News & Media / Meet our Ibrahim Leadership Fellows – Carl Manlan

Meet our Ibrahim Leadership Fellows – Carl Manlan

22 January, 2020

What motivated you to undertake the Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship? 

I had reached a plateau in my professional career. I was interested in a mid-career fellowship that would allow me to weave myself into the African transformation programme. The Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship provided the perfect opportunity to be challenged, to learn, to observe and to absorb from the key actors of the African transformation.

I knew that I had contributed what I could in Geneva. The opportunity to accelerate my learning and personal development was a determining factor in my application process. I appreciated that the Fellowship was designed to learn from a leader of an institution. It is unique to shadow a leader and contribute to the body of knowledge.

At a personal level, I wanted to relocate to the African continent for two reasons: firstly, of the 10 years prior to the fellowship, I had spent 18 months in Kinshasa and Cape Town while the rest was mainly in Geneva and Cambridge, where I did an MPA for one year. Secondly, we wanted our children to grow up on the African continent.

How has your Fellowship experience shaped your career? 

The Fellowship opened my mind to the rich contribution of African institutions to the development of the continent. As a student at the University of Cape Town, I was a keen observer of the African renaissance project led by South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria. To be in Addis Ababa and observe how these ideas were shaping the continent renewed my belief in the ability of Africans to control the narrative of their own transformation.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa brought African public, private and civil society organisations together to raise African resources to end Ebola in that region. On 8 November 2014, the leaders of ECA, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union (AU) showed Africans the power of pooling resources for impact. I could not help but think of my mother, a nurse, and my father, a medical doctor because their lives have been about saving lives.

I was fortunate to work on the initiative post-Fellowship and then transition to my current role at the intersection of public-private and civil society. Health is an important part of my work and I have added education and financial inclusion. The Fellowship was an African boulevard, I am in the middle lane supporting others to stay on the boulevard with or without the Fellowship.

In your opinion, what is Africa’s biggest development challenge? 

Recognising the embedded value of the informal sector of our economies.

A woman selling fish at the market is a business owner. A tenant in a mall works for the owner of the mall. Yet, the development model aspires to take us to the malls while the market represents an economic model in itself that requires us to rethink how we, Africans, value the informal economy. My view is that we are challenged by our inability to build with the Africa we have.

Africa is halfway through the First Ten-year Implementation Plan (2014-2023) of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, what is your vision for the continent’s future?

A continent that looks to its future through the lenses of African women. Those lenses will show us the power of agriculture to transform rural communities where the majority of Africans are.

Who is your favourite African icon and why?

In 2019, I read Africa First, the biography of Mr Djondo. He, with others, did what Kwame Nkrumah achieved with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) by leading the work for the creation of Ecobank and subsequently Asky. He demonstrated the ability of Africans to come together to create an enabler of economic transformation.

Sign up to enews