Benjamin Akande to lead Africa initiative at Washington University

New position will help guide university’s involvement in Africa

With an eye toward strengthening and expanding Washington University in St. Louis’ efforts in Africa, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has appointed Benjamin Akande as senior adviser to the chancellor and director of the Africa initiative, effective April 1.

Benjamin Akande

“Africa is going to be far more important in this century, growing dramatically in population and economic strength, and we have to be positioned as a university to prepare our students for the challenge,” Wrighton said. “We also need to provide opportunities for our faculty to increase their knowledge of and involvement in these issues. Plus, we will continue to contribute to helping U.S. corporations in ways that will be important economically.

“Dr. Akande will be tasked with helping us prepare a strategic plan that will enhance the impact and programmatic activities with which Washington University is already engaged, and look to building new ones,” Wrighton said.

Akande, a Nigerian-born American, has built a career on African research, teaching and learning with a unique passion for a life-changing political economy across Africa. “This is a mission that is extremely powerful and one that transcends St. Louis to the world and into Africa,” he said. “My role will be to harness all the research, teaching and entrepreneurship that is already happening at Washington University and bring it all together so we can have the power of impact.

“I am looking forward to crafting and implementing a program that will build upon the work Washington University is already doing internationally and on the continent of Africa,” Akande said.

Among the Africa initiatives already in place at Washington University is the McDonnell International Scholars Academy partnership with the University of Ghana, an affiliate institution since 2013. Jean Allman, the J.H. Hexter Professor in the Humanities and director of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, serves as McDonnell Academy ambassador to the University of Ghana.

Wrighton noted that last fall, the Department of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences was established, enhancing the scholarly study of race and ethnicity under the leadership of Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters.

Global public health issues on the African continent are being tackled under the leadership of William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health and the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine.

Wrighton also noted women’s health initiatives in Ethiopia and Niger under Lewis Wall, MD, the Selina Okin Kim Conner Professor in Arts & Sciences and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine; the research in infectious diseases being led by Gary Weil, MD, professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology at the School of Medicine; and the advances in childhood nutrition under the leadership of Mark J. Manary, MD, the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics.

Mary McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, leads the SMART Africa Center, an African regional transdisciplinary collaborative aimed at reducing gaps in child and adolescent mental health services in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda through a population approach to child mental health.

The new Living Earth Collaborative led by Jonathan Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences, will partner with the Saint Louis Zoo and Missouri Botanical Garden to tackle projects relating to biodiversity in Africa. And David Clifford, MD, the Melba and Forest Seay Professor of Clinical Neuropharmacology in Neurology, has been working to build capacity for health care professionals in Africa by coordinating advanced educational experiences for Africans in several countries.  

“We have an opportunity here, as academic institutions have frequently done throughout history, to build friendships and relationships across international borders,” Wrighton said. “Dr. Akande’s role will be to bring people together to identify ways to expand and enhance activities that will be rewarding to our students, to our faculty, and along the way, build on our initiatives in Africa.”

“Washington University is anchored by what it means to empower the future generation of students, and has done it consistently for many years,” Akande said. “Knowledge is the most imperishable and unimpeachable asset we have and I see this as an opportunity to extend that mission.”

About Benjamin Akande

Akande, who holds two master’s degrees and a PhD in economics from the University of Oklahoma, has a wealth of international experience. Born in Nigeria and educated in the United States, he most recently served as president of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where he made substantial gains in developing the infrastructure necessary for the college’s long-term sustainability in the areas of academics, finances, marketing, communications and institutional advancement.

Prior to that, as a tenured professor of economics and dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University, Akande helped position the school as a global institution.

He also holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, and completed postdoctoral studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as well as at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

He has been regularly sought out as a commentator for such major media outlets as the “CBS Evening News,” CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” USA Today, the Financial Times and NPR’s “Marketplace.” He has also served as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies in areas of market positioning, strategy and leadership development.

Akande has served on many boards of directors, both corporate and nonprofit, including Ralcorp Inc., Argent Capital, Enterprise Bank & Trust, and the nonprofit boards of Forest Park Forever, the Saint Louis Art Museum and Girls, Inc. He is a member of the Danforth Plant Science Center Leadership Council. From 2007-12, he was recognized by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of the city’s “Most Influential Leaders.”

Akande recently penned the foreword for a new book by Cameroon-born nuclear physicist Martin Niboh. Titled “Dear Sons and Daughters of Africa,” the book calls for younger generations of Africans to advocate for a more unified approach to solving that continent’s challenges.

About Washington University

Washington University is counted among the world’s leaders in teaching and research, and it draws students and faculty to St. Louis from all 50 states and more than 100 nations. The total student body is more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

The approximately 3,400 faculty teach in seven schools: Arts & Sciences, Brown School, Olin Business School, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, School of Engineering & Applied Science, School of Law and School of Medicine. Twenty-four Nobel laureates have been associated with Washington University, with nine doing the major portion of their pioneering research there.

The university offers more than 90 programs and almost 1,500 courses leading to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in a broad spectrum of traditional and interdisciplinary fields, with additional opportunities for minor concentrations and individualized programs.

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