“Together for a New Africa” Youth Project Seeking to Collaborate with Local Universities

Credit: ACI Africa

Plans to expand  Together for a New Africa (T4NA), a network of former students of Sophia University Institute, may include bringing universities offering leadership courses in Africa on board, an official at the Italy-based university has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the just ended training of T4NA tutors in Nairobi, Kenya, Declan O'Byrne, the Rector of Sophia University, said that the second cycle of the initiative, which also brings together other young leaders committed to shaping “a new Africa”, will invite lecturers in local universities to contribute to the program.

“I think we would want to increase the number of local resources. So, I think in the second cycle, when we're looking at particular themes, I would like to see greater collaboration with local universities. Those who have leadership programs,” Mr. O'Byrne said during the September 29 interview.

He said that working together with local universities will also entail helping the universities to understand the spirit of T4NA, an initiative he said is not just any other leadership program.

“We will invite lecturers to contribute to the program, but also help them to understand the spirit of this program, because it's not the same as other leadership programs,” the official of the Italy-based university said.


He added, “We will find somebody who we think can understand what we're trying to do, because this is not really just a technical formation. It's about relationships and nurturing different types of leadership among our youth. This way, people can have an experience of practicing leadership within a group setting. I think we would want to find collaborators who come in, try to see what we're trying to do and adapt therein.”

T4NA took form in January 2018 to equip young people, especially those graduating from Sophia University Institute and other universities abroad to go “back to Africa” and “to shape a new Africa together” by seeking solutions to the leadership challenges that the continent faces.

In its first cycle that ended with a graduation in January, the initiative trained 100 tutors who were then sent to their respective countries where they started transformative movements that brought together over 20,000 youth across the initial seven countries.

The young people who benefited in the first T4NA cycle were drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. 

For a period of four years, the youth from these countries were engaged in various social, economic and political activities to transform their respective communities.

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The second cycle, which kicked off with a training of tutors at the just concluded five-day event in Nairobi Kenya will bring on board 14 countries with 10 participating youth in each country who, together, will impact over 25,000 young people.

In the September 29 interview with ACI Africa, Mr. O’Byrne said that his relationship with the T4NA initiative began when the founders were still students at Sophia university.

“The students wanted something like Sophia University in Africa, and so, Sophia University asked me to try and see what we could do. So, I worked with that group, to transform something which was kind of impossible into something that was possible,” Mr. O’Byrne said.

Impossible because, he explained, Sophia university did not have the human or financial resources to set up a university in Africa.

He said that the idea to start a network of African youth seemed more achievable, with the main activities involving forming a network of like-minded people, collaborations, teaching and research, as well as co-ordination of grassroots initiatives involving the youth.


The Rector of Sophia university did not, however, dispute the founders’ dream to have a “Sophia University in Africa”, saying, “I think it might take some years. But still, rather than saying, we can't do it, we said, let's start; this is how we're going to start.”

Mr. O’Byrne said that the T4NA initiative had made Sophia University “very proud”.

“It was very surprising that the students might decide that they wanted to start a university. And this was seen as a very good thing,” he said, and added, “The moral support was immediate. So how does it make us feel? Very proud. I think it meant that the lecturers and people in Sophia felt that if students think that they want to have a version of Sophia somewhere, it means that maybe Sophia is doing a good job.”

Highlighting the support that Sophia university gave to the T4NA initiative, O’Byrne said, “We support them through personnel and human energy. We organize for the lecturers who teach in the programs.”

“Sophia is the place where the students have the formation, which causes them to want to grow. And it continues to support the initiative by working together with the coordination team, working on the programs, and sending people. Sophia hasn't contributed to the program financially. We look for financing outside,” he said.

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Mr. O’Byrne confessed that he had seen T4NA grow from its idea stage in 2004 by a handful of students at Sophia University.

“We have 14 countries now instead of seven,” he said, adding that although the number of countries is set to increase, few participants will be selected from each country to come up with a more focused group.

“We intend to select the people more carefully because we believe that doing a good job with the right people is better than doing a less good job with more people. The initiative has grown in its ability to give effective formation to the right people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. O’Byrne has advised African students studying abroad to immerse themselves in the cultures of their host countries in order to open up their minds outside academia.

“Use the opportunity to learn about the local culture, to immerse yourself in the local culture to understand how people think, why they do things. Learn the language, if you can, don't just study in the university,” Mr. O’Byrne said during the September 29 interview with ACI Africa.

He added, “It is educational to also immerse yourself in other people’s cultures. I would give the same advice to somebody coming to study in Africa. Don't just study; live in the place. Immerse yourself in it. It opens your mind.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.