The journey of a Bezos Scholar is not easy. It takes hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. But as Scholars, we have already benefitted so much from our efforts and will emerge even stronger than when we started. Already, this experience has lived up to our expectations and fulfilled its promise to help us become the leaders we all need.
We are a team of students from the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a two-year secondary school located in Johannesburg, South Africa. ALA seeks to transform Africa by developing a powerful network of young leaders who will work together to address Africa’s greatest challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and accelerate the continent’s growth trajectory.
Since 2011, ALA and Bezos Scholars Program established a strong partnership. As we got to know the culture of respect and collaboration that exists between us, each hoped and prayed to be selected as the next ALA Bezos Scholars. We wanted to gain expertise from the Aspen Ideas Festival and carry forward the continuation of South African Ideas Festival, putting our own spin on it. After a rigorous application process and weeks of suspense, five ALA students and one educator coach were finally selected as 2020 Scholars.Top Left to Right: Akinfolami Akin-Alamu, Educator Ssanyu Sematimba, and Maged Hassan. Bottom Left to Right: Chizoma Duru, Macdonald Chirara, and Patra Mwaniki
After we were named Scholars, we learned that due to the global pandemic, a US cohort was not able to be selected and we would not be able to go the Aspen Ideas Festival. This was extremely disappointing at first. But our coach, Ms. S., reminded us that were not selected as Scholars to go on a trip but to carry forward and organize the 9th South African Ideas Festival. Though our experience in the program was changed by forces none of us could control, we were still excited to proceed with the understanding we had also been given a huge responsibility.
SAIF is an entrepreneurial leadership development festival that aims to equip young African participants with design thinking skills that inspire them to create innovate ideas that will spark change in their communities. Since the pandemic tasked with hosting the first ever virtual festival, the pressure intensified, and stakes skyrocketed. In those early planning months, we felt a collage of emotions: A mix of fear, excitement, anxiety and most of all, hope. We met numerous times to come up with a game plan and our own entrepreneurial leadership skills were put to the test.
We engaged in brainstorming sessions, dreamed up 100’s of ideas on sticky notes, meet with partners, and conducted online research. We learned how to create beautiful, engaging slide decks and co-facilitate virtual presentations as a unified team, how adaptable we can be when accommodating remote school and festival work, and how to build strong partnerships while flexing our networking skills to expand our group of stakeholders. We also rebranded the festival as well as hosted a student competition to design an update logo (see below) and completed a full overhaul and update to the SAIF website.
SAIF 2021 is less than a month away, and our team, which includes 30 interns made up of other students at ALA, is working hard. With a new approach to SAIF, we set new goals – to recruit 100 young people to apply from diverse regions across Africa, to manage a fair application process, create new curriculum, raise enough money to present participants rewards, build new partnerships, and of course, create and host an engaging, virtual festival.
This year our theme is “Unlocking Entrepreneurial Development through Profitable Passions”. We aim to help participants develop tangible entrepreneurial skills within the sectors of technology, arts and culture, environment and health, education, and activism. Instead of applying as an individual, like in years past, participants must apply as a team of three to five people and be able to implement their business ideas if they win the first-place cash prize of 20,000 Rands (approximately $1,300 dollars). Beyond startup funding, the winning team will also be given mentoring through the Anzisha Program which is partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to significantly increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs in Africa. Like Anzisha, we want to inspire and teach young Africans how to turn their passions into profitable and socially responsible businesses.
One of the benefits of a virtual festival is that for the first time ever, BSP Alumni are invited to attend one or both of the following 2021 SAIF virtual events:
We are also launching a SAIF alumni network! If you have any interest in supporting present and past participants by providing mentorship, internship opportunities, sponsorship, or would like to find out more about how to partner with South African Ideas Festival, please contact us here. Wishing you a joyous year! #StaySAIF #Profitable Passions.Picture from 2020 SAIF. The event was able to take place in person last year before the pandemic shut down travel and the ALA campus.