13 October 2021

By Sazini Mojapelo Absa Group Head: Citizenship & Community Investments

One of the problems holding Africa back is that some of its most promising students are lured away by the offer of scholarships abroad. Once they go, their brains and potential to solve Africa’s problems may be lost forever, Mwikisa Kanguya believes.

He knows this because he was one of the talented young people hoping to win a scholarship to take him overseas. Luckily for him, for his native Zambia and potentially for the rest of Africa, he failed. Instead, he won an Absa scholarship to the African Leadership University in Rwanda, where he’s in his third year of studying International Business and Trade.

“At ALU I’ve been able to develop the skills that I really wanted to gain and be part of a community from diverse backgrounds and cultures. There’s so much benefit you can get from that,” he says. “The advantages and values they offer, and the rigorous curriculum matches what I wanted to do, and I can do it in Africa. Africa has so many problems and ALU opened my eyes to these problems and the need to do something about them. The university is teaching me to find different problems and work on solutions.”

His studies have included leadership skills, communication, and entrepreneurial leadership, designed to unearth his core skills. That was followed by practical tuition in maths and data analysis, coupled with the opportunity to work with companies such as Absa and Coca Cola to help solve real-world, local problems.

Mwikisa is a self-starter who talks with lively excitement, tempered with a thoughtfulness that suggests he believes the skills, experiences and opportunities he is being given aren’t only supposed to benefit him, but are being entrusted to him to uplift others. He talks about how much he’s learning from being in ALU’s multi-cultural community, and about the mentoring and interaction he’s receiving from Europe and America, which can all be channelled to help Africa. The education and the additional mentoring through Absa’s sponsorship has given him contacts way beyond his own backyard, he says.

His most enduring contact began after he won the scholarship and ALU asked him to play some IQ games developed by a company called Knack to assess his talent and potential. “After those games I had so much interest in this innovation that I mailed the company that developed them to find out how they came up with the questions,” he said. “I also did some computer science classes as a side hustle to understand what they were talking about.”

Mwikisa got into an email conversation with someone from Knack, and only later realised it was the CEO himself, Guy Halfteck. Their communication grew until Halfteck asked Kayunga to become an African ambassador for its gaming vehicle, KnackApp, to make his enthusiasm for it more formal.

KnackApp uses cognitive science, gaming and artificial intelligence to let people from all walks of life unlock and unleash their hidden career potential, which the more formal channels like writing a CV or being interviewed may fail to do for someone unfamiliar with these sometimes-daunting processes.

“The games give you a better picture of people and they can help people in African communities where we have so much untapped potential,” Mwikisa says. He was also asked to conduct market research to help Knack establish an Africa footprint and to spread the word about how these games can help people to win a job or land a scholarship.

Guy Halfteck himself is a Harvard Graduate who has moved to the UK to launch a start-up business called Fress, working remotely with Mwikisa in a two-man team. Fress will link small businesses that produce food with people who want to buy it, with an emphasis on good nutrition. “We want to see people eat healthily. Many Africans buy fast food that is unhealthy, or they don’t know much about other African cuisine, and this could close the gaps,” Mwikisa says. He’s been doing market research and seeking investors for the start-up, which is steadily growing its team.

Now in his final year of study, he prefers to work remotely and remain in Zambia as opposed to relocating to Europe or the States. “I’ll learn from the western world and work with them, but I want to stay in Africa and solve African problems. It’s my home, my community, and I want Africa to be developed. What am I going to solve in the US? That place is already developed.”

He’s not sure how his career path will unfold, but the ALU education and the network built through his scholarship give him the chance of a ‘moonshot’, he says.  “A moonshot is trying to aim for the stars and landing on the moon - you don’t even know where these possibilities are taking you. You don’t know the possibilities that life can bring.”