I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to go on an incredible trip to Africa. During the first stop in Nairobi, my boss Reeta and I hosted President and Chelsea Clinton as they visited an incredible Equity Group Foundation program we support called Wings to Fly. Over the last five years, 10,000 junior and senior high school students from incredibly poor backgrounds have been selected by village elders, church groups and neighborhood associations. Without the Wings to Fly scholarship, they wouldn’t have the chance to go to school…full stop. So it was exciting to see 5,000 of these students gathered in an arena as part of their leadership congress to hear the former president and his daughter speak.
Both President and Chelsea Clinton had prepared remarks but after listening to the personal stories of these young men and women, they left their speeches on their chairs and spoke, one after the other, about their own humble beginnings. About the challenges their parents and grandparents faced raising them and sending a clear message that if they could rise up to the positions they’ve achieved, then anyone could do the same.
It was therefore fitting on this trip that I got to know Dr James Mwangi, the CEO of Equity Bank. James himself came from an incredibly poor background and he too was able not only to achieve great things but to do so in a way that is helping so many other people along the way. Equity Bank broke the conventional business model in Kenya by making banking affordable for everyone. What’s more, James built Equity Bank, Equity Mobile, Equity Health, etc all on a foundation of respect. 80 per cent of Equity’s hiring process is based on values alignment and heavily weighted to one’s ability to treat absolutely anyone who walks through the door with the utmost respect.
The work yet to be done is enormous. Equity Group Foundation moved heaven and earth to match the US $40 million we put up for 5,000 Scholars. Next year, we’re committing US$60 million to reach 10,000 and Equity wants to match that again. And this is just Kenya.
Still…I believe that everyone of the students who go through programs like this, imbued with ethical leadership development, entrepreneurship training, etc, becomes part of an exciting generation of people who can lead Africa into a new era of shared prosperity.