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Family's challenging past inspires £2.6 million programme to encourage new generation of African leaders

A husband and wife, who were forced with their families to leave the brutal dictatorship of 1970s Uganda, are making a generous donation to help a new generation of African leaders develop their skills. 

US-based Firoz and Najma Lalji have made an initial gift of almost £1 million through their charitable foundation to help establish the Firoz and Najma Lalji Programme in African Leadership at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). 

Firoz and Najma LaljiEach year the programme will enable 30 high-achievers from Africa to attend an intensive executive training course in London . They will benefit from high quality teaching in areas including government, economics, development and law from LSE and partner universities around the world. Participants will later be invited to an annual forum in Africa to help refresh their skills and form leadership networks across the continent. 

After meeting and marrying in their native Uganda, Mr and Mrs Lalji and their families were forced out of the country in 1972 when dictator Idi Amin expelled many of its Asian citizens. This came shortly after Mr Lalji had completed a degree in economics at LSE. The Laljis moved to Canada where Mr Lalji built up a successful chain of 225 camera stores in Canada and USA which was sold in 1997. He is now owner and chief executive of Zones Inc, a national provider of IT products and solutions to businesses, based in Seattle, Washington state.  

The Programme in African Leadership will focus not on Africa in isolation, nor does it aim to teach Africans about Africa. Its main aim is to help some of Africa's most dynamic emerging leaders get access to high level academic thinking and policy ideas from around the world. 

African Initiative logoThe programme, which will run for at least five years initially, will become a vital part of LSE's African Initiative. This was set up in 2009 to link African students and teachers into worldwide research networks and to improve international understanding of contemporary Africa. It is envisaged that the most successful of the Lalji leadership alumni will be invited back to LSE as occasional guest lecturers and will mentor students on the programme in future. 

Mr and Mrs Lalji commented: 'This will be a highly-competitive programme that we hope will bring a new class of African leaders to the world stage. We know some of the difficulties that can hold back talent from Africa and we want to unleash and support the next generation of leaders.  

'It is absolutely fitting that the programme should be established at LSE, whose alumni include many of those involved in the first wave of post-independence leadership, inspirational figures such as Jomo Kenyatta and Dr Kwame Nkrumah.We hope others will join us in supporting a venture which offers such an innovative approach to globalising African talent. 

'Our vision is that the programme will foster emerging leaders who promote the best possible social and economic development in their countries and contribute to helping alleviate poverty in Africa.' 

Mr Lalji added: 'One of my teachers at LSE, Margaret Mead, told me and my classmates to "never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I have remained inspired by her words and it is bearing this in mind that Najma and I make our gift to LSE'. 

The initial £1 million gift will help set up the programme's infrastructure. Once it is established, the Laljis have agreed to make a second donation of £1.6 million towards bursaries and final delivery. 

The first participants will join the programme in September 2011. While most of the original course content will be provided by experts from LSE, it is hoped that faculty from some or all of LSE's global partner institutions will join the programme over the coming years. LSE's global partners are the University of Cape Town, Sciences Po in Paris, Columbia University in New York, Peking University and the National University of Singapore. 

Professor Thandika Mkandwire, who holds the first Chair in African Development at LSE and leads the African Initiative, said: 'This is not just an extremely generous donation but an extremely well thought out initiative which can transform the relationship between African leaders and their peers around the world. For too long we have allowed Africa's best minds to be cut off from education and training of the highest quality. 

'This programme will help give African leaders a sense of confidence and the ability to work on an equal footing with the rest of the world. I am proud and pleased that Firoz and Najma Lalji have chosen to work with LSE on this innovative project.' 

A director for the programme will be appointed in early 2011 and will oversee curriculum development, with input from Professor Mkandawire. Key areas that will be addressed include governance, public management, finance, social policy, politics of policy advice, enterprise development, globalisation and strategy, international diplomacy, international economic law and international tax systems. 

Firoz and Najma Lalji have already provided support of $1 million to endow a Master's scholarship at LSE, which targets students from Uganda. A third Lalji scholar is studying at LSE this year. The youngest of the Lalji's two daughters, Natasha, followed her father's path by studying at LSE, graduating with a BSc in Social Policy and Administration in 2009. 

More information about LSE's African Initiative


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