Talking with Dr. Akanmu Adeboya about Global Initiatives and the Diaspora
Dr. Adebayo Discusses the partnership between Kennesaw State University and 2nd Kenyan Diaspora International Conference & Investment Forum
Akanmu G. Adebayo, Ph.D.
Institute for Global Initiatives
Kennesaw State University
Interviewed by Benin Brown
Benin: Can you tell us a little bit about the background of the KSU Institute for Global Initiatives?
Adebayo: The Institue for Global Initiatives was established to be Kennesaw State University’s office to coordinate all of the university’s global learning initiatives. The institute was established in 2003 by merging a number of autonomous global learning units. So it was created with the idea of creating an international programs one stop shop for faculty and students where they can go for any international program related issues. So the Institute for Global Initiatives is the coordinator of both grants and programs that promote international learning amongst students and faculty alike.
Additionally, it has become the place where several regional centers are all housed. Those regional centers help KSU coordinate degree programs/to bring services to university that help to promote univesity’s involvement in those regions of the world. i.e. the center for African & African Diaspora Studies where we coordinate programs for Africa and the African Diaspora.
Also, we have the Center for Hispanic Studies where we coordinate programs about Hispanics in the US and also about Spain and Latin America. And last year we added the Confucious Institute, which is fully funded by Chinese Government, as place where Chinese culture and language will be learned by members of the KSU community. In nutshell the institute helps KSU and surrounding commuyntity become more aware of whats happening around the world.
Benin: Very true, Atlanta has been the international city of the South. One of the interesting things about Kennesaw State University is that although it is situated in Kennesaw, Ga; which is a suburb of Metro Atlanta it is not in actually located within the city limits of Atlanta. So my question is how was KSU able to do what it did, in terms of becoming an international city, outside of inner city limits of Atlanta?
Adebayo: You hit the nail on the head about location. In Business School we hear the adage that talks about location being a key element in marketing. Such is the case with KSU. The location is good because Kennesaw is a suburb of Atlanta, but also because it is within a short distance to the interstate, so you can get there very easily. And we have also heard from some of our students who are from the greater Atlanta metropolitan area that they like the campus because they consider it to be more convenient and safe than the Atlanta city limits. So what this means is that some of our students are provincial in their thinking and this gives us the opportunity to make an impact by bringing the world to Kennesaw.
In addition to location Kennesaw has foresight of a strong administration. They have taken internationalization as a top priority for the university. This is part of the reason that we have over 1500 international students from 140 countries and are able to send over 500 students per year abroad. In these harsh economic times, this is quite significant.
Benin: Why do you think that the first Kenya Diaspora Investment Forum was so successful?
Adebayo: In the 1990’s Kenya was the top country for sending intl students to KSU. And this is one of the reasons that the first conference was so successful-KSU’s large Kenyan student community. Interestingly, at that time, we were not doing any recruiting in Kenya. But I think that what happened is that the first group of Kenyan students to arrive were treated so well that those students told their brothers, sisters, and other members of their families-who upon hearing became students at KSU also. And these initial students increased our interest in KE.
Another reason is that each year at KSU we choose one country to highlight through lectures, cultural shows, classes, and etc. We had selected the 2006-2007 school year to be the Year of Kenya. The entire year we continued to feature activities about Kenya and soon enough the entire community became accustomed to the fact that every Thurs there was something special going on that focused on Kenya.
Additionally, the level of participation from the Kenya community all over the US was tremendous. And the Atlanta Kenyan Professionals Association (AKPA) worked with us to help plan the conference. Likewise, the majority of the attendees attended because they had been invited by friends or family.
Benin: So how do you explain affinity on the part of Kenyans for KSU ?
Adebayo: Well in the academic world we know that you get international students through many ways-recruitment, public awareness, and etc. But nothing is as assured as having students from the country that you want to recruit. That person becomes your biggest exposure to that particular market that they represent. Word of mouth even from just one student is very powerful. And we treat our students very well. Even as far back in the 90’s we’d already established an international center and today we now have an office of international student retention. So KSU does not leave anything to chance. We were very intent on creating programs to take care of students welfare. KSU is one of few Atlanta univeristys that makes health care insurance available and mandatory for its intl students. The Institute Global Initiatives continues to promote the academic welfar of its students.
Benin: What can you say about this years focus on ICT?
Adebayo: Well this year with the 2nd Diaspora conference on Kenya, we chose to focus on building the knowledge community. And this is because we’d like to have some impact on the way in which policies are determind in Kenya. Having a positive impact on the processes of economic development in Kenya is something that is important to us.
The focus on ICT is very timely. Kenya is just completing its fiber optic program, which will allow millions in KE affordable access to the internet. Kenya’s strategy is to be Africa’s main ICT center outside of South Africa.
What it also means is that we are able to dicuss these things and propose ideas about what needs to be done from a policy standpoint; we are able to propose ideas in a way that means we arent just talking about general business in Kenya. But we also view this as an awareness opportunity to expose American business people to Kenya as well. And what we are saying is that as a result of new technological developments there are new business opportunities that represent amazing potential for business people and investors.
You see…I often hear many of my counterparts in America referencing the potential for call center operators in Kenya, but the opportunity is so much larger than call centers. In fact, one could say that centers are just the tip of the iceberg. One of the areas that we see really huge potential in KE is in software development and distribution. You see, Kenya can derive revenue from sources outside of tourism. And again, with the economic climate that we are facing right now it is very important that this happens.
Benin: What do you think is the impact of Kenya’s Diaspora population on business in Kenya?
Adebayo: The Diaspora population increases the awareness of Kenya abroad. And with President Obama’s roots in Kenya, he has also done a lot to increase global awareness of Kenya. I think that the Diaspora community also provides Kenya with a unique opportunity to look beyond tourism. Because although tourism is great and there is nothing wrong with it, it does allow many opportunities to corrupt the local environment through pollution. Finally, the diaspora community also contributes to Kenya’s economic development as a source of funding.
Benin: I see and how does the partnership between KSU and The Kenya Diaspora Forum work?
KSU donates the entire venue to the forum which includes world class rooms, facilities, conference equipment and a safe environment. The Computer Science department takes the lead in helping with the presentation & etc. Likewise, KSU benefits because it allows the school to increase its awareness in Kenya to potential students
Benin: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Adebayo: We are looking forward to the conference and are very excited about the investment opportunities that will be discussed there, as well as the busines people that will be able to take part in this event. We are also excited because we have the chance to meet Kenyans who are planning to go back to Kenya for retirement because we know that we might be able to make an impact on what businesses they might be able to pursue once back in Kenya.
For more information on the upcoming conference, readers are encouraged to visit the official site-kenyaopen4business.com.
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I am really suspicious about any Diaspora initiatives. It will be interesting to see how this plan pans out. Keep us posted.
I certainly will… tell me more about why you are suspicious of Diaspora initiatives though… I think that is a topic worth a lot more conversation…