African Leadership University students visit Amazon Web Services’ HQ in Silicon Valley to discuss how technology is revolutionising the agricultural and healthcare sectors in Africa and across the globe.
Twenty young African innovators from eleven countries were selected to travel to the African Leadership University’s Silicon Valley hub in the US, as part of ALU’s Global Leadership Program. With a unique focus on experiential learning, this one-of-a-kind programme aims to immerse ALU students in the global centre of technological innovation, and equip them with the skills to tackle Africa’s most serious challenges, and seize its greatest opportunities.
Throughout the month-long programme, the ALU students stayed on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California – at the heart of Silicon Valley. In addition to their visit to Amazon Web Services, they toured other major companies headquartered in the Bay Area, including Google and Netflix, and participated in a range of activities at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, from lectures and workshops with academic experts, to fireside chats led by Silicon Valley innovators.
With the students hailing from Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the programme represents ALU’s commitment to strengthening pan-African networks, as well as the diversity of its community. The students received support and personalised advice from an industry mentor and a student buddy at Stanford University, and had the chance to form connections with US entrepreneurs at networking events.
During the full-day visit to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the students were hosted by Lorraine Bassett, Industry Leader for Partner Solutions, and Vineet Daniels, Senior Program Manager and Head of Operations for Partner Solutions. They met with Elizabeth Fastiggi, Head of Worldwide Business Development and Agriculture at AWS, and Dr Venkat Maroju, Chief Executive Officer of SourceTrace – a leading provider of software solutions in the agriculture sector. They exchanged ideas on how innovative and sustainable technologies can address food insecurity, boost employment opportunities, and support the sustainable development of Africa’s growing population.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, the agricultural sector represents more than $330 billion in annual economic activity, accounts for roughly 35% of its GDP, and employs around 53% of the labour force. However, the full agricultural potential of Africa – home to more than 60% of the world’s unused arable farmland – has yet to be realised. If food production is to meet the demands of the global population – which is predicted to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 – then Africa’s farming sector must be modernised.
Veda Sunassee, CEO of ALU, said:
“ALU’s Global Leadership Program stands apart as a truly hands-on learning experience. By immersing themselves in the ecosystem of Silicon Valley, and connecting first-hand with some of the world’s most pioneering companies, like Amazon Web Services, our students will be uniquely positioned to continue their entrepreneurial journey. Africa is bursting with young talent, and ALU is deeply committed to equipping this next generation of African leaders with the right tools and opportunities to help the continent fulfil its enormous potential.
“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Carnegie Foundation, and excited to welcome the support of the Master Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Omidyar Network. I hope more American leaders can partner with us to help skill up the next generation of African changemakers.”
While at AWS, the students also enjoyed a session with Amanda Goltz, US Healthcare Lead for Worldwide Public Sector Healthcare Venture Capital and Startups at AWS, and Christopher Johnson, Director of Partner Relations at Aegix AIM. Mr Johnson, having previously served as Senior Program Director at CHOICE Humanitarian for 23 years, shared his wealth of experience and knowledge of how sustainable solutions can be utilised to tackle poverty in underserved regions.
A highlight of the day was a session led by Lorraine Bassett on AWS’ ‘working backwards’ model, which the company uses for developing its innovative products. The students later applied this approach to real-world challenges in agriculture and healthcare in Africa.
Lorraine Bassett, Partner Solutions Factory, Industry Leader at AWS, said:
“It was a huge pleasure hosting such bright young minds at our headquarters. My colleagues and I were very impressed with the innovation, ambition, and entrepreneurial spirit that the students showed during the workshops – from their curiosity around how we develop products, to leading their own insightful discussions on the future of technological innovation. ALU’s model, based on experiential and mission-oriented learning, is something that higher education institutions in the US can really learn from.”
This is the second cohort of ALU students to visit the Silicon Valley hub, following the huge success of the Global Leadership Program last year. It has been organised in partnership with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Master Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Omidyar Network.
Africa and the US have continued to build closer relations in recent years. At the US-Africa Business Forum in December 2022, President Biden announced $15 billion in partnerships and trade and investment commitments, focusing on key priorities such as sustainable energy and digital connectivity.