Covington’s Africa Practice Hosts African Leadership Academy

By: Flannery Gallagher

On October 3, 2018, Covington and Burling hosted the African Leadership Academy (ALA) for a celebration of its impressive ten-year existence. Located in Johannesburg, ALA offers a two-year diploma program to some of the most promising students from across the continent. To date, ALA has provided 983 students from forty-six African countries with a world-class education steeped in values of ethical and entrepreneurial leadership. Many of the school’s accomplished alumni remain dedicated to the advancement of Africa long after they leave ALA. While most ALA students attend university off the continent, 70 percent of alumni are currently in Africa or have worked on the continent full-time following university.

The barriers to quality education that so many students in Africa face make ALA’s contributions all the more important. Accordingly, 95 percent of ALA students receive financial assistance to attend the school. Though there have been improvements in recent years, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion of any region in the world. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, as well as one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. As for the age population served by ALA, nearly 60 percent of youth ages 15 to 17 are out of school. Rapidly growing African populations and economies make improving access to quality education critical for continued progress on the continent.

As part of the celebration, ALA Dean Hatim Eltayeb moderated a panel discussion between United States Senator Chris Coons and ALA alumni, Brian Karugira and Gift Kiti. The panelists shared their leadership values and ALA’s role in their personal and professional development. Senator Coons observed that there has been a long history of bipartisan leadership and collaboration in Congress and across administrations when it comes to policies concerning Africa. The presence of Senator Coons was especially timely given his leadership role in the Senate’s passage of the BUILD Act earlier that day.

The BUILD Act, which has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, will combine the existing Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) with a new agency, the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC). The IDFC, unlike its predecessor, will have the ability to take an equity stake in development projects. The new legislation also doubles the authorized financing ceiling to $60 billion. Senator Coons remarked that the legislation removes risks associated with investing in emerging markets, such as those in Africa, and that it will increase the visibility of the United States in Africa in relation to countries like China. Part of the development of ALA’s campus was financed through OPIC, and the IDFC will continue to drive investments in projects that advance development priorities across Africa.

As ALA looks forward to its next ten years, co-founder and CEO, Chris Bradford, reflects, “The urgency of growing a critical mass of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders has never been greater, and the proof that we can do so has never been so compelling.” Covington provides pro-bono legal services to ALA and is deeply committed to providing pro bono services to individuals and entities throughout the continent. Covington was particularly proud to host ALA’s celebration as Witney Schneidman, Chair of the firm’s Africa practice, currently serves on the ALA advisory committee.