The first week of May I facilitated a large (130 participants) four-day leadership development and planning “Advance” for Aga Khan University (AKU) at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Kenya. I have never been to Africa before. It was an extraordinary and eye-opening trip.

A big highlight was working with a group of exceptional leaders overcoming daunting obstacles to provide healthcare services in Kabul, Afghanistan, and running teaching hospitals and university campuses in Karachi, Pakistan, Nairobi, Kenya, and other parts of East Africa. I will post a blog in the coming weeks with a profile of AKU and the incredible work they’re doing to facilitate rebuilding and growth in developing countries around the Indian Ocean region. I’ll also blog on some of the leadership lessons that emerged from a high-involvement process pulling together and harnessing the boundless energy (we worked from 7:30 AM – 9:00 PM most of the week) and ideas of such a large and very diverse group (numerous cultures, academic specialties, disciplines, departments, and roles.) I am now preparing for a June follow up trip to Karachi (my first time to that city) and again Nairobi, to lay a leadership skills foundation and coach their implementation of the plans we established.

The week’s agenda was jam packed, but our group did get a day of team building activities outside the Great Rift Valley Lodge (and then went back to work that evening when we returned.) About half of us climbed Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano towering over the Great Rift Valley. Another half of us in that group climbed to the very peak. Besides giving us a great five hour workout (coming down was almost as tough as going up – especially on knees), we were treated to breathtaking views both across the valley and down into the lush vegetation of the crater. I filled my digital camera with photos.  Click here to view some of my photos on Flickr. If you’re on Facebook these pictures, along with my Linkedin profile, videos and quizzes are all posted on my newly redesigned Facebook page.

On the Saturday before flying back home (which included extra flying time to detour around the Iceland ash cloud), I was able to visit Nairobi National Park. It was too late in the morning to catch the lions hunting for their breakfast. But my camera did get another real workout photographing the wide variety of animals, birds, and flowers. Now I am threatening my family with a marathon session of photos and Dad Jokes!

An eye-opening part of the trip was the rebuilding of Kenya’s democratic government and economic growth. In perfect synchronicity, when I got home Bono and Bob Geldof were doing TV interviews in Toronto promoting Africa and its vast potential. The Globe & Mail was also running a series of articles on Africa ahead of next month’s G20 meeting in Toronto and the World Cup in South Africa.

One especially enlightening Globe & Mail article, “Africa: An economic giant that’s ready to wake up,” reported that “steady growth in foreign investment means the continent’s economy is outpacing the world average, taking bigger and bigger bites out of poverty.” Since I am not sure how long the link to this article will remain active, here are a few eye-opening highlights – at least for me – from the article that aligned with some of what I heard, saw, and learned on my trip:

  • “Africa is quietly preparing for a growth trajectory that could astonish the world. Its popular image is still the same: hunger; corruption; war; poverty. But take another look. Beyond the stereotypes, Africa’s potential is explosive. Its human talents, its vast natural resources, its rising democracies and new technologies – all are reaching a tipping point that could send it surging dramatically upward.”
  • “The economy of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow by 4.75 per cent this year, faster than the world average, and will accelerate to an impressive 6 per cent in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund… little noticed by the world, the African economy had grown at 6 per cent annually for five years before the global slowdown. …when the global economy contracted last year, Africa succeeded in avoiding a decline, maintaining 2-per-cent growth even at the depths of the slowdown.”
  • “…contains 30 per cent of the world’s mineral reserves, including 40 per cent of the world’s gold, and is one of the biggest sources of the oil that fuels the U.S. and Chinese economies.”
  • Many of its countries already have a higher per-capita income than China and India.
  • “Since 2003, Africa’s use of cell phones and the Internet has been growing at twice the global average (I did see goat, sheep, and cow herders in tribal dress talking on cell phones.)”
  • “Some of the most dramatic gains are in health and education. Africa’s child-mortality rate is declining by 1.8 per cent annually – twice the rate of decline in the 1990s – due to expanded vaccination campaigns, improved nutrition and greater access to clean water. Malaria rates are sharply falling as millions of insecticide-treated bed nets are distributed across Africa.”
  • “A decade ago, only 58 per cent of African children went to primary school; today it’s nearly 75 per cent. Many African countries have eliminated school fees and other barriers, allowing an extra 42 million children to go to school.”

After so many years of suffering and problems it’s great to see that Africa is rising.