How the world’s top executives are preparing students in Dadaab for leadership

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Leadership Lessons in Dadaab, Kenya.
Leadership Lessons in Dadaab, Kenya.

With five camps spread across 41 square kilometers, Dadaab is home to more than 350,000 people. 60% of the Camp population are under 18 years old, and the majority of these children will have been born in Dadaab. Whilst UNHCR and their partners run a number of formal schools, there are not enough places or resources to bring quality education to everyone who needs it. Fewer than 50% of school-aged children are enrolled in primary school, and this figure drops to 8% enrolment in secondary school.

During a drive to visit one of the schools, this is starkly apparent from the figures of children outside undertaking household tasks: girls in bright traditional dress looking after younger babies and doing laundry, whilst boys tend herds of goats, and gather sand and trash from the bushes that dot the roads. It can also be seen in the schools themselves, where too-few teachers work hard to encourage students in overcrowded classrooms with minimal resources.

In this environment, Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR developed Instant Network Schools program: technology-enhanced classrooms embedded into 13 schools in Dadaab, serving almost 20,000 students.

By giving access to connectivity, power, and technology, the classrooms are able to support the committed teachers who are bringing education to children living at the sharp end of a protracted humanitarian crisis.

With digital text books, as well as a huge range of up to date multimedia teaching materials, the INC can bridge the resource gap in schools. And by connecting schools to the internet and to real-time information, it can also create bridges for isolated communities in the refugee camps to feel part of the world around them.

The past weeks have seen new ways of harnessing technology to bring new experiences to the students in Dadaab, through the Vodafone Foundation’s Leadership Lessons. Global business leaders have been giving one-hour interactive lessons to children and teenagers in refugee camps using the Instant Network Classrooms. During the lessons, leaders share their business expertise and leadership skills with a small group of young refugees via a video link, and the students are encouraged to ask questions and open a dialogue.

The idea for Leadership Lessons was inspired by Vodafone Group’s own CEO, Vittorio Colao, who gave a Lesson to 30 students in August 2014. This was so well received by the students and partners, that a discussion program was created. In 2015, eight world-renowned leaders, including Vint Cerf (Google) will speak directly to the students about leadership, skills development, and motivation, while sharing personal experiences and helping the students to imagine a very different future. The first four Lessons took place over video link to Dadaab at the end of September, bringing together students from primary schools and youth vocational centres with leaders from Unilever, Huawei, WPP, and Jonah Capital.

Whilst some of the Lessons are specialized – renowned artist Lisa Milroy plans for her November Lesson to be a hands-on experience around drawing – many focus on sharing leadership skills. In the most recent lessons, students asked detailed questions about how to become a leader; what to study, what skills to develop, and who to emulate. Unilever’s Paul Polman spoke passionately to their existing skills, saying ‘every time you stand up for someone in the playground, every time you help at home; every time someone looks up to you – you are already a leader. Start from where you are, and keep building’. Sam Jonah encouraged them to make the most of the Instant Network Schools program and of the resources they have to support their education.

Both Leaders and students were gripped by the Lessons, and frank discussions around leadership and opportunity took place. One aim of the Lessons is to motivate students and to link them more deeply into the world outside the camp, and some of the connections were striking and unexpected. Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, spoke passionately about being the grandson of refugees. Huawei’s Chairwoman, Madam Sun, talked about her time growing up in China when only 10% of students were granted places in secondary school – almost the same percentage as Dadaab. As one primary school pupil wrote in his feedback to Madam Sun, ‘We really benefitted from the interaction – with each other and talking to the leader. We saw there are common challenges, and if you can stay motivated, and support each other, you can succeed.

The next set of Leadership Lessons starts November 3rd. Stay tuned for more.