From fleeing Benin for his pro-democracy activism to becoming a renowned Princeton professor and founding one of Africa’s most prestigious universities, Leonard Wantchekon’s life is as impressive as his economic and political research. Today we speak with Leonard and explore his story, academic work, and how he founded the African School of Economics (ASE). After sharing details about his early life in Benin, including how he escaped his unjust imprisonment, Leonard discusses how his personal life has informed his research. We then dive into his research into clientelism and voting behavior, slavery’s prevailing influence on Benin culture, and how environmental factors can drive achievement within a community of learners. A key theme in this episode, we then ask Leonard about how he founded ASE. His answers highlight practical steps that he took along with the challenges that he overcame. Later, we talk about why he uses ASE’s reputation as the benchmark for its success, his aim to link the disparate African academic community, and his plans to create a curriculum that he can export to other universities. Near the end of our conversation, we touch on Leonard’s other influences and passions. Tune in for insights on what it takes to build a top university and to hear Leonard’s incredible story.
Key Points From This Episode:
• Introducing today’s guest, economics and politics professor Leonard Wantchekon.
• Leonard shares his story from growing up in Benin to becoming a Princeton professor.
• Hear about what motivated Leonard to become so politically active.
• Exploring what Benin was like under the dictatorship of Mathieu Kérékou.
• How Lenin escaped from prison and ultimately from Benin.
• Why Leonard turned his back on socialist-leaning ideologies.
• How Leonard’s personal life has shaped his research.
• Leonard’s research into clientelism and voting behavior in Benin.
• How aspiration can help people overcome their circumstances.
• The importance of social environments in driving aspiration.
• Why Leonard founded the prestigious African School of Economics in Benin.
• Exploring what’s needed to found a leading university.
• Why Leonard uses academic reputation as the benchmark for his institution’s success.
• Hear about the Pan-African Research Council and how Leonard sees the future of his institute.
• Where on the economics spectrum Leonard’s research lies.
• How the Nobel prize-winning economist Arthur Lewis inspires Leonard.
• Leonard shares details about his support of African history.