Zimbabwe-born Rachel Nyaradzo Adams who holds the post of Director for Africa at Yale University wants to see a ‘United States of Africa’
WHEN Rachel Nyaradzo Adams was a teenager in Zimbabwe, long before she obtained a degree in Anthropology, Media and Writing at the University of Cape Town and a Masters in African Studies at Oxford University, she dreamt that one day she might be able to do something important enough to impact the lives of ordinary people.
But even allowing for the fact that Rachel was a high flyer at school and a confident actress who won accolades for her roles in local plays, the prospect of being appointed Director for Africa at the prestigious U.S. Yale University, would have seemed an unattainable dream in the dusty small town of Kadoma where she was born.
Yet that is exactly where fate has taken her.
Rachel proudly proclaims that her own feisty determination to succeed, aided and abetted by the nurturing and mentoring role her mother has played in her life, had something to do with beating the odds to land the Yale university post.
“I am currently supporting Yale University’s efforts to develop partnerships with African institutions,” she says. “I also support admissions recruitment in Africa making sure that talented young Africans from diverse backgrounds can have better access to Yale.”
Part of Rachel’s remit is to enhance Yale’s African alumni networks and expand press and social media coverage of the university on the African continent.
An avowed Pan Africanist, Rachel confesses that she is frustrated by Africa’s position in global politics and economics. She believes that Africa should strive for more as a continent.
Only when African countries “merge into one unit,” she says, will the world recognise the true power of its people!
“We owe it to ourselves to restore our dignity and pride as a people,” Rachel adds. “I also envision Africa as a country and not a continent.”
She believes that the biggest challenge facing young people in Africa today is living in a vacuum of“hopelessness.”
“Hope is critical material for the situation Africa finds itself in,” Rachel explains. “If our young people do not have the expectation that things will turn in their favour, and soon, and if they do not have the twin expectation that they should be co-driving that change, then we have a major challenge ahead of us. A disenfranchised youth is a restless youth. A restless youth easily becomes a violent youth.”
Rachel is in favour of leadership programmes which “infuse hope” in African youths. Consequently, she is dismayed by the general perception that African economies have been growing in great leaps and bounds for the past fifteen years. She has seen little evidence on the ground to support that perception.
Indeed, she laments the fact that Africa’s natural resources are being extracted by international companies “for a pittance,” while its people are still struggling to access basic services.
She says: “This growth that we are speaking of is neither inclusive nor local. I think it is a conjuring of people with very finely and cunningly defined self-interest. It benefits big-business and is extractive.”
In Rachel’s opinion, the growth of African economies will only become a reality when “it is being driven by African talent, with an African agenda, on African terms.”
Apart from decrying the fact that education systems in Africa are largely outdated and dysfunctional and that entrepreneurship remains largely unsupported by financial institutions, Rachel is so concerned about youth unemployment across Africa, to the extent that she thinks the phenomenon could be the “disaster of the 21st Century.”
One only has to reflect on the tragic drowning of 366 young people from sub-Saharan Africa on 11 February 2015 while they were attempting to reach Italy on inflatable boats launched from Libya, to appreciate that Rachel’s cynicism about “booming Africa” is well founded.
Incidentally, Italian data shows that around 170,000 Africans were intercepted by Italian rescuers in just over one year.
It stands to reason that if Africa’s economic growth was as advanced as it is proclaimed to be in various media reports, the number of youths risking their lives to reach Europe would be receding concomitantly with the growth in entrepreneurship and in job creation.
“We need to pay attention to these foundational issues before we start celebrating a story that is really only benefitting a few,” Rachel counsels.
Her first work experience at the age of 15 was as a shop assistant in a video shop in the small Zimbabwean town of Gweru, during her school holidays. “I learnt in this job just how much I loved talking with people,” she recalls.
Her employment history includes stints with reputable brands and one is tempted to speculate that her penchant for communicating with customers in the video shop might have laid the foundation for her future roles as a mentor, advisor and leadership strategist.
Rachel is a recipient of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, the Mellon Mays Fellowship, the Felix scholarship (given to one African to attend Oxford University) and the Orisha Scholarship. She was also awarded the Tutu Fellowship, which recognizes mid-career professionals who are leading lights in their particular sectors.
During her stint at McKinsey & Company in South Africa, Rachel led a team which designed a leadership program to accelerate the leadership development of exceptional talent within the firm. This involved not only coaching and mentoring each of the participants, but also delivering leadership interventions that helped both the firm and the participants align in their intention to maximize productivity.
Incidentally, the program was a huge success and was rolled out to a number of McKinsey & Company branches outside South Africa.
Rachel acknowledges that the program also helped her to understand the real value of investing in leadership development for emerging leaders on the continent.
“Leadership is both a science and an art, and if we do not empower our people to understand the tools to lead more effectively, we risk under-utilizing the major human talent on this continent,” she says.
Her ultimate form of relaxation when she finally gets home is a good movie or TV series.
She says: “I love a good storyline and good cinematography. This is the reason I like to watch movies – alone – that way I can rewind or pause when I am intrigued by a line or image! I also enjoy reading.”