The African Students Association brought innovation and progress in Africa into the spotlight at the first annual African Innovation Summit held in the Daniel Family Commons on Friday, Nov. 7. The Summit, hosted by the African Students Association and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship PCSE), focused on a variety of areas in which the African continent has seen significant advancement in recent years.
President of the African Students Association Olayinka Lawal ’15 stated that the Summit began as a collaboration between her and PCSE Director Makaela Kingsley.
“[Kingsley] was looking for a way to actualize innovation for students and I was looking for a way to bring the African continent into conversation at Wesleyan,” Lawal wrote in an email to The Argus. “As President and member of the African Students Association, I attend conferences held by graduate and undergraduate schools that talk about a developing Africa, and the vibrancy of the work being done, on ground, today, all over the continent.”
Kingsley explained how the summit is connected to the Patricelli Center’s mission to promote entrepreneurship.
“Innovation in Africa often relates to economic development, education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, and other social issues, so the Summit was a natural fit for our collaboration,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus. “There are impressive numbers of students involved with the African Students Association and other Africa-related groups, faculty and staff with an interest or specialty in the continent, and Wesleyan alumni doing work connected to the continent. It was time to pull representatives from these groups together to hear their stories, explore overlaps, and showcase the great work being done by all three.”
The conference included three panels featuring professors, alumni, and students. The panels discussed African innovations regarding children and youth, business and development, and healthcare. The Summit also featured a keynote speech by Hirut Mcleod ’00, who currently works at the World Bank.
Chelsea Tweneboah ’15 spoke on the healthcare panel, sharing her experience as an intern at Cape Coast Teaching Hospital. Tweneboah explained how she chose what to focus on in her talk.
“I wanted to talk about international health because I think there’s a [stereotype] of it, especially the one where you go and you make a difference and come back…” Tweneboah said. “But there are also times where it’s really hard because you go to another country that you’re not used to and there are obviously going to be some difficulties, cultural differences, differences in government, morality issues. There are so many things that go with international health.”
Lawal emphasized the importance of making Africa visible in campus conversations.
“Africa has not been present in formal conversations about innovation and development in general on campus,” Lawal wrote. “The lack of an African Studies major really limits these conversations even more. This summit is meant to serve as a bridge and a foundation for conversations on the continent….This was especially important to foster an academic and intellectual focus to this conversation. The Wesleyan community needs this because we are global citizens who need to learn a lot more about a continent often left out of intellectual conversation on campus.”
Kingsley further emphasized the role that University students can play in African innovation if they participate in active conversation.
“…Innovation in Africa is a hot topic in the public, private, and social sectors,” Kingsley wrote. “I believe that Wesleyan people are uniquely equipped to have influence and impact in this space, so it’s important for us to be part of the conversation!”
The conference also aimed to emphasize progress in Africa and to combat the common narrative of Africa as a problem that Western civilization must fix.
“The popular stories on the continent are of dearth, lack, disease and so on,” Lawal wrote. “I think this constant negative portrayal of the continent keeps people from imagining that anything positive exists within it….The western world wants to continue a rhetoric about ‘saving Africa’ and a highlight on what is happening in Africa without western aid might hinder this savior personality the West wants to perpetuate. The summit is available to Wesleyan students most readily and it is my hope that it would help…develop a wholesome understanding of the African continent.”
The African Students Association hopes to host the conference again next year and to continue highlighting innovations and issues in Africa.