AFRICA: Harnessing bright minds in the diaspora

In 2007 a small cadre of students embarked on a journey to bring together the bright minds of the African continent to engage in a strategic, concerted and sustained development approach. Described initially as "nothing but a dream on a piece of paper" by the organisation's founder and chairman, Okendo Lewis Gayle, the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance is now winning international recognition for its work.

Its mission is captured in the Harambe Bretton Woods Declaration, a solemn document signed each year by Harambe associates, in which Harambeans pledge "to work together as one to unleash the potential of Africa's people and pursue the social, political and economic development of our continent and fulfill the dream of our generation".

The pan-African alliance is a platform for highly motivated and action-oriented African social, business and political entrepreneurs attending leading universities in Asia, Europe and North America - including Harvard, Oxford and Hong Kong University - who wish to tackle this challenge.

HEA has come a long way since 2007. It now comprises 124 young Africans attending 67 universities and representing 24 African countries. This year alone Harambe is spearheading initiatives in nine African countries and eight different sectors, including community development, education and ICT, health, micro-enterprise, gender empowerment and youth leadership.

Each year Harambe selects 30 African students from a competitive applicant pool to attend the organisation's annual gathering, known as the Harambe Bretton Woods Symposium, or HBWS. It is a four-day gathering held at three locations: Harvard University, Dartmouth College and the historic Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, birthplace of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Selected applicants are invited to share their ideas for spurring development in Africa with other like-minded individuals. The alliance supports and provides assistance in translating ideas into action through the Harambe Angel Network, discounted Africa air travel and corporate-sponsored summer grants such as the Harambe Intel Fellowship.

This year, in partnership with the Intel Corporation and GlaxoSmithKline, Harambe is supporting several entrepreneurial initiatives relating to vaccine accessibility and ICT distribution in Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.

African students from 20 universities representing 10 African nations presented their project proposals at HBWS IV and came up with initiatives to tackle challenges on the ground. Current initiatives include:

* Harambe Nigeria: an agricultural business incubator founded by HEA associate Tola Sunmonu, a Nigerian from Stanford University.
* Innohub Ghana: a computer assembly centre that employs and educates Ghanaian youth, led by HEA associate Nelson Amo, a Ghanaian student from the London School of Economics.
* The African Development Coalition: a group that raises awareness about contemporary African culture, politics and economic issues on university campuses through summer projects in Africa.

The Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance has been gaining international recognition for its effectiveness since August 2010, when it was invited to attend President Barack Obama's Forum with Young African Leaders and hosted Harambe events in Ghana's parliament and in the UK's house of lords.

Just three years previously Okendo Lewis Gayle had had the privilege, as the first black student body president of Southern New Hampshire University, to share the stage with then presidential candidate Obama, who famously told the 'class of 2007' that "focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. It's only in hitching your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realise your true potential."

Armed with Obama's inspiring words and the three Harambe questions - If not now, when? If not here, where? If not I, who? - Lewis Gayle and his team successfully managed to rally African students together from across the United States to forge the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance.

The success of HEA's initiatives and Lewis Gayle's promotion of the organisation across Europe and Asia, have transformed it into a global action network of young African entrepreneurs committed to advancing Africa's interests in Africa and around the world.

* Corina Shika Kwami is a student at Georgetown University and has been a member of HEA since 2008. Isabella Akinseye is a student at the University of Cambridge and joined HEA this year.

* The fifth HBWS will take place from 30 March to 2 April 2012, and the next major gathering will be at the Palace of Versailles in October 2012 at the invitation of the French government.