Diaw Amadou

This description of Diaw Amadou's work was prepared when Diaw Amadou was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .


Amadou has created a national network of schools focused on fostering a creative and entrepreneurial culture. Amadou sees a need for paradigm shift in education where students must learn to create venture and “to dream of the Africa they want to create."

The New Idea

In 1992, Amadou opened in Senegal the International School of Management (ISM), the first postgraduate international school of management. His objective was to prepare graduates to become easily integrated into the working world by equipping them with skills that company managers required. Fresh out of school, recent graduates of Senegalese universities did not possess basic competencies that would enable them to be successful in the workplace—such as using a computer, sending a fax, keeping simple accounts, or replying to messages in English. At its beginning, the school functioned with the support of large enterprises and offered lessons for free; however, sustainability challenges necessitated that students begin to pay.

Two years later, Amadou created an alternative university to accommodate students who were no longer able to student abroad due to the education and financial crises caused by the devaluation of the CFA franc. He offered them a school in a different form, in which creativity and entrepreneurship took their place, a center of excellence for education, but also a place to share ideas and knowledge. His goal was to train a new generation of managers and African leaders and a way for him to strengthen its militant and citizen commitment to promoting the quality of higher education accessibility to all. This was the first private business school in Francophone Africa.

Courses were taught by local professors whose full-time employment allowed them to focus exclusively on transforming the young generation of students into entrepreneurs. Amadou hired the first graduates of his school to replicate the university model in other regions of Senegal at a reduced cost, expanding the opportunity for young people to get on their feet. At the same time, he was convinced that the virtues of work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity—all of which could bring about positive social change—had to be instilled very early in children. He has recently launched into opening several primary and secondary schools to teach children to love and understand their country and to inculcate an open mind set about the world.

The Problem

From Senegal’s 1960 independence until the beginning of the 80s, the essential function of the university was to train a workforce for public service. While new issues arose in the country’s social dynamic, faculties continued to maintain the same objectives and educational programs despite overall progress in the global and local environment. Within a few years, however, the relevance of higher education establishments came under scrutiny—notably through reports and guidance given by the General States of Education and Training (EGEF), the National Higher Education Council (CNES), and the Higher Education Support Programme (PAES). Their evaluations indicated high failure rates (close to 85% in some years) and demonstrated that teaching and testing methods were not conducive to students’ success. Consequently, students experienced a gap in employability caused by the incompatibility of their training with employers’ requirements and widespread weakness of politics and research projects. Overall, Senegalese universities produced students who possessed knowledge but few skills.

Recent discussions have aimed at exploring new reform possibilities. In the 1980s, the question of fundamental university reform was raised on a regular basis and later deliberated in 1993-94 at the National Higher Education Council. Based on these foundations, various reform projects that did not ever definitely reach their objectives were introduced to substantially improve the performance of universities. As a result, student and teacher frustration in these repeated failures led to annual strikes that culminated in the disruption of Senegal’s entire educational system in 1988. Parents who were able sent their children to study abroad—mostly to France—yet this practice stopped almost completely in 1994 due to a 50% devaluation of the CFA franc in referential relation to the French franc that rendered Senegalese families unable to bear increased tuition fees abroad.

In primary and secondary schools, educational priorities are vaguely defined and regular, systemic measures of learning are underperforming or non-existent. In addition, poor performance in management contributed to the capitalization and institutionalization of both knowledge and good practices gained through numerous pilot experiences led by the Minister of Education. Consequently, this stage did not adequately fulfill its purpose to guide and prepare pupils to make a career choice.

The Strategy

In 1992, Amadou opened the International School of Management (ISM), the first postgraduate international school of management, the first seed of what would soon become the first African management school from West Africa. His objective was to prepare graduates to become easily integrated into the working world by equipping them with skills that company managers required. He started with 25 students aged 22-28 who were enrolled for a period of three to six months. Given the success these young graduates had finding employment, enrollment increased and Amadou opened another school the following year to accommodate additional students.

In 1994, responding to repeated university strikes and the CFA franc devaluation, parents asked Amadou to open a new school that would mitigate the need for post-Baccalaurate students, especially young girls, to study abroad. As a result, Amadou initiated a program of study based on the curriculums of large international universities that emphasized new needs of the employment market including management, marketing, public relations, business law, and new technologies.

Through its various and high positions in private sector, he could understand the low capacity of the companies to hire all the graduated young people. He then embarked on the promotion of self-entrepreneurship to take the concept of "student job seeker" and replace with "the student job creator."
The school is always looking to innovate and encourage learners to invest in a socially responsible approach to stimulate creativity. This led to the creation of a ''Junior Company'' as the bone transformation project cuttlefish and oyster shells (food supplements for poultry). The goal was to give students the keys to create their business, but also improve the image of the entrepreneur '' Then, from the second year, students at this school are pushed to establish their own business or pursue a thesis focused on an economic or social issue. Students will work on these projects with academic supervision throughout the rest of their time at school. Similarly, students are encouraged to develop innovations in areas such as health and environment and have the opportunity to create specialized seminars for businesses executives who want to increase their knowledge.

In addition, he introduced regular conferences on important topics into the campus agenda and engaged successful business leaders who could serve as a reference and role model to the university students to speak at these events. Alumni are engaged in groups to reflect on the concrete prospects for Africa. Through inspired thematic works of famous African writers, discussions and panels are organized to discuss all the challenges of the future. In this context, the spirit entrepreneurship is an alternative for young people to better understand the problems of their continent.

To facilitate the replication of the schools through Senegal, Amadou recruits local staff and hires them full time to support his vision of better quality education in the long term. This emphasis on full time employment differs from the part-time industry standard offered in the private sector. In an effort to help students become settled in their areas, Amadou opened regional training schools that enabled students to earn up to a third of their average tuition fees. While the school is private, it provides grants to the best pupils from public establishments and 1500 students have received a free education to date.

Amadou has also transferred his passion to a number of the program’s initial graduates who today have become teachers themselves. Charged with replicating the ISM model in 9 of Senegal’s 12 regions, these young teachers have opened around 100 schools throughout the country that follow Amadou’s concept. Given this development, Amadou wanted to ensure that the education at these institutions maintained an international standard of quality. Along with leaders at other ISM schools, Amadou joined the African and Madagascan Conference on Higher Education (CAMES) as well as the Senegalese College Conference in order to share and guarantee that the norm was held at the a high level.

Amadou works with the Ministry of Higher Education through the national higher education framework in which he is vice president for changes in certain parts of the Senegalese education system. In this role, he is personally responsible for overseeing the opening and internationalization of the job market and community services. He promotes “the mobility of short term knowledge” as a concept that fights against brain drain. Senegal allocates 10 billion annually for students to study abroad in France; yet, even with reduced mobility, many other Senegalese have the opportunity to travel and pursue a 3-6 month course of study in various locations abroad.

Starting with 25 students in 1992, ISM now welcomes 4000 of several nationalities today. In twenty years, the school has become one of the best institutions in the West African sub-region and has trained nearly 17,000 graduates and managers. The ISM Group also has a dozen campuses and high schools of excellence and now primary schools across Senegal and West Africa. ISM always offers more innovation to its students. But the dream of Amadou Diaw did not stop there because the entrepreneur wants to train nearly 20,000 leaders by 2020.

Currently, Amadou is increasingly involved in promoting another educational system in Africa. An example of this was in February 2016 when he hosted a panel at the Bamako forum on Youth and Entrepreneurship: key to the emergence of Africa, in the presence of Malian Ministers of Employment, Training and Construction. The theme was "What is the education system for the emergence of Africa"

The Person

Neither international study nor participation in political meetings has satisfied Amadou. With the advent of new technologies in 1980, Amadou recognized that African citizens possessed the ability to bring about change through the creation of business ventures. At 24, he and a number of friends decided to return from abroad in an effort to alter the Senegalese education system based on sights they had gained into how these systems were applied in other countries. To achieve this aim, they organized protests and ultimately met with the Minister of Education, who failed to understand their vision and rejected the appeal they had submitted. Disheartened, Amadou went back to France to work and continue his studies. At 27, he returned to Senegal and joined the 500-member national employers council as the leader of a 5-person team focused on answering the questions and requests of top business leaders. Through this work, Amadou was able to obtain a macroeconomic vision of his country and to define the profile of the type of young executive that business leaders were searching for at that time.

Since its establishment in 1992, the International School of Management has made numerous innovations in the education field and is considered a laboratory of pedagogical change. Amadou compares the ISM to a boat that locates and signposts fish-bearing areas in the middle of the ocean. Since its 25 student beginning, the ISM has educated over 12,000 pupils and currently hosts 1500 students per year. As a country, Senegal presently has over 150 schools—some of which have been opened by former ISM pupils—that host 30,000 students per year. Convinced that students start to develop an entry career profile during secondary school, Amadou became involved with curriculum reform at the primary and secondary level. He has already opened 5 high schools in 3 regions of Senegal.

Amadou partnered with the Senegal’s state to accommodate a portion of students with mostly rural backgrounds that the universities are unable to absorb. These 1000 young people will receive an education that focuses on rural to urban adaptation and helps students gain financial autonomy through establishing their own businesses.