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The Founding of AFLI


The African Leadership Institute was founded by Sean Lance and myself – Peter Wilson. Sean is a very successful South African businessman, now retired and living in Plettenberg Bay. I had known Sean for many years as a fierce competitor on the sports field, and as we knew each other’s capabilities, Sean contracted me to do some scenario-based strategy consulting work for his team when he was Chief Operating Officer and a Board member of Glaxo-Wellcome in London – and scheduled to become CEO of the second biggest company by market capitalisation on the London Stock Exchange. A few weeks before he was due to become CEO he disagreed with the Board over the proposed merger with SmithKlineBeecham and thus left Glaxo to become CEO and ultimately Chairman of Chiron, a big-four biotechnology company based in San Francisco. Having established a working relationship at Glaxo, when he moved he asked me to help him restructure the strategy of this fast-growing company. Sean and I worked closely on this task for five years, and during this time, we often spoke after hours about what we could do to give back to the continent of our heritage. Both of us have deep roots in Africa going back about 200 years.

In addition to corporate consulting I had been doing work with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) alongside Dr. Olugbenga Adesida in various countries in Africa, trying to encourage a culture of longer-term national development planning in governments. I identified that in the African countries I worked in, like other countries worldwide, there was a “leadership gap”. Sean had been recognised early in his career as a leader, a role he successfully fulfilled not only in business but in sport and other activities. His inclination was thus to give back by addressing the leadership gap that had been identified, and so we agreed that we would work towards an institute that would help build the capacity of leadership on the continent. This was in 2001.

Novartis was Chiron’s biggest shareholder, and Sean spoke to their CEO, Dr. Daniel Vasella, about the concept of a leadership institute to help address the “crisis of leadership” in Africa (as it was described to me by a prominent West African leader). Dr. Vasella was interested in the concept, and requested that I meet him in Switzerland to explain the concept in more detail, which I duly did resulting in our first seed funding of $100,000 from Novartis to develop the concept. I then set out to consult with a variety of senior leaders and academics across Africa to develop ideas of what we should do to build the capacity and capability of leadership across Africa, and the concept of the African Leadership Programme began to emerge, based on a set of workshops with connecting work done between the workshops. It was highlighted by the people I consulted that the “students” should not be the only ones to benefit, but they should be required to apply their leadership for the benefit of the community, and thus extend the benefits of the programme to a much wider community.

The African Leadership Institute was established as a UK Charity in 2003, overseen by a Board of Trustees who all remain as Board Members today – Sean Lance, Lord Hacking, Michael Stone and John Greensmith – and whose support has contributed significantly to the success of the Institute.

In the meantime, discussions were initiated with the UNDP, which was represented in South Africa by Dr. John Ohiorhenuan, to undertake a scenario project titled South Africa 2020. Professor Brian O’Connell, vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Cape (UWC), had been a member of the original famous Mont Fleur scenario project which helped shape the strategic thinking of the future ANC government in the early 1990s. He was keen to do a follow-up scenario project at Mont Fleur 10 years after the original one, employing a similar structure of bringing together emerging leaders from a wide cross-section of opinions and backgrounds to craft the scenarios. Funded by the UNDP, we partnered with the UWC to run SA2020. This was AFLI’s first project. Olugbenga and I ran it, and looking back on the outcomes of the exercise, it is remarkable how prescient the scenario team were in anticipating the future of the country. Some of this scenario team formed the nucleus of the first African Leadership Programme (ALP) which was to follow in 2006 – Ronnie Ntuli, Judy Malan, Janah Ncube, Felleng Sekha and Aidan Eyakuze.

The 2006 class also included Ndidi Nwuneli with whose company, LEAP Africa, we started to work on our second AFLI scenario project, Nigeria 2025, which was completed in 2007 and received a standing ovation when presented to the Nigerian Economic Summit. Abdu Mukhtar, another member of the 2006 ALP group, was also a member of the Nigeria 2025 team.

Teaming up with the University of Western Cape for SA2020 was to bring a very significant side benefit. In speaking to Prof. O’Connell about our plans for the Institute, he became very supportive of what we were planning to do, and he agreed it would help us tremendously if we could get Archbishop Tutu to be our Patron. The Archbishop was then the Chancellor of UWC, and thus met frequently with Prof. O’Connell, who arranged for me to meet him. The Archbishop was, as usual, delightful in our meeting and pleased to hear about our plans for the Institute, recognising the leadership gap on the continent. In agreeing to be our Patron, he said, “Young man, I am delighted to be the Patron of the Institute and you can use my name for your programme, but don’t ask me to do any work!” Brian O’Connell’s help and support in securing Archbishop Tutu’s involvement in the Institute was invaluable.

Sean and I had also been in discussion with major international universities to partner us on the Leadership Programme. Harvard wanted to do it their way, which did not appeal to us, but when I went back to my old school, the Oxford Centre for Management Studies, which had by then become Templeton College, Oxford, we found a collaborative response from Dr. Marshall Young, who was Dean of the College’s Executive Education. He had a refreshing and innovative approach to leadership training, including the use of music, Shakespeare, poetry, the arts, and various experiential techniques to stimulate leadership learning and self-awareness in an entertaining manner. The chemistry worked on both sides, and we agreed to partner on what would become the Archbishop Tutu Leadership Programme. Templeton College subsequently merged with Green College, and the Egrove Park Executive Education facility was taken over by Said Business School, with whom we continue to partner through a seamless transition.

By the end of 2005, together with our academic partners, we had structured a unique leadership programme focused on emerging African leaders, who would be leading not only in Africa but also within a changing global context. From the beginning, our focus was on identifying Africa’s highest-potential leaders from all sectors and backgrounds in the age range 25-39. Our philosophy was that for Africa to succeed it was vital to have excellent top-level leaders: without good leadership at the highest levels, all other initiatives further down the chain would have less impact in developing a prosperous, equitable and inclusive continent for all its inhabitants to enjoy a meaningful life. As a Rhodes Scholar, the model of Rhodes Scholarships - which deliberately identifies future leaders and offers a world class learning opportunity and entry into a powerful influential network - resonated and shaped our thinking. But we believed it would have greater impact if we focused on emerging leaders who had already begun to show their leadership potential in the competitive world beyond university.

In 2006 we established the not-for-profit African Leadership Institute in South Africa, so that we would have a base in Africa. We also felt that some donors may prefer to donate to an African based institution than a UK charity, though we have also found that some international donors prefer to donate to AFLI(UK) because of the respected fiduciary controls of the UK Charities Commission.

We had the model, but we were struggling to raise the funds for such an ambitious programme. Most funders wanted output they could measure and see short term impact, and were focused on a country or region. Our pan-African leadership model did not tick the boxes, particularly as it was elitist in a system where it is easier to motivate to build a well in a village. Sean turned to his contacts and old colleagues, starting with Bernard Kantor at Investec, who have always been an innovative company who see a bigger picture.

Following a meeting with Bernard, Allen Zimbler and Andrew Feinstein – people who over the years have become wonderful supporters of AFLI – Investec came on board as a sponsor – our first sponsor of the Tutu Leadership Programme, and who have been an invaluable partner throughout the years the programme has run. Through other contacts we persuaded Roche Pharmaceuticals and Eskom to sponsor the first programme, both of whom stayed with us as partners for several years. Three sponsors were not sufficient to fund the direct costs of the programme, whilst Olugbenga and I were running the Institute part-time pretty much on a pro bono basis. Sean decided that we could not delay the launch any further, and in his personal capacity he funded the shortfall to enable the first programme to go ahead in 2006. He continued to fund shortfalls in the budget for several years, as we slowly built up a set of regular sponsors.

From our various activities in Africa, Olugbenga and I had a reasonable network of contacts from whom to seek nominations for the 2006 initial programme. As the concept was new and untested, and we were just building up the network of nominators, we only received about 70 nominations for the first programme – compared to the 300 we receive now. However, the SA2020 project and the initiation of the Nigeria 2025 project had introduced us to some outstanding young leaders who were nominated and selected for the 2006 Tutu Fellowship Programme. We could only afford to take 19 on the programme, but this included a core of really dynamic emerging leaders. We had achieved a very strong first group of Tutu Fellows, who, like all subsequent years, found it an amazing programme, and were willing to promote it with their peers. The standard had been set at a very high level – the quality of the participants, as well as the standard of the programme – and this set a base line for the future success of the programme.

Whilst the 2006 class were an outstanding group, they were not the easiest class to manage, particularly in Oxford and London where we were experimenting to find the best programme structure. Amongst other things they called a “down tools” strike at the Cookery School; they objected to the patronising approach of a facilitator at Oxford who was using music as a medium for an experiential session and called for meeting with him to change his approach; they objected to the “affordable” accommodation we provided in London, and had to be relocated. Nevertheless these very same Fellows are now strong supporters and contributors to AFLI.

As mentioned earlier, the quality and success of the 2006 programme established the basis for the success of the Institute since then. The quality and breadth of nominations has grown year by year – we are getting over 300 nominations from over 30 different African countries for the Tutu Fellowship, and we are deliberately controlling the numbers to that level to ensure we can manage the intense and very personal selection process. We are attracting world-class speakers and academics, and the feedback from Tutu Fellows has consistently been very positive throughout the years it has been offered – “an amazing life changing experience with a remarkable group of fellow Africans” summarises the feedback we have received year after year from the Fellows. We have achieved the successful Tutu Fellowship Programme we envisaged, but that is not the limit to AFLI’s potential. There is still much more to do by building on this success.

Many other important events and milestones have occurred since 2006, and we have had the support of numerous remarkable people since then, but the purpose of this note is to briefly tell the story of how AFLI and the Tutu Fellowship Programme was founded. The rest of the story is for another day.

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Wednesday, 07 December 2022

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