Last week, I spent time with 25 participants in the Young African Leaders Initiative. Trust me when I say I was truly humbled to be conversing with the group, as every one of them is equally or more skilled in facilitation. They are well educated, well read, and well spoken.
While waiting for the entire group to return from lunch, I reviewed the schedule for their experience here and saw a detailed, packed agenda of sessions, events, and activities. When I saw it, I understood why the early arrivals seemed tired.
A week later, what the group said to me has caused me to wonder (again) about the tendency of academic institutions to do what we've always done, rather than what might work better. If I understood what these young leaders were saying, they know the challenges they are facing in Africa, they largely know what they need to do, and the realities of their lives make it difficult to plan, think, and act for the longer term. They describe Africa as in "a constant state of emergency." The need for quick action competes with the need for thoughtful building of coalitions to achieve the goals for their communities, organizations, states, and continent.
These leaders are here in the United States for six weeks. And I am still wondering after my brief interactions with them whether the academic "challenge" for these leaders is best served by the appearance of rigor in the schedule, the topics, and the presenters. One wonders whether the academic challenge is how to use the six weeks (while they are at least physically removed from the crises) to collaborate on meaningful deliverables that reflect their diverse perspectives--deliverables (action plans, proposals, budgets, training plans, etc.) that have been created by the collective, allowing these leaders to model collaboration, return with useful next steps, and develop the network they will need to draw upon when the next crisis threatens.
The schedule might look less scholarly, but the outcomes might be more lasting.