When she was a Kenyan student studying in the US, Lydiah Kemunto Bosire missed out on the chance to study a Masters in Public Health at Harvard – now she is warning that financial and visa factors could result in a missed opportunity for both African students and the US itself.
Bosire, founder and CEO of 8B Education Investments says that early on in the current pandemic, student visa issuance was suspended, while visas for health sector workers were being processed – revealing both the desperate need and challenging pipeline for STEM workers.
Even though tertiary education enrollment growth in Sub-Saharan Africa have been out-performing the global average for over 40 years, hundreds of thousands of Africans study still abroad each year, but this next generation of talent also often face financial or visa hurdles
“US visa crackdowns have had some hypocrisy baked into it, creating short term shock through the actual and prospective international student community, while demonstrating the value of global human capital” Bosire said, “What is likely to happen is that many exceptional African students in the short term will choose destinations like Canada and Australia instead of the US, until the immigration policies feel less hostile.
Investing in African Excellence
More than the visa hurdles, there is an investment gap. Bosire says a deep investment in human capital in the STEM and health fields is needed globally, in order to fill a financial gap estimated at $25 billion a year.
She says that while other companies offer student finance products, a big gap existed for an African lending focus and Africa-centric risk scoring for global graduate and undergraduate programs using income-share agreements (ISAs), which is why she founded 8B Education Investments.
Bosire says that while Africa is in the process of building her own world-class universities – a process that deserves all the support possible – she sees a need for Africa’s exceptional, creditworthy students to access world-class centers of learning and innovation today, in as large numbers as possible.
“Our task is to change the place that Africa (and people of African descent) occupy in the global imagination – as a space for others to experiment and extract, define and dominate, pity and save,” she said, “More people are more comfortable donating $1000 each to 50 African women to start a basket-weaving business, than investing $50,000 for one African whose education will enable her to create a woven basket industry with global capital and connections that open supply chains to Target and Tesco.”
What’s more, greater representation of African students in global universities increases the likelihood that host-country students, who are future leaders, have an opportunity to encounter more Black students, learn to solve problems across difference, and overcome stereotypes during their formative years.
In regards to concerns of a “brain drain”, Bosire says that people around the world have to start being comfortable with the idea of African excellence, with Africans belonging in all the spaces into which they might aspire.
“When it comes to the African continent, I think many people’s concerns might come from a good place, one of unrevised assumptions about scarcity of talented Africans, so I find that my task is to remind people that there is plenty more where those came from,” she said. “I spoke to a former president of a major US foundation who told me that in his experience, the ‘term brain drain’ was applied to Africa with much greater frequency than to India or Latin America.”
Bosire says that no one looks at Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet Inc and suggests that he embodies a terrible loss for India.
“They do not ever suggest the world (or India) would be better off if Sundar was back ‘home’ solving technology inequality issues,” she said, ” Instead, he is an example of India’s technology excellence.”
And because brilliant Indian STEM students are commonplace, lenders are more willing to bet on them than on African students, whose very existence as a sizeable market they doubt. The result is a vicious cycle.
From Kenya to The World
Bosire says her journey to founding her company was a long and winding one.
“I was born and raised in Kisii, in western Kenya, in a small rural town best known for its high fertility rate and land squabbles, at a time when the most powerful people I knew were donors from western countries”, she said, “At about age 10, I attended an international girl scout camp, and for some reason this cemented for me what I was to do: work for one of those international organizations where white people traveled the world identifying problems and solving them.”
Despite earning some scholarships for her studies, Bosire says the path was fraught.
“I would go from a fully funded Clarendon Scholarship one year to struggling to finance my PhD the next,” she said.
“Scholarships are simply not sufficient to meet the demand from qualified students.”
After her studies, Bosire would go on to work for the UN and the World Bank and eventually realised that being a comfortable career bureaucrat was not her best path.
“Without the bureaucracy, I had permission to 10x my impact and I could now see the issues I had reserved for some day in the future when I could find more time, and instead start addressing them immediately,” she said, “And when I thought about where I could have that impact, the answer was in financing education. And so I left the UN and set up 8B.”
Another African woman who is helping with the development of the continent is Lenias Hwenda, an immunologist and international health expert from Zimbabwe.
In a recent opinion piece, Hwenda said Africa has a vast and neglected infrastructure gap of some $50-90 billion.
“Developing the right infrastructure is necessary for the future resilience of health systems in these countries,” she said.