By Sean Jones
After travelling from Africa’s mountainous southern coast, to the wilds of Kruger National Park, to the urban jungle of Johannesburg, participants in JPMorgan Chase’s The Fellowship Initiative are getting ready for life after The Experiment. Before boarding their flight home, they come together at the African Leadership Academy’s idyllic suburban Johannesburg campus to reflect on their travels and plan to apply their lessons learned at home. The African Leadership Academy, or ALA, trains some of Africa’s most promising youth in ethical and entrepreneurial leadership, and has an alumni network that includes some of the continent’s most exciting civil society leaders and entrepreneurs. Over an intensive three-day seminar, Experimenters will have a chance to experience how ALA students are groomed to lead their communities into the future.
On their first day at ALA, Experimenters split into five-person teams that will work together to identify issues common to their communities and develop plans to confront them. ALA bases its social innovation project curriculum on the “BUILD” model. BUILD stands for Believing that you can have an impact, Understanding the problem that you are confronting from the community’s point of view, Inventing a solution to the problem, Listening to feedback in order to perfect your invention, and Delivering the solution to your community.
Over several day-long project design and planning workshops that have students dropping eggs, launching elaborate paper airplanes, and having heated discussions on community issues, inspiring ideas begin to bubble up — community centers for homeless veterans, “Google Glass” style body cameras to discourage police-community violence, and online life skills courses for teens. Students present their projects to a panel of ALA, TFI, and Experiment leaders, and win prizes for their presentation styles and the quality of their innovations.
Over their final two days Africa, all 110 TFI participants come together for a daylong soccer and basketball tournament. Between heated inter-group matchups, they share stories of climbing mountains, animal encounters, and new friendships, and marvel at just how much they have done in a little over two weeks. At a final banquet — an African feast at an ornate lakeside restaurant — students pile their plates with final helpings of pap and peri-peri chicken, sing along to traditional songs, and, as the night wraps up, take to the stage to share heartfelt stories about their experiences. They talk about the instant bonds of brotherhood that have formed between previously far-flung TFI students from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles; laugh about the misadventures they faced while travelling thousands of miles across a foreign land; and look forward to sharing their stories with family and friends at home. There are tearful goodbyes with South African group leaders, promises of writing and visiting again, and a clear change in mood from the nervous first few days of this unforgettable Experiment journey. Experimenters have come out of their shells; are giddy with their accumulation of experiences, new friends, and knowledge; and realize that they will carry a profound new level of understanding of the world — and of themselves — with them for the rest of their lives.