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23 November 2023

HSRC screens The Spirit of Kanju: Leaders Transforming Africa – A documentary created by alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Cape Town / Toronto November 23, 2023 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, are pleased to share the documentary film, The Sprit of Kanju: Leaders Transforming Africa. The film has been produced as part of The Imprint of Education – a five-year longitudinal cohort study of African Alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

On November 23,2023, alongside the Albert Luthuli Leadership Initiative, the University of Pretoria and the African Leadership Academy, the HSRC hosted a hybrid screening of the film, engaging in a dialouge with Mastercard Foundation Scholars and Alumni, educators, and interested stakeholders about leadership strategies in resource-scarce contexts.

In The Spirit of Kanju: Leaders Transforming Africa, we are introduced to 19 Alumni-filmmakers as well as the leaders they interviewed. Over a year-long period, these Scholars Program Alumni – using mobile phones, armed with equipment such as microphones, ring lights, and training from veteran filmmaker Eugene Paramoer – interrogated the concept of transformative leadership and documented the contributions of people they believed exemplified the leadership Africa needs. In the process, their own contributions as young leaders became evident.

As one Alumni filmmaker Gadson Asiimwe explained: “Initially it seemed like we are going to tell our story about what kind of leaders we are. But then it tapped into something more interesting. These leaders that we have filmed, they became like role models to us. People we wouldn’t have imagined meeting or interviewing. And in interviewing them, that one-on-one inspired us. We got to see things we hadn’t seen before. It created a clear change in mind set about the kind of leaders that we want to be in the future, starting now.”

 The Alumni filmmakers showcase leadership practices from across the African continent, including countries such as Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, with each context offering new insight into the many practices of leadership.

On the African continent, many rich and creative practices respond to struggle and challenge.

Kanju is “the specific creativity born from African difficulty”, Dayo Olopade writes in her book, The Bright Continent (2015). In Yoruba, ‘kanju’ means to ‘rush or make haste’; in English, we might say it is to ‘hustle’, ‘strive’, ‘know how’ or ‘make do’,” writes Olopade.

The film portrays leadership as collaboration, action, innovation, love, and ubuntu. Ultimately, The Spirit of Kanju shows that leadership is complex. It is everyday but exceptional, human, extraordinary, innovative, and responsive. It requires working together, but also starting alone. The film follows a range of leaders who make something out of nothing, do leadership and not just speak leadership, and lead in such a way as to invite others along for the journey.

Alumni filmmaker Clarity Mapengo sums up the experience by saying: “My takeaway from the film, it’s mostly just seeing how everyone who was in the film, people that were being interviewed – we have different layers and unearthing those layers and just seeing this beautiful tapestry of what transformative leadership is within the mundane life that we think people are living… .And that might help us have a roadmap in developing or encouraging and empowering the younger generation to become better leaders and transform our continent.”

You can watch the The Spirit of Kanju: Leaders Transforming Africa here.

Watch the film trailer here as well as a series of short clips here.

About The Imprint of Education

The Imprint of Education is a 5-year longitudinal cohort study of African Alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program (from selected countries and cohorts) carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council. Over a period of five years, The Imprint of Education is pursuing questions on topics such as ethical and transformative leadership, giving back, livelihoods, identity, mentoring and work with the view to better understand what needs to be in place for young African graduates to have a real influence in their communities, institutions, and societies. The study spans 6 countries including South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Ghana and the Diaspora.  Learn more here:

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Serving South Africa for more than 50 years, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is the largest research institute in Africa focusing on the social sciences and humanities. It produces and disseminates knowledge that contributes to policies and programmes to alleviate poverty, reduce inequality, and stimulate innovations for employment creation. More than knowledge production, the HSRC works towards the uptake of research for policy and impact. Collaborations and partnerships are critical and include local, regional and international public, private and community entities.

About the Mastercard Foundation

The Mastercard Foundation is a registered Canadian charity and one of the largest foundations in the world. It works with visionary organizations to advance education and financial inclusion to enable young people in Africa and Indigenous youth in Canada to access dignified and fulfilling work. Established in 2006 through the generosity of Mastercard when it became a public company, the Foundation is an independent organization separate from the company, with offices in Toronto, Kigali, Accra, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Dakar, and Addis Ababa. Its policies, operations, and program decisions are determined by the Foundation’s Board of Directors and leadership.