Africa is full of opportunities, but we must invest in our young people now
As CSR Programme Manager at a leading South African property company, youth development practitioner, Kenneth Diole has achieved a lot in his 29 years. He’s the youngest member of the National Council of the South African Institute of International Affairs and is passionate about empowering young people to participate meaningfully in the economy. This year he was also voted by the Mail and Guardian as one of the Top 200 young South Africans 2022. He spoke to us about how his PGDip at Henley has given him tools he can apply in all areas of his life, not just his work.
What made you enroll for the PGDip?
I’ve always been passionate about Africa and her youth, so the Africa focus of the PGDip was what first attracted me to the Henley Africa PGDip. I come from a social science background so when I found myself in a management position in corporate, I felt it was important to consolidate my understanding of key management terminology, gain the necessary tools, and further develop my skill set. Additionally, I thought the diversity of my classmates – we all came from different sectors, industries and roles – would enrich my network, and it really has been an amazing experience. We still keep in touch today. And I think more importantly, Henley is so highly rated as a business school in South African and globally, so I wanted the credibility of being associated with such an institution. I also wanted to get a different experience in terms of business education. I wanted a qualification that would be relevant immediately, and a lot of the tools taught, I started implementing at work while I was still going through the programme. And they’ve been quite impactful. The last point is that I wanted the global lens to help me in terms of my career development as I prepare myself to eventually take on the MBA. I found the programme to be a very good bridging element from my undergrad.
What were some of the learnings you implemented straight away?
The programme I run and the company I work with has such a diverse group of people. At Henley we did a lot of courses around global perspective and that for me has been key, especially in my work in diversity and inclusion. We were able to use some of the real-life challenges at work in our Henley assignments. Strategic studies was a really important one. I often think about one assignment on systems thinking and the tools we were given to address the key challenges in our work. Tools like the rich picture, the casual loop diagram, the inter-relations diagram – I still use these today.
But I also happen to sit on the National Council of the South African Institute of International Affairs because my background is in politics and international affairs. In this role I get to think a lot about the work we do on the continent and to think more globally and the PGDip helped me here too. We did a lot of work around global mindsets and our own personal leadership reflection journeys. Many of these tools have been applicable across all the areas of my life, not just my immediate work, and that’s been something I’ve really enjoyed about Henley.
In terms of your personal leadership development, how has that changed as a result of the course?
One of things I liked about the programme is it interrogates and challenges you. We did a lot of work around bias. You don’t realise how biased you can be around the things that you think you know.
A few key things stand out:
First, much of the work I do has been around trying to speak last so that you can be as well informed as possible about other people. I’ve learned not only to suspend judgement, but to be more patient with others.
Second, I’ve learned to look at things from multiple perspectives. At work a lot of what we need to achieve depends on meeting people halfway. You have to understand the various mental models, how everyone views the world differently, and how to find common ground around that.
And third, the course empowers you with knowledge. You don’t know what you don’t know until you get into the classroom. What I’ve come to appreciate is the ability to check in with my syndicate group. As I mentioned, we are still in touch, and once in a while somebody might ask a question and we’ll discuss and try to understand things from various perspectives. One of the most beautiful things I experienced is meeting so many helpful people. Some had never done anything business related, and the jargon was quite difficult for them. But nobody judged them for that. People were sharing articles and insights so that everybody could be equipped and empowered. You were on a journey with others who were vested as much in your success as in their own.
What do you think we need most from our leaders on this continent?
A few things come to mind. First selflessness. We need leaders who can see beyond their own gain and beyond their own leadership tenure. For me, leadership is a long-term game. How do you set your people up for success? How do you set up your country for successful companies? That requires selflessness.
Secondly Africa’s leaders at times, seem to lack self-awareness and contextual appreciation. Just because you are charismatic and have a following doesn’t mean that you’re great at everything. We need leaders that are self-aware, that acknowledge their own shortcomings.
And lastly, I think that we need leadership that has a long-term plan. This means understanding what you’re buying into. When you join a company you are you buying into a particular vision. I believe in a leadership that is anchored on transparency and accountability, and that loves its people. You must love the people that you serve in order to do justice to them.
Are you hopeful about Africa’s future?
I definitely am. Africa is a continent that is full of opportunities although these are not necessarily where you’d expect to find them. As a young person myself, I believe in Africa and her future. But for that future to materialize, we need to raise a different generation of leaders and professionals so that as a united force we are much stronger. We must invest in our human capital, in our young people. We are the youngest continent in the world. We need ethical and reliable leaders to lead us to the promised land. And that promised land is an Africa whose young people have meaningful opportunities to participate, where people are healthy, where our societies are connected and exuberant. Whether you’re a creative, a technocrat or a technician, everyone should have a space to thrive regardless of our differences in faith and culture.
“Everyone should have a space to thrive regardless of our differences in faith and culture.”
“You were on a journey with others who were vested as much in your success as in their own.”
“For me, leadership is a long-term game. How do you set your people up for success? How do you set up your country for successful companies? That requires selflessness.