Alexander McLean: A teenager’s vision, 7 years later

By Eliza Villarino 12 October 2011

Alexander McLean, founder and director of the African Prisons Project. Photo by: Andrew Philips

You’re never too young to make an impact – just ask Alexander McLean, who was 18 when he founded the African Prisons Project in 2004. The project claims to have reached 25,000 prison inmates and staff so far.

McLean is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked McLean about his leadership and vision for development cooperation in the years to come. Here’s what he said:

Who did you turn to for help after deciding, at the age of 18, that you wanted to improve the lives of African prisoners?

Firstly, I turned to my family and friends – they were an enormous support to me in the establishment of APP and still remain a great support as APP expands. I also turned to the Church for support, both personal support and for support with fundraising and awareness -raising for APP. I also turned to Lord Ramsbotham, Mrs. Justice Dobbs QC, the late Lord Boston, Jon Snow and Cardinal Wamala to put the spotlight on APP, all of who have now become patrons of APP.

How has your leadership style evolved since you founded the African Prisons Project?

My leadership style has evolved very much since I founded APP in 2004 (we became registered in 2007) and is greatly inspired by ideas and theories relating to servant leadership. I have become more strategic in my leadership style – this has meant becoming much more focused and relational. Both my confidence and my courage have grown. Most importantly, I have learnt that it is legitimate to make mistakes sometimes, and that there is something to be learnt from every mistake we make.

What global development causes do you see yourself contributing to in the next 10 years?

APP will be contributing directly towards access to justice for those in prison, healthcare, education and community reintegration. In turn APP will be contributing towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

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Eliza Villarino

Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.


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