Nurturing the Mustard seed

Remarks by LéO Africa Institute Board of Directors Chairperson Carl Manlan at the 2021 Annual Leaders Gathering.

Three years ago, when Nshuti, our Chair Emeritus, spoke to me about the work of the Institute, I thought about what I could do as an African born in the West, to educate myself about youth transformation in East Africa.

It has been an extraordinary journey to observe the talent behind the ideas that shape LéO Africa Institute. Over the past three years, Awel, Kwezi, the team, and supporters across the world have pooled their resources to nurture the mustard seed that the Institute was.

In the holy scriptures, we are reminded that with just a tiny amount of faith in Him, nothing is impossible. And the Institute’s journey exemplifies the faith of, invisible and visible hands, in the endless possibilities embedded in the next generation.

The Institute reminds us that though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. We are here, today, perched on the branches of the Institute. Each branch representing the accomplishment of a young leader.



The Africa we have is resilient, and we ought to learn from our mothers who chose to educate us in their belief that we will do the same for the next generation. Thus this year’s theme Building resilient lives and “imagined communities” sits at the heart of who we are as individuals in our faith in the fact that humble beginnings are a head start, often dismissed, but with the DNA of resilience. The continent that we call home might seem inconsequential, but it has grown to be the reservoir of youth for the world.

It is youth’s imagination that defines the path forward. And it is when we share the belief that tomorrow will find us farther than today that we start to accept our role as catalyst of benefit to others. But for our imagination to continue to flourish, we must drink at the tap of knowledge, respect, and patience to fortify us on the road less traveled ahead.

In the absence of this constant search for the work of strengthening communities, we become loose examples of individual success in a desert. Yet, the oasis of possibilities can be connected with shared humanity and imagination. The influence that we have, must be to uplift everyone as the promise embedded in the mustard seed and the gift of generosity from our mothers.

LéO Africa Institute leadership at the 2021 Annual Leaders Gathering in Kampala. (L-R): Founder and Senior Director Awel Uwihanganye, Chairperson Board of Directors Carl Manlan, Head of Faculty Angelo Izama, Faculty Member William Babigumira, and Deputy Director Kwezi Tabaro

The past year has been a time for appreciation of the work ahead in the midst of the challenges that the global pandemic reminded us of. I am confident that LéO Africa Institute plans outlined by Awel and his team – which were approved by the board – will confirm that it is in the collective that imagination and resilience breed human progress.

LéO Africa Institute produces branches and bear fruits. It is becoming a splendid cedar. Youth of every kind will nest in it, will find shelter and shade as they embrace their role as enablers of prosperity for the communities we imagine.

As we look forward to the conversations at the Annual Leaders Gathering, I am encouraged by the possibilities that our collective engagement will bring. From small to large, embedded in the surprising nature of growth.

Carl Manlan met with LéO Africa Institute fellows on the sidelines of the 2021 Annual Leaders Gathering in Kampala, Uganda.

As I close, allow me to share this brief exchange from the book Pilgrim’s Progress:
“Is this the way to the Celestial City?”
“You are heading in the right direction.”
“How far do we have to go?”
“It’s too far for any except those who shall arrive there.”

Thank you!

Carl Manlan is the Chairperson Board of Directors of the LéO Africa Institute, an Aspen Institute New Voices Senior Fellow, and Vice President, Social Impact for Visa Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

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