The light rain poured down from the African sky, marking the height of rainy season, as we descended the plane in Nairobi, Kenya. The warm, wet rain was hardly an obstacle as representatives from over 30 organizations across Africa, along with 14 university representatives from around the world, descended upon Lake Elementaita for the third annual HALI Indaba. The surroundings of the calm lake and rolling hills combined with a camp-like atmosphere set the stage for a serene landscape of collaboration. Beginning with the eager introductory handshakes and hugs on the bus and continuing with the excited conversation for the two and a half hour trip to the lodge, the excitement was palpable. Although we came from different backgrounds, cultures and countries, we all arrived with one clear mission: To support and promote higher education access for talented and motivated high-achieving, low-income youth throughout the continent of Africa. The opening night festivities were full of enthusiastic energy as familiar faces greeted each other while new faces introduced themselves, over ice-breaker sessions and a bountiful Kenyan dinner. Discussions ran long into the night (a seeming trend for this conference) and we arose early the next morning to run or swim or do yoga before commencing the day’s sessions.
This year’s theme was From Success to Impact with a clear focus on finding the best way to promote significant impact on the African continent both before and after scholars attain a university degree. Many times, students depart to attend a university outside of the continent only to stay and not return home, preferring to explore success abroad and leading to a general “brain drain”. This emigration could be beneficial if they decide to send resources back home, build networks and help their communities from a distance, but other times that’s not the case. Confronted with this challenge, many solutions were offered to encourage repatriation back to Africa, ranging from building mentorship networks, finding internships within local companies, instilling a sense of responsibility to community and promoting the growing opportunities in Africa. Helen Leale-Green of Our Moon shared her thesis research findings which included an advocacy of building stronger universities on the continent itself, a transformation being led by the likes of African Leadership University and Ashesi University among others. Of course, at the end of the day, the decision about a young scholar’s future is distinctly theirs to make and we as access organizations are committed to supporting their decisions.
On the back of this year’s theme, we listened to insightful presentations from university admissions officials on the subject “Linking with Home”, exploring ways various universities are helping students to prepare for their transition home while they’re still in school. Ahaspora is a Ghanaian network that is striving to accomplish just that, linking the global diaspora with home connections. Rebecca Westphal, one of the founding members of HALI, gave her views on shaping the future of the network while Jessica Clarkson of USAP Zambia presented ways of dealing with resiliency during the face of adversity, a situation not only students face, but college access counselors as well. Jennifer Dewar of Duo Lingo, a language proficiency application, introduced the comprehensive Duo Lingo English test which relies on Artificial Intelligence administer the test and may potentially replace the cost-prohibitive TOEFL & IELTS exams in the future as more universities accept Duo Lingo. Generously, Duo Lingo pledged to grant all HALI members complimentary vouchers for the exam for our students, removing a significant barrier many of our students face. We learned about Abaarso (Somaliland) and USAP Zimbabwe’s cultural exchange trip which can be a model for HALI organizations to follow, opening students’ eyes to new peers and cultures while building lifelong bonds of friendship. A College Fair was held in the afternoon, allowing each HALI representative to gain more insights into the application and financial aid processes of each university present. This fair proved a truly beneficial event for many organizations that don’t otherwise have direct contact with admissions officials. Universities represented at this year’s HALI Indaba included ALU, Ashesi, Duke, Penn State, Sciences Po, United States International University, University of British Columbia, University of Edinburgh, University of Pretoria, Yale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is our vision that more universities will come to see HALI as a driving force within Africa, promoting the brightest young leaders the continent has to offer.
While many of the Indaba’s activities were structured, much of the benefit came during the unstructured sessions at breakfast, lunch, dinner and even the bus rides where members could become better acquainted with each other and share ideas. Examples include sharing resources and insights, methods of teaching, fundraising strategies, leadership & entrepreneurship training, best practices for scholarship applications and more.
The second day was devoted to more breakout sessions with each of the 5 committees – Membership, Ethics, Communication, Advocacy & HALI Indaba 2019 Planning – giving their recap of the past year’s accomplishments, most notably the Advocacy Committee’s outreach to the College Board to grant fee waivers for the SAT Exam for HALI members – a major accomplishment indeed. We then divided into sub-groups for each committee to discuss potential ideas and changes to create a more effective, stronger HALI Access Network. Each committee presented their plans to enable these changes and we’re looking forward to the momentum and kinetic connections carrying forward into the year ahead. Over the past 2 1/2 years, the HALI Access Network has brought forward significant developments and opportunities for the students and scholars we collectively serve and support. The Network is quickly becoming a driving force in higher education throughout the continent and could potentially be represented with a seat at the African Union, a motion suggested by Dr. Kennedy Mubaiwa of the Higher Life Foundation.
Throughout our conversations, deliberations and discussions, it is clear to see that the power of the HALI Access Network resonates in the numbers, cultural backgrounds and opinions represented within the community. We are all striving towards the common goal to provide a better future for our scholars through education. As we drove back on the journey to Nairobi for our impending departures, we were all lifted by the friendship, spirit and collaboration made at HALI Indaba 2018. Even though it was still rainy season, the sun shined brightly as the seeds of collaboration to advance higher education for promising youth across the continent had begun to bloom.
Written by Hans Kullberg, Co-founder, Open Dreams Organization