‘Emerging leader’ honour for law student

05 November 2018 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo Supplied. Read time 5 min.
Bontle Monnya with fellow Crossroads Emerging Leader Programme attendees (from left) Silindelo Gwala, Jeries Kitlo and Lawrence Makubuya.
Bontle Monnya with fellow Crossroads Emerging Leader Programme attendees (from left) Silindelo Gwala, Jeries Kitlo and Lawrence Makubuya.

As anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Suits will know, when it comes to practising law there are few things as enviable as boasting a Harvard education. UCT’s Bontle Monnya recently got a taste of that Ivy League life when she was selected for the Harvard Business School Club of the GCC’s Second Annual Crossroads Emerging Leader Programme in Dubai, held from 25 and 29 September.

The programme offers a unique opportunity for first generation college/university students from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia to attend a week-long series of lectures presented by Harvard professors and alumni.

This in turn allows the Ivy League school to scout for students with excellent academic track records and promising leadership qualities from regions that are under-represented at the institution.

Monnya, who is currently completing her Bachelor of Social Science degree majoring in Law and Public Policy, was one of only 71 students selected for the programme from a pool of 1 700 applicants. The final cut included students from 24 different countries, including Uganda, India and Afghanistan.

“I am the only UCT student to be selected, one of three South Africans and the only woman among those three,” Monnya said.

Although she can hardly believe she was offered such a prestigious opportunity, Monnya’s stellar track record speaks for itself.

Among her many accolades, she holds the title of head student at Woolsack Residence, is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, serves as a law faculty mentor, and participated in the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges as a mentee under magistrate Michelle Adams.

Learning through diversity

While Monnya’s undoubted highlight of attending the Crossroads Emerging Leader Programme was meeting Harvard professors and being able to attend their lectures, she also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people from so many different parts of the world.

“We all had a different approach to how we dealt with the problems we were given to solve, which just broadened my mind in terms of what possibilities are out there,” she said.

“It helped me see and understand that diversity is important. Especially for the future we’re going into.”


“We all had a different approach to how we dealt with the problems we were given to solve, which just broadened my mind.”

Apart from the wide range of students in attendance, the programme also offered lectures in a diverse range of disciplines, including science, technology, the arts, mathematics, business and leadership.

“I engaged with a lot of material that I hadn’t previously been familiar with, which has inspired me to continue reading even more widely,” Monnya said.

Future leaders need to be multi-faceted

She added that the programme opened her eyes to the fact that the job market of the future calls for multi-faceted individuals, who are able to solve problems using a diverse skillset, instead of relying on their knowledge in a single field of study.

“This is especially true for someone like me who hopes to practice law one day,” she said.

“It’s such a broad field and brings so many different aspects of life to the table, that the more knowledge you have about a range of different things, the better you’ll be at your job.”

Monnya’s sentiments echo those recently shared by Professor Tshilidzi Marwala during the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture. Speaking about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on society, Marwala emphasised that the world view needed to be seen through a whole new prism – with new theories of psychology and economics being paramount to the well-being of humanity.

He concluded that universities have an important role to play in this, by offering students a multidisciplinary education that will enable them to understand, imagine and maybe even revolutionise technologies that reflect ever-increasing levels of artificial intelligence and human interaction.

Future plans

Monnya is currently in the midst of her final exams as an undergraduate student. After a well-deserved summer break, she will return to UCT to embark on a two-year postgraduate law degree.

These plans may take an exciting turn, however, as she has applied to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard, following her experience at the Crossroads Emerging Leader Programme.

“I got a wonderful recommendation letter from them, so if that opportunity comes along, I will definitely take it up,” she said, adding that she hopes to hear back from Harvard by March 2019.

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