Historic first meeting of African Methodist school leaders occurs in Kenya

More than 45 participants from 10 countries and 15 institutions of higher education gathered on the Kenya Methodist University campus in Nairobi Sept. 18-21 for the First International Conference for Educational Leadership of Methodist Universities and Institutions of Higher Education in Africa.

The meeting, organized by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, brought the leaders together to share information, discuss possible fundraising initiatives and explore partnership opportunities.

The leaders also talked about obstacles they have in common, such as lack of infrastructure and educational materials, the need for better faculty training, technological limitations and the ever-present need for fundraising.

Staff from both the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the United Methodist Board of Discipleship were present to inform attendees on best practices for fundraising.

The higher education agency’s involvement in educating Africans began with  General Conference legislation that led to the 1992 creation of Africa University in Zimbabwe, the first United Methodist university on the continent. Other autonomous Methodist and British Methodist schools have emerged since.

“The original seeds planted by AU generated fruit we didn’t even realize,” said board staff member Amos Nascimento. “Many other Methodist universities were being created in other parts of Africa, both United (Methodist) and autonomous. But we had no communication or interaction among them.”

A 2010 conference in Kampala, Uganda, led to the formation of an association of United Methodist-related theological institutions in Africa, which first met in 2012. At that meeting, it was decided to have the September meeting in Nairobi.

“(GBHEM) planted one school — Africa University — but now the fruits being generated by that one school are much more and have a higher impact than we could have ever anticipated,” Nascimento said.

During the course of the Nairobi meeting, a strategic alliance among the schools — the African Association of Methodist Institutions of Higher Education was created. The association will enhance networking, provide support for member institutions and collective bargaining power for Methodist institutions in Africa.

As the meeting wrapped up on Sept. 21, word spread of the Westgate Mall siege that took place in Nairobi. Board of Discipleship executive director for fund development Scott Gilpin, who was at the meeting, wound up staying behind to volunteer with the Kenyan Red Cross. He was asked by the newly formed association to serve as a consultant on fundraising endeavors, a task he looks forward to pursuing.

“What happened at the Westgate Mall will not overshadow the great work this church accomplished in Kenya,” Gilpin said.

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