Dear Friend of Indiana University,

In the early 2000s, The Economist labeled Africa as “the hopeless continent.”

A decade later, the magazine had dramatically changed its tune.

In a feature story from late 2011, titled “The sun shines bright,” the magazine described Africa’s “hopeful” economies, which were experiencing rapid growth marked by rising labor productivity, increased foreign trade, declining foreign debt and an emerging middle class.

“From Ghana in the west to Mozambique in the south, Africa’s economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region of the world,” the article stated.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Africa as part of an Indiana University delegation that experienced, first-hand, the emerging Africa, while exploring avenues for student and faculty exchanges in this increasingly important part of the world.

This trip, the first to Africa by a sitting IU president in more than two decades, was of great importance to the university, as we continue to prepare today’s students and future generations to collaborate across cultures and nations and create solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

This visit to Africa is part of our ongoing efforts to increase IU’s global reach by partnering with leading universities around the world as a key strategy for developing more study abroad opportunities for our students and increased research collaborations for our faculty. It also enables us to more directly evaluate further opportunities with these institutions and build personal relationships that, for many of these countries, are culturally essential.

The African countries we visited, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, are democracies that represent three of Africa’s most dynamic, fastest-growing economies. They also reflect the great conundrum that is Africa—a continent grappling with how to overcome massive challenges, including widespread poverty, famine, disease and tragic incidents of terrorism, and, at the same time, seize the enormous opportunities before it.

What is certain is that Africa offers fertile ground for internationally engaged universities like IU to establish or expand multifaceted study abroad opportunities that stretch our students’ global competencies, research collaborations between faculty and outreach and service, especially in the form of institution building.

I am proud to say that IU has a rich history of institution building in Africa and involvement in projects that have contributed to long-term, sustainable development in countries facing major economic, political and social challenges. These projects have ranged from increasing stability in conflict-ridden areas, promoting improved health outcomes and stimulating economic growth through workforce development.

More than 60 years ago, IU’s legendary and prescient 11th president, Herman B Wells, recognized the importance of such relationships. In his autobiography, Being Lucky, he wrote:

We realized that by taking an active part in these international projects, the benefits would be two-way: while lending whatever help we could to institutions abroad, we would be greatly enriching the store of experience, knowledge and professional competence of our faculty participants in the assistance programs, who, upon their return, would bring to the campus a comparative view that would stimulate the atmosphere of learning in the university.

Having just seen some of our Africa partnerships and programs in action, I can confirm the great truth in Wells’ words.

Indeed, there may be no greater example of what Wells wrote than the remarkable Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) program in Eldoret, Kenya.

AMPATH was established in the late 1990s by four IU physicians who had the vision to link faculty and resources from IU with those at the then fledgling Moi University Faculty of Health Sciences. Nominated multiple times for the Nobel Peace Prize, the program is now one of the largest and most comprehensive centers for the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the world, serving a population of 3.5 million people in over 500 urban and rural clinical sites throughout western Kenya.

AMPATH is a truly inspirational program, and it has had an enormous impact, both on the lives on Kenyans and the faculty and students who have dedicated themselves to helping them, including many who come from the IU School of Medicine.

IU’s connections in South Africa run especially deep. In the late 1980s, with apartheid still the ruling order in South Africa, IU faculty took a leading role in the launch of Khanya College, which was established to help talented black students overcome severe academic disadvantages and gain entrance into South Africa’s top universities. In the college’s first three years, more than 400 students completed courses offered by IU faculty in economics, history, literature, mathematics, physics, psychology and sociology.

While in Johannesburg, South Africa, we signed a new partnership agreement between our acclaimed IU Kelley School of Business and the Gordon Institute of Business Science, South Africa’s premier business school. Established a little over a decade ago, GIBS is already considered the top business school for executive education in Africa. Just last year, the Financial Times ranked the school’s executive M.B.A. No. 1 in Africa and 60th in the world.

With its strong commitment to helping South Africa overcome its past history of oppression and current economic challenges, including massive poverty and unemployment, GIBS makes for an ideal partner institution for IU. Both schools have complementary strengths in 21st century business education. Both also share a desire to encourage students to study abroad and provide meaningful research collaborations for faculty that have the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives. As one GIBS faculty member put it, the school is hoping to “rewrite the literature” of an Africa marked by war and famine and introduce the world to a continent that is incredibly diverse, dynamic and energized by increasing intellectual activity.

The University of Ghana, that country’s oldest university, is an excellent example of how, in spite of all its major problems, Africa is poised to continue its impressive growth by harnessing the power of education and engaging with leading U.S. teaching and research institutions like IU.

IU’s partnership with UG, which dates back two decades, has been extremely productive. Last year, more than 100 IU students studied abroad in Ghana and, this fall, more than 20 students from Ghana were admitted to IU.

While in Ghana, we had the opportunity to meet with several UG faculty members, all of whom were the beneficiaries of IU scholarships to study at our flagship campus in Bloomington. One by one, the UG faculty members told us about the positive impact IU has had on their lives and careers. Additionally, they shared how their experiences at IU have informed important work they are currently doing in academic areas, such as public health and information technology, critical to Ghana realizing its growth potential.

There is an African proverb that reads, “Partnership must be more than a word. It must be a behavior.” Each of IU’s partnerships in Africa, an area the university promises to be increasingly engaged in the years to come, is that and more. Each is a vital expression of the transformative power of U.S. higher education institutions whose vision and actions reach beyond their own borders.

As we travelled across Africa, people were constantly surprised and impressed with the depth of IU’s academic engagement in Africa. IU’s African Studies Program in our new School of Global and International Studies is regarded as one of the best in the nation. Since it was established 50 years ago, it has taught over 50 different African languages. This year, for example, it is teaching six. And in recent years it has taught seven of the 10 official languages of South Africa (excluding English)—more we are told than most South African universities. And IU is home to the Swahili Flagship Center, a national center of expertise in instruction in the main language of East Africa.

On a more personal note, all of this work is a source of pride for myself and others at the university. The IU brand, carried forth every day by our employees and nearly 600,000 living alumni around the world, is extremely powerful, and it is a joy to see the shared passion of IU alumni and friends on my travels. I feel privileged to represent this great institution on the international stage.

As always, thank you for your continued support of Indiana University. If you would like to learn more about the recent trip to Africa, I encourage you to visit the trip’s blog, which includes a number of outstanding blog posts, as well as photos and other information related to the visit.

Yours sincerely,

Michael A. McRobbie