Leading by example in Africa and beyond

Published on October 09, 2017

Porai Beaven Gwendere, a student and graduate of the African Leadership Academy, will be part of a special panel at the Quality of Life Conference on October 16, 2017, that will focus on students and “How Innovative Ecosystems in Education Impact the Learning Experience.”

Porai Beaven GwendereBefore you started studying in Scotland, you attended a two-year pre-university diploma program at the African Leadership Academy (ALA) on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. Can you tell us a little more about what this experience brought you?

Porai Beaven Gwendere: ALA focuses on developing the next generation of leaders to help transform Africa. The ALA program recruits high-achieving students aged 16 to 19 who also show high leadership potential. The aim is to give participants access to the skills they need to lead effectively, and create a network of over 6,000 leaders who will work together to address Africa’s greatest challenges.

My experience at the ALA offered me a path for self-discovery. I was able to create a clear plan for my career. But most importantly, the ALA provided me with crucial skills – entrepreneurial expertise, writing skills and so much more – to enable me to lead effectively. In South Africa, I teamed up with other students to be part of an incubator for young entrepreneurs called the Circle of Influence Projects Society, whose mission is to build a conscious generation of high school social changemakers. I have also made giving back to the community a priority in Edinburgh, where I live now. I’m proud to be involved in Citrus Saturday, a student-run Enactus project that teaches entrepreneurship to high school students based in Edinburgh.


At the Quality of Life Conference, you’ll be taking part in a panel discussion that focuses on students and “How Innovative Ecosystems in Education Impact the Learning Experience.” As a university student, you’ll be able to offer first-hand insights. Can you give us a glimpse into what you'll be talking about at the conference?

P.B.G.: One important point is that universities should focus on allowing for more self-paced learning. Digital solutions, such as video recording systems, can really improve quality of life for students.

To attend the Quality of Life Conference in London, I’ll miss three days of class. But with the University of Edinburgh’s Media Hopper Replay system, I actually won’t miss a thing. I’ll have direct access to recorded videos of the classes online and will have caught up before I even get back.

As students, we want to feel in control and be able choose what is best for us – for example attending a special event or seminar, and then catching up on class work at our own pace. This has a positive impact on student engagement, and this is what professors want more than anything else.

Sodexo’s 2017 International University Lifestyle Survey polled over 4,000 students in six countries (China, India, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US). The findings show that accommodation services considered most important are Wi-Fi (64%), security (29%), launderette (29%), en-suite bathroom facilities (27%) and study spaces (26%). What are your thoughts on these results?

P.B.G.: I didn’t take part in the survey, but I would have ranked these services more or less the same way. Wi-Fi definitely ranks highest on the list for me too. As an international student with friends from different corners of the world, Wi-Fi is crucial.

The bigger question is how will online platforms allow students to interact and take advantage of university services. How will they help improve quality of life?

We have created a Facebook group for two residence halls to share events and give students a platform to explore services. We provide information about health issues – for example, where to turn if you are facing depression.

Could you give us an example of a quality of life initiative for students that recently caught your eye?

P.B.G.: Last year, our students’ representative association started a petition in order to create nap pods in the library. Students spend a lot of time in the library, and sometimes they need a place to reenergize. There was a real push by students for this initiative, which otherwise would have been considered insignificant. The students managed to collect enough signatures and get funding for nap pods. Rested students will definitely perform better, so it’s a win-win.


Read Porai Beaven Gwendere's full biography.

Porai Beaven Gwendere will participate on the Panel Discussion focused on Students: “How Innovative Ecosystems in Education Impact the Learning Experience” that will take place on October 16 at 4:15 pm London Time.