to growth given UWC’s federal model, but we really should be looking for partners in various parts of Africa who can help to deliver new UWC colleges. There are two three serious proposals out there at the moment, and only time will tell whether they are able to meet UWC’s expectations and come to fruition.

The importance of more colleges is several-fold. First, and most obviously, more colleges mean more African students. Second, there is no doubt in my mind that each college builds a special commitment and sense of belonging to its host country and region among all its students, wherever they come from. Just look at the affection for Swaziland, for Southern Africa and for Africa among Waterford Kamhlaba UWC alumni. This struck me forcibly a number of years ago when we had a brand new Waterford Kamhlaba alumnus working in the International Office. Many in the Waterford Kamhlaba community will know Bobby Macaulay (USA, 2005-2006) and will understand what I mean when I talk about having with us an almost inconceivably pale guy from the very northernmost reaches of the UK, and yet while Bobby was with us there was a corner of the office that seemed like Swaziland. All the colleges leave this mark in some way or another, but it seems more obvious among Waterford Kamhlaba UWC alumni, and I suspect that it will be similar for UWC’s next African colleges. Further African colleges will therefore build a far broader understanding of and commitment to Africa, its challenges and its extraordinary opportunities.

As I leave UWC, it is my fervent wish that our future vision and strategies will have the clear objective of creating more impact. That is the charge set by the UWC mission. There is a global need for that impact, but it is so obviously needed as African countries, whether as governments or civil society, tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century. It is so obvious that Africa has a critical role to play in forging a more peaceful and sustainable world. One of the joys of the Waterford community is that there is such a clear recognition that education will be a vital means to this end.

The challenge of addressing the apparently massive question of the role of UWC and UWC alumni in the growth of Africa comes at the moment that I step down as UWC’s Executive Director. Drawing on my 17 years of UWC experience to consider the question is daunting; on the other hand, the reflection that comes with such a change enables me – I hope! – to be able to think about the issue in a relatively straightforward way.

It seems to me that the key to answering this question is in how we think about UWC’s impact, generally and specifically alumni impact. Over the course of the last decade or so, I have become more and more convinced that UWC’s mission only makes sense if we view it through the lens of alumni impact. That mission – to make education a force for a more peaceful and sustainable future  – can seem beyond ambitious, certainly lofty, maybe even unrealistic and naive, unless we accept that it is the actions of UWC alumni that give it meaning and make it attainable. That is not to deny the importance also of institutional impact – UWC’s responsibility at an institutional level to draw the attention of governments, agencies, organisations, educators and schools to the importance of education as a pathway to peace and sustainability (and in this context we might add development). However, for the purposes of this article, I want to put forward the idea that it is through the impact of our alumni that UWC will be able to make the most significant contribution.

 

The implication of this in the African context is that UWC alumni – and for the moment let’s think of African UWC alumni – should be prepared to make their own difference in Africa. That should not get us into concerns about ‘returning home’ and the risk of UWC contributing to a brain-drain because we have plenty of examples to allay those concerns. I can think of any number of African UWC alumni who have returned to their home countries not post-UWC or post-university but later in their lives and careers when they have something significant to contribute. I was hugely encouraged on a visit to Tanzania in 2014 to hear just how many alumni have now returned and are making a meaningful impact in the country. We should also recognise that times have changed and that there are now earlier opportunities to give back. We should take enormous encouragement from initiatives like the Davis Projects for Peace and Clinton Global Initiative University that provide opportunities for very recent alumni at US universities to make an effective contribution. Waterford Kamhlaba UWC alumni have been particularly prevalent in this regard, and some of the resultant projects have been astounding in the depth of their impact. Another important feature of these projects is that they enable UWC alumni to enlist the support of their UWC peers from other countries and to work in teams with non-UWC students. A level of engagement with and commitment to addressing African issues in an African context is therefore spread more widely. This would seem to bode very well for the future.

It is also worth reflecting on UWC’s impact, enhanced no doubt through exposure to African students, on students of other nationalities. Although this must not be the answer, there are many UWC alumni from other parts of the world working in Africa in development and even more significantly in medicine: I immediately call to mind, for example, two Spanish Atlantic College alumni who on opposite sides of the continent are undertaking ground-breaking work in malaria prevention and paediatrics. While this is not the way to address the challenge of shaping Africa’s future, there is a significant contribution that can be made.

 

If we accept that alumni impact is the key to UWC’s role in Africa’s future then it will be important to have more African students. More students = more alumni = more impact. While we now have national committees in the majority of African countries, the overall student numbers from Africa remain low and some of those committees are only asked to select two or three students a year. The reason is, of course, financial. UWC needs more scholarship support for African students. It will require continued hard work, but we must be optimistic that in the not-too-distant future UWC will achieve a breakthrough that increases significantly the financial support available for African students. That would be incredibly exciting and make the potential collective impact of African UWC alumni so much stronger.

Third, although not the main line of my argument, more colleges will clearly provide more opportunities for institutional impact. That means impact in the immediate community, but more importantly in this context it is about highlighting the role of education in building peace and as the key contributor to Africa’s development. We often underestimate this aspect of UWC’s influence – in fact, too often we decry UWC’s apparent lack of influence – but there were countless occasions during my UWC career when representatives of governments, educational and development organisations and individuals committed to education spoke warmly of the example and inspiration provided by Waterford.

In summary, my UWC experience tells me that we must think of UWC’s contribution to Africa Rising in terms of the impact that UWC alumni can have, for the most part individually, but also collectively when that makes sense. However, we should never think that this is just about UWC. We do what we do because we believe in the mission and in UWC’s approach, but there are others out there who similarly believe that education is the key to political, civil, social, cultural and economic development: schools like the African Leadership Academy established specifically with the aim of generating future leaders; other schools, including international schools, that have become far more engaged with contemporary challenges; programmes that seek to promote educational opportunity across the continent, such as that of the MasterCard Foundation; or the many attempts to create greater access at university level, whether through traditional means or through online and distance learning. While I have never believed in partnership for the sake of it – we all have our own priorities – we must respect that there is room for all of us who are seeking to pull in a similar direction.

* Note: This article was originally written by Mr. Keith Clark for Waterford Kamhlaba’s inaugural UWC Africa Week in 2015