Did you always have an interest in education? What were your interests in your early years?
In fact, yes. As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by pedagogy and learning. At the age of 12, I was already giving private lessons to children younger than me. I was interested in activities that generate impact rather than money: politics, entrepreneurship, education… And quite quickly, I realized that education is one of the activities that have the greatest impact on our economies and societies and that it is one of the most important ways to reduce social divisions and inequalities.
Today, you’ve made a name as a leading scholar and educationist. What would you say contributed to that?
First of all, it’s the education and values I received from my parents. Then it is the fact that, very early on, I made choices of professional goals and ambitions and I worked very actively to achieve them. Finally, it is the passion I have for my job. It’s an undeniable strength to work in what we love to do. The educational space (the classroom…) is the only place where I feel eternal. One has the feeling of living a phenomenon of incredible intensity; it is the salvation offered to each moment spent transmitting and making the other grow; I love it passionately. These are intense moments because deep down this is the purpose of my life: to exist intensely and, if possible, to offer intensely to the others.
As an individual, you wear many hats in many different roles. How do you marry all these roles in a way that one does not infringe on the other?
We all have many roles in life, and it is very difficult to be able to fulfill all of them perfectly well. We must know how to prioritize according to circumstances and steps of life and accept that choosing is also giving up. It is only necessary to try to find a balance (avoiding extreme choices and sudden changes) that allows us to fulfill our roles over time. Of course, I sometimes have moments of doubt related to my ability to maintain this balance; but never to the point of failure that would interrupt my path. I was indeed fortunate to receive an enormous amount of love and trust from my parents.
What new initiative would you say stands aivancity apart from other schools?
It is becoming more and more important to no longer just have schools OF business, OF engineering, OF arts… but FOR economy and society, thus breaking with the logic of disciplinary silos and taking into account technological changes and professional practices. Artificial intelligence is a major challenge and a major revolution. aivancity is therefore not a school OF but a school FOR technology, business and society where artificial intelligence is considered beyond its technological dimension. For us, AI is, above all, a societal issue. We have also made lifelong employability our main mission, which we have implemented, among other things, thanks to a concept that is unique in the world and for which we have filed a patent: the lifetime guarantee of diploma updating©.
As an educationist, scholar, writer and leader. What would you say you find lacking in education in Africa?
Unfortunately, education on the African continent is often limited to consuming and transmitting knowledge produced elsewhere in the world. Too little knowledge is produced: Africa is only 1% of the world’s scientific production, 1/3 of which is in South Africa… Very little investment in research and development (0.5% of GDP) whereas the world average is 2% of GDP and countries such as South Korea or Japan are respectively at 4.23% and 3.14%… Education, and particularly higher education, should be adapted to the specific contexts of each country by producing the knowledge necessary for its development, support the creation of new jobs and stimulate innovation through research and development. Even if Africa’s overall scientific, technological and innovative capacities are improving, the countries of the continent are not doing enough to accelerate their capacities and improve the performance of their education systems, no doubt due to a lack of means and anticipation related to the transformation of jobs and practices.
What was the chief reason you founded aivancity?
The main reason resides in the observation that our educational system is inadequate to the challenges of the revolution led by artificial intelligence, considered to be the most important that humanity will face. It was therefore necessary to break with the traditional logic of disciplinary boundries of our universities. Beyond its technical stakes, Artificial Intelligence today raises many questions regarding its implications on business and management, but also on human beings and society. It is therefore essential to accelerate the application domains of AI, while taking into account changes in business practices and society’s expectations. Hybridization between AI, management and ethics is a necessity to face strong technological changes, challenges of scientific evolution and societal constraints that condition tomorrow’s world. A total integration of content, pedagogy, research in AI and social sciences allows the emergence of a new model capable of facing the major scientific, industrial, and societal challenges. This is the mission that aivancity has set itself: to train experts capable not only of developing computer programs that accelerate business performance, but also of working towards the progress of humanity and ensuring that ethical rules evolve in line with technical and societal developments.
As a foremost voice in AI, science and diverse fields, do you think Africans and Africa are ready to compete with the rest of the world?
Two or three years ago, China was almost the only one we talked about. Today it is Africa. More and more companies want to work in or with Africa because it is the continent that is experiencing the strongest economic growth and will be the next frontier of the digital revolution in the world. This is evidenced by the race of the major players in the cloud – Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, IBM -, as well as the major telecom operators – from Orange to MTN via Maroc Telecom – who are positioning themselves as incubators for start-ups and who are looking for talent in Africa and offering the conditions for this talent to start a business at home. Artificial intelligence (AI) thus represents a huge potential for improving development efforts in Africa. But its development and use must be developed by and for Africans in an ethical and equitable manner to avoid the risk of capturing value and expertise from outside the continent.
Over the years, you’ve held several leadership positions. What would you say prepared you best for leadership? Your education, background or life lessons along the way? All three at once?
The education of my parents, but also becoming a parent myself, my various professional experiences in business schools and the lessons I have learned from them have convinced me that the project must create meaning beyond the entrepreneurial dimension and must also be in line with its values in order to generate commitment. And in higher education, the human and educational dimensions are crucial. I also think that not limiting your capacities with one’s initial area of specialization and always being curious and open to the different fields of economy, management and society have greatly helped me to assume leadership positions. In such responsibilities, one of the main challenges, in addition to creating commitment and trust, is to have a mastery of the different transversal aspects of decisionmaking. It allows us to be legitimate and also to help our teams to progress. This is our main mission as a manager.
With the new strain of COVID-19 ravaging all around the world, how do you think students of aivancity can meet needs that the pandemic is certain to create?
The current pandemic crisis will accelerate the renewal of jobs and the evolution of skills requested by the labor markets. Tomorrow’s professional success will depend on our ability to anticipate and prepare for these changes. aivancity School for Technology, Business & Society Paris-Cachan has chosen to prepare for jobs and skills that will condition organizational and societal practices in the coming decades: artificial intelligence and data sciences. Our students will be trained in all the building blocks of the thematic ecosystem of AI and Data science and will be able to enable humanity to progress in all areas, while ensuring that technological developments contribute to the development of a fairer, more ethical and more humane world.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a leader, both in educational and entrepreneurship pursuits?
I think that the last challenge of launching a Grande Ecole (aivancity) from scratch, in the midst of the global health and economic crisis, is the greatest challenge of my professional career. Higher education in France, as in Nigeria for that matter, is an increasingly standardized field and leaves little room for innovative models. Our educational sector is no longer one of content and diplomas but the one of learner experience and lifelong employability and our higher education institutions should no longer be evaluated on the quantity of their academic production and the number of their graduates but on the social impact of their intellectual and pedagogical production and on the responsible contribution of their graduates to society. We have created aivancity to respond to these challenges by breaking with traditional logics and assuming an innovative positioning outside the traditional perimeters and trends. This requires courage and a lot of resilience, to assume not to tick the boxes and to convince the banking institutions to finance the project in this particular context. It’s a big journey with a lot of challenges but I actually like it! I will stop everything when the challenges are over. Faced with challenges, there are only two choices for Human: flee or fight. I decided to use all my resources and all my experience to try to take up this challenge.
With aivancity coming to countries like Africa and Nigeria, what’s your message to potential students?
The world is changing and Africa is no exception. All sectors will be impacted by AI: health, education, mobility, housing, security, energy… It is therefore necessary to be taught to understand the stakes of this revolution of big data (the black gold of today and tomorrow) and artificial intelligence, and not to undergo this transformation but to prepare for it and accompany it. AI is an opportunity for Africa because this revolution, unlike previous ones, requires less material resources and investment. It is a great opportunity for young Africans to build, undertake and develop projects in these areas…. aivancity is present in Africa through area managers, particularly in Nigeria. Do not hesitate to contact Tobi Ricketts, firstname.lastname@example.org, to visit our website www.aivancity.ai
The Captioned Photo: The Professor Tawhid Chtioui, President & Dean of aivancity school for Technology, Business & Society Paris-Cachan