Three Monash University Australia students are making a difference by helping to encourage and develop debating in universities in Africa.

The brainchild of Monash Association of Debaters (MAD) members Kiran Iyer, Sashi Balaraman and Damien Bruckard, African Voice was set up with the hope of  sending Monash debaters every year to countries in Africa that are transitioning to democracy, but have had limited exposure to debating.

“We wanted to use the skills we developed through our time with MAD to make a difference in countries with leaders that have traditionally resisted the transformative potential of discourse and debate,” Kiran said.

“Debating in African universities has developed over the last few years, but we believed that our initiative could accelerate the transition.”

During a year of planning, Kiran, Damien and Sashi contacted universities and non-government organisations in several countries so they could tailor programs to suit the African students’ specific needs.

The trio were able to spend part of their time teaching students at  the Monash South Africa campus. Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor David Copolov’s Office, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Law funded the training programs.

“The students we met were extremely engaged by politics and passionate about making a difference in their communities,” Kiran said.

“However, they had often never received the training in public policy issues or in advocacy that would enable them to effectively articulate their views. Our training program was not aimed at imposing our values, but rather sought to empower these young leaders with the skills to better express themselves.

“It was refreshing to meet people who were not cynical about the future of their countries and were committed to making a difference. Our hosts were incredibly welcoming and we learnt a lot from them.”

The content of the training program was heavily drawn from what the students learnt at Monash University.

“We integrated the concepts we were exposed to in our Arts, Law and Commerce degrees into our workshops, as legal policy, international relations and economics are central to debating,” Kiran said.

“We are hopeful that we can send generations of debaters to Africa to transfer the skills they have developed at Monash University.