When University President Peter Salovey stepped up to a podium at his inaugural address last fall and announced his intention to expand the University’s presence in Africa, many eyebrows rose.
Four months after Salovey’s address, the University’s expanded commitment to the continent has come into clearer focus. But rather than using a top-down administrative push, Yale has focused this expansion as a series of independent academic efforts centered on Africa.
“Yale is a very decentralized place and this thing won’t work unless it’s driven by the interest of students and faculty,” said economics professor Ian Shapiro, who is heavily involved in the University’s Africa initiative. “Top-down things don’t work here.”
NEW PLACES, NEW FACES
Among the most significant efforts on the part of the administration is the recent hiring of a point person for Africa initiatives. Rachel Adams, whose official title is associate director for Africa, was hired this winter by the Office of International Affairs, which reports to University Vice President for Strategic and Global Initiatives Linda Lorimer.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Adams arrived at Yale in December 2013 from South Africa, where she worked as a leadership program manager for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Before that, Adams received a masters in African studies from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.
“I’ve been here two months and I’ve spent that time building relationships with students and faculty,” Adams said. “[I’ve been] learning what Yale has been doing already in the past and I’ve been excited by the amount of energy and the speed at which we’ve started to move.”
Lorimer’s office hired Adams after the staff member tasked with coordinating the University’s efforts in the Middle East and Europe left.
Thus far, Adams has traveled to Nigeria with Shapiro. She also plans to travel with School of Management Associate Dean David Bach.
Faculty members involved with projects in Africa, as well as Adams herself, said her role will essentially be twofold: connecting members of the Yale community to individuals and institutions in Africa and facilitating coordination between Africa-related projects within the University.
According to economics professor Christopher Udry, most of the Yale-Africa connections thus far have emerged from faculty efforts, though the Yale administration has been financially and logistically supportive.
Shapiro said the University is taking significant steps to expand the number of faculty interested in Africa. Currently, he said, there are searches in the English, Anthropology, and Economics Departments to replace faculty members who were interested in Africa but left their positions at Yale.
MULTIPLE SETS OF EYES ON AFRICA
Adams’ hiring comes in conjunction with a proliferation of partnerships between the University and African institutions.
The School of Management has taken the most active role of any of Yale’s schools. The Global Network, a network of business schools spread throughout the globe founded by SOM Dean Edward Snyder in 2011, already includes two African schools — one in South Africa and another in Ghana.
Shapiro said he hopes to see the expansion of similar partnerships in the future.
Bach said the school is interested in expanding the network and including more schools in Africa. He will visit the Lagos Business School with Adams in March.
Bach said that SOM’s involvement with Africa began independently of the recent University-wide initiative. But Salovey’s announcement that Yale will be moving more towards Africa, he said, has helped to galvanize interest both at SOM and throughout the University as a whole.
“With the leadership of President Salovey we are moving more quickly and in a coordinated fashion,” Bach said.
Concrete partnerships have also emerged out of independent faculty-driven research. Udry’s research in Ghana has spurred significant collaboration with the University of Ghana.
Udry has partnered with the Ghanaian university for a longitudinal survey of 5,000 households across the entire country. The survey, designed by faculty at both institutions, will help to “draw connections in the long-term between different aspects of people’s lives,” Udry said.
Udry’s collaboration with the University of Ghana highlights some of the challenges facing Yale’s efforts in Africa. According to Udry, there are “huge asymmetries” between the resources and infrastructure available to each institution.
But while this can be a challenge, Udry said, it is also an advantage of such partnerships. Though Yale has immense resources, the University of Ghana has a superior understanding of how to work on the ground in its home country.
Still, Udry added, any current or future partnerships will need to be driven by common interest, teaching and learning.
The partnerships extend beyond academic institutions. According to Udry, Adams is working on a partnership between one of the traditional rulers in Ghana and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Science.
“They’re interested in protecting natural resources within a traditional area of Ghana, so [Adams] helped spark this,” Udry said.
STUDENTS AT THE FOREFRONT
According to Shapiro, Yale students are going to be key actors in the Africa initiative.
Both Udry and Shapiro pointed to expanded funding for Fox fellowships for students from the University of Ghana — which bring graduate students to Yale for a year — as a prime example of increased partnership and recruitment. The University of Ghana will be the second African university after the University of Cape Town—Adams’ alma mater—to participate in the fellowships.
Udry said that beyond Adams’ hiring, the largest role of the administration in expanding efforts in Africa has come in the form of fundraising. The University has also received a major donation from an alumnus to bring more students from Africa to Yale, he said.
“That will be the first concrete step we’ve seen,” Udry said of the administration’s effort.
This summer, a group of students from Africa will participate in a trial launch of an education program that was already in the works this fall. They will be traveling to high schools in Ethiopia and Ghana and teaching a variety of intensive courses, including SAT prep classes. This year’s program will only be a pilot version, Shapiro said, and Yale will search for alumni funding to possibly include more schools and more students.
Adams said this initiative is designed to increase Yale’s visibility, and to raise awareness about higher education in the U.S. — but that it is not a direct recruitment effort.
But although recruiting students is not a direct aim of this particular program, it is still a desirable outcome of many of the Africa outreach endeavors, she said. She added that increasing Yale’s visibility in Africa will be essential for all ongoing initiatives — building partnerships, encouraging scholarship and recruiting students — especially because Yale has lagged behind in reaching out to Africa, compared to other American institutions.
“Yale has a very quiet brand and I think that’s fantastic, but I think we’re going to have to be creative about how to make ourselves more visible,” Adams said. “If we want to increase partnerships and move across regions we’re going to have to think about how our brand can be a little bit louder.”
But Yale will have to be careful about the nature of its recruitment, Adams said. Although Adams wants to bring more students from Africa, she added that she does not want to completely extract them from their environment — a displacement that some experts label a “brain drain” because it removes talented students from their home countries’ social and economic communities.
Adams said it is actually beneficial to a continent when students study in the U.S. for a few years and then return to work in their home country. Many are choosing this route, especially because of recent economic and political development in Africa, she said, and that growth is a major part of what is attracting a lot of attention to the continent, and not only from Yale.
Bach said that in recruiting, the top priority is providing talented people with the best opportunities. If these opportunities take students out of their country for a period of time, that still benefits the country in the end, he said. For SOM in particular, attracting students to the regular MBA program and the post-MBA program for advanced management will not only help African students return to their country with the capacity to make a difference, but also contribute to creating a class of globally mobile managers.
“The story of Africa is changing, people are reporting about it differently and all of us are affected by these stories,” Adams said. “We all acknowledge that there is so much change and opportunity, and we all want to be part of that story.”