Eniola Harrison and Felicia Appentang from the IE Africa Center discuss how the continent has influenced the world over the centuries and its dynamic role in solving today’s global challenges.
The IE Africa Center is on a mission: to shine a light on African solutions for global challenges. A recent #GoingtoIEU podcast episode provided valuable insight into how Africa and African people have been integral in shaping the world, especially when it comes to business.
“It’s going to be urgent and crucial that people understand African history in business to be globally competitive”Felicia Appentang, Chair of IE Africa Center
With the continent’s growing affluence and booming population, IE Africa Center strives to educate the IE University community about Africa’s position to transform the future of global business.
Entrepreneurial innovation in Africa
The IE Africa Center, explained Felicia Appentang, focuses its work in two areas, the first being entrepreneurial innovation. An important element of this part of their work is Gurus and Griots, an academic accelerator for African and Afro-descendant practitioners as well as academics who come to IE University to co-create new academic content.
For such a global and diverse institution, she said, IE University has suffered from a lack of African representation on the faculty in the past. The IE Africa Center has worked directly with the president to launch this project, beginning at a difficult time when the pandemic started. Now firmly up on its feet, the project will host new, yearly cohorts of African politicians, venture capitalists, researchers and others.
The initiative enables African professionals who don’t have time to dedicate themselves entirely to teaching to still be part of academia. For Felicia, their insights benefit every member at IE University.
“I think the beauty of this program is that the fellows really fit well within the IE University ecosystem, where we’re always hungry for new knowledge, new ideas and new kinds of people. Going back to the why we do things, these people who are part of the Gurus and Griots have the solutions, knowledge and ideas that are relevant for everybody, regardless of your school or program.”Felicia Appentang, Chair of IE Africa Center.
Africa is a continent with a rich history and incredible stories to tell. The Africa Lab, integrated with the Bachelor in Communication and Digital Media, aims to play a part in making sure those stories are told through education, entrepreneurship and business. In an exemplar of project-based learning, fourth-year students of the program support African entrepreneurs with their visual and digital storytelling techniques. Under this falls branding guides, videos, writing and publishing books, etc.
“It gives students the opportunity to work very closely with entrepreneurs and to understand the unique challenges they face. Our entrepreneurs are very excited as well to work with creative IE University students.”Eniola Harrison, IE Africa Center’s Head of Programs and Partnerships
Today the Africa Lab has around 10 projects in which students are assisting African entrepreneurs and innovators develop cutting-edge communication solutions. According to Eniola, the center is also planning to expand the Africa Lab to other degree programs within IE University, in addition to incorporating more theory-based content.
The other major focus area of the IE Africa Center is narrative shifting, which entails thinking critically about how the continent has been portrayed throughout history and even today’s media. A quarterly digital journal known as the 1312 Project is facilitating this change of perception.
Behind the name is the year 1312 when the King of the Malian Empire, Abubakari II, set sail for the new world. At the time, Mali was one of the world’s great empires, and Abubakari’s son Mansa Musa was one of the richest people who ever lived. He built his wealth through trade and natural resources, and even had so much gold that when he first went to Cairo on his own journeys, he devalued the entire currency!
Felicia uses this story to exemplify one of the many extraordinary yet often neglected stories from Africa. Due to centuries of colonialism and foreign intervention, Felicia stresses that European powers often suppressed these tales. In the process, the project aims to conserve history while inspiring a reexamination of what we know about Africa.
“A big part of our work is just telling those stories in an open and honest way because the truth is just much more exciting- It’s about shining light on all of the ways that Africa has shaped America, and the world, for the better.”Felicia Appentang, Chair of IE Africa Center
Narrative shifting also relates to acknowledging the scientific breakthroughs from Africa spanning millennia. For example, the Ishango Bone discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo contains the oldest listing of prime numbers—or the Dogon people of Mali who mapped the solar system long before European astronomers. One can even argue that modern-day music derives from African rhythms!
As the IE Africa Center’s projects demonstrate, both Eniola and Felicia agree that no global education is complete without Africa. For them, it’s becoming increasingly important to incorporate African affairs into the international curriculums at IE University. Ranging from its history, literature, astronomy, and mathematics to its modern-day startups—Africa has been innovating for thousands of years and will continue to do so into the 21st century and beyond.
Noting the creativeness of African entrepreneurs in solving real-life problems, Eniola and Felicia spoke highly of the startup hubs sprouting across the continent. They cited Kenya as an example of a hotbed of innovative startups, pointing to the companies there pioneering mobile payments between individuals long before Bizum, Paypal or Venmo.
One of the most successful moments for the IE Africa Center was a collaboration with the Master in Corporate and Marketing Communication when students heavily examined media narratives around Africa for their Capstone Projects. Together they analyzed the portrayal of Africa in the mass media and its potential effects on the continent’s economic development. In the end, they created the Africa Narrative Index, which was presented to the UN General Assembly in New York.
“That was one of the biggest highlights because we took a concept and saw it come to life. This is why we do what we do.”Eniola Harrison, IE Africa Center’s Head of Programs and Partnerships