excerpts from a speech made at the 2011 Harvard Africa Business Conference by a Brown engineering freshman student from Kenya.
My name is Githiora Thuku and I am from Kenya. I am a graduate of the African Leadership Academy, and currently a freshman student at Brown University.
While at ALA, I was involved in a project to install a biodigester at an elementary school in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the aim of creating a cleaner energy source.
I was heavily involved with the calculations required in the project, such as analyzing the energy output to waste input ratio and finding feasible dimensions for the biodigester.
This project is ongoing, and includes an awareness program, teaching the children at Swartkop Primary School about environmental conservation methods.
As an aspiring engineer passionate about science, this project provided insight into the process of implementing novel technologies within an African setting.
It enabled me to learn establishing and maintaining good relationships with the community, the importance of a strong supply chain; furthermore, it taught me the importance of involving and creating a sense of ownership for the community and thus gave me a glimpse into a future of working in Africa and initiating projects that will have a positive impact on communities.
FACE OF INNOVATION: Githiora Thuku's ALA classmate, William Kamkwamba, has received worldwide acclaim for building a windmill from scrap metal and creating energy for his small village in Malawi, Southern Africa, despite dropping out of school (picture: Moving Windmills)
Attending this conference made me refresh my memory about what I want my African legacy to be. As I sat at my desk in my room on a quiet Saturday night, grappling with this question, it came to me: my Math homework!
During my final year at the ALA, the concept of vectors was introduced to me in my Math class.
According to the New Oxford American dictionary, a vector is “a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another.” The amazing thing about a vector, to me, is that it is defined by it's direction, and not by it's magnitude, although it's magnitude is also an important quality.
I then remembered a saying my father had put up on the wall in our home that read, “The important thing in life is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.” My mind then returned to the speech I was writing, and the connection to the continent was unmistakable: I want my African legacy to be: HOPE.
Like a vector, I believe hope recognizes a people's past experiences and present situation, and defines them in terms of their direction: their aspirations, their destination. A powerful motivation is the hopes and dreams that we have for Africa, and the steps we are taking to achieve them. I want to be a vector, mindful of my past experiences and present situation, but defined by my direction, which is forward. I was glad, having reached this conclusion, that vectors could mean more to me than sleepless nights spent completing Math homework.
I want to be part of the generation that inspires coming generations. I want to be so deeply involved with communities and other African change-makers, that my legacy would be theirs as much as it would be mineMany are suffering as a result of poor leadership, shackled by decisions that prioritized self-interest. I want to be remembered as a man who gave hope to people; because hope, no matter how bad a situation gets, can keep people going towards a goal.
Through hard work and community spirit, I want to be on the forefront of scientific research and engineering design to benefit Africa. I aspire to be among those promoting investment in the continent, so as to make the process of acquiring funding, which is a big hindrance to the realization of many great opportunities, easier for coming generations.
African Leadership Academy Students (seventh from right: Githiora Thuku)
To see young, fresh professionals doing wonderful things for various African countries would be refreshing and inspiring for the youth, sending out a message to them that it is possible and that they can succeed and be agents of positive change on the continent as well.
I would be thrilled to see this generation actively seeking members of their succeeding generation to mentor, counsel, and provide opportunities for success.
Here in the US, there are too many times when I have searched for an opportunity and not been eligible to apply simply because I am not a US citizen. It would be far greater to have networks in Africa that can provide the youth with opportunities to work on the continent and get invaluable experience now that will prepare them for lifelong service later.
The Harvard Business School Africa Business Conference brings together great people to generate solutions for African challenges, and share innovative ways to realize Africa's numerous opportunities.
I am convinced that the renaissance of Africa is at hand, and I urge you to continue moving forward, as human vectors of a restored continent.