Michael Fairbanks Visits Campus As Guest Speaker for PA’s Africa Week

The key to success, in Michael Fairbanks’s opinion, is failure. Last Friday, Fairbanks delivered a presentation to the Andover community on “The Seven Types of Wealth in Africa: Are Sentimentality and Aid Working?” In his presentation, Fairbanks stressed the importance of four abstract forms of prosperity—knowledge capital, human capital, institutional capital and cultural capital. He argued that a nation must exhibit five main characteristics—moral purpose, crisis, innovation, receptivity and leadership—in order to achieve sustainable, long-term economic growth. A main theme behind Fairbanks’ speech was the importance of failure. He told his audience to “fail early, fail often and fail originally, since those who never fail never make it big.” Fairbanks also said to “be an integrator. Don’t just use the wisdom of one field—combine the best of eight, nine, ten fields.” Fairbanks’s presentation was part of Africa Week at Andover. Elly Nyamwaya, Instructor in English, said that the week was “meant to be a period in which all people within the campus who have an affinity for the continent, either spiritually or physically, come together to celebrate its well-being…and raise awareness about Africa.” Patrick Kabanda, Instructor in Music, said that he invited Fairbanks to campus because of the power and relevance of his message. “An entrepreneurial philanthropist, Fairbanks has worked in almost every African nation. He has advised scores of presidents [and] CEOs in Africa and many other developing countries,” Kabanda said. Fairbanks now works closely with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “[Fairbanks] has contributed much of his expertise to Africa, and he believes that ‘the eradication of poverty will not be achieved by sentimentality or a generic list of policy measures.’ Since Africa is comprised of many developing nations, it seemed appropriate to have someone with this message,” said Kabanda. Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty, said that he believes that Fairbanks’s presentation carried strong messages for people inside and outside of the Andover bubble. He particularly liked Fairbanks’s comments regarding integration and punctuality. “Going to communities and immersing oneself is far more powerful than sitting behind a desk and reading books on and studying graphs about development policies,” Maqubela said. “The idea of visiting a place and immersing oneself is exemplified by the power of immersing oneself in a river rather than sitting on the banks and studying its ebbs and flows and its temperature gradients,” he continued. Fairbanks’s speech was also well received by the students. Kimberly Kuoch ’09 said. “I thought the presentation was great. Fairbanks was lucid and humorous, and his assertions were grounded in economic evidence. I liked how he emphasized…risk as necessary for greatness.” Tiffany Li ’09 had a similar response. “I loved Fairbanks’ presentation,” she said. “He approached the problem of Third World poverty in an unconventional yet surprisingly intuitive way, and his lessons on the ‘soft side of economics’ were some of the most thought-provoking ideas I’ve heard all year.” “[Fairbanks’] goal of changing the overall cultural mindset of struggling nations, not just their governance structure or their economic set-up, was a perfect example of the kind of original and integrative thinking he urged us to adopt,” she continued. Elizabeth Patino ’09 said, “I think that this is key to all of us here at PA. We all try to do our best but sometimes we can fall into trends and not be original. He challenged us to think about how by failing big, fast and originally, we will get where we want to be faster, and we will achieve more that much sooner.”