Transforming lives through education

Dr. Alex Akulli – Founding President of Mimoza Academy, President of the Fulbright Association in South Carolina, and President of Shining Applicants - Greenville, South Carolina

Feature | Greenville, South Carolina | 23 August 2022
As an international educator and consultant, Dr. Alex Akulli serves as President of the Fulbright Association – South Carolina Chapter. He has dedicated his academic and professional service to citizenship diplomacy through global education, civic engagement, and cultural exchanges. ILO Photo
“The future of work will require current and future generations to be adaptable. From the places we live, our willingness to learn new skills and changes in our cognitive orientation because future communities will look very different than they do today” states Alex Akulli.

As an international educator based in Greenville, South Carolina, Alex started his pursuit of knowledge and understanding through education in rural southwest Albania. He considers himself lucky since he is the only one out of his four siblings to have had the opportunity to pursue an academic career.

One of his first opportunities to pursue a career in international education took place during his undergraduate work at a university in Croatia, which became possible because of the support of a teacher from Massachusetts whom he met in Albania.

The encouragement and support from that teacher changed his life’s trajectory resulting in his relocation to Michigan to continue his studies. It was there, in Croatia, studying and living with many international students, where he truly realized how international education can impact a person’s life.

He stated that learning English was the starting point of his academic journey. It was a skill that enabled him to connect with people from other parts of the world. “I had amazing teachers and professors who had a positive influence on me. I realized that if I wanted to make a bigger impact in the world or in my community, it should be by focusing on education” he said reflecting on those early days at university.

This opened doors to many opportunities for a life of consequence. “Studying abroad allowed me to bring resources into my community of origin,” Akulli stated.

With his daughters, Emma and Tessa, Dr. Akulli founded Mimoza Academy in honor of his late sister and her unrealized dream to pursue higher education. The NGO provides free online education and training programs for girls and women in rural communities in Albania and the surrounding countries. ILO Photo
As a result of these opportunities and his vision for empowering girls and women through education, Akulli together with his daughter Emma, founded Mimoza Academy which was in memory of his late sister. His sister, growing up with three brothers, did not receive the same opportunities to go to school as he did.

As an NGO, Mimoza Academy not only provides free on-line education for girls and women in rural Albanian communities, but it also helps attract investment in these communities. Through education and collaboration with other NGOs and mission organizations, these communities have been transformed them forever. “For the first time families had running water, farmers had access to microfinance loans to help them build their businesses and stabilize their way of life.”

Reflecting upon his journey and dedication to international education, he explained the driving force of his work. “When you educate a girl, you change her destiny as well as that of her children. You ensure that she can contribute positively to the economic life of her community”, emphasized Alex Akulli with a wide smile.

Through his work at the World Affairs Council of Upstate, where he serves as the co-founder, he contributes to the local community by fostering dialogue and an understanding of global affairs and cultures. “As an international educator, I focus on bringing people together”, states Dr. Akulli.

This is a critically important skill given the transformational changes that have come to Greenville and the Upstate region of South Carolina, more broadly. For a variety of factors, South Carolina has attracted over 500 leading global companies over the past decade and is attracting people with potential job opportunities and a vibrant outdoor lifestyle.

With over 20 years of experience in higher education as an academic, Dr. Akulli has served thousands of US and international students, families, and visiting scholars at both public and private universities in the United States. ILO Photo
Although a significant number of skilled workers live and are moving to the region, international employers are starting to experience a skilled labor shortage since so many international companies have moved there.

Mr. Akulli feels confident that innovative thinking and education is the way forward. “In response to this challenge, some of the companies are partnering with the local community colleges and high schools that have vocational training programs. Some of these programs offer, or even guarantee, a job at these companies. This proactive approach by the business community, investing in education and the skilling of the workforce, is starting to help bridge the gap.”

The changing nature of work and the need to constantly upskill workers, Dr. Akulli says that it is critical to focus on skills development through experiential learning, especially for the younger generation.

“Many of us had to learn not only how to master technology but also how to work across cultures and borders. Educators need to do a better job at preparing the current generation for future jobs”, he adds.

“As an educator, I have learned how to do things differently that I didn't know before. The people I engage with are teaching me some of the latest skills, especially with regards to technology, that helps us reach these communities through our work” he emphasizes.

Akulli states that “the focus for us as educators is about cultivating in our students an understanding and appreciation for lifelong learning. We are instilling this behavior in people to continually learn skills and acquire experiences that make them much more attractive and valuable to employers. We make sure that they are prepared not just for now but for the future as well.”

When thinking about the importance of work, Akulli says that “success at work means we can also improve someone else's life. That we can improve their future and the communities in which they live.”

He is most proud when he sees a students’ transformation reflecting a broader vision and purposeful trajectory in life. He sees this happen when they have studied abroad on a Fulbright or have participated in other international engagement opportunities.

“International education has that type of transformative power” Akulli states with great focus and fervor. “It allows people to be informed and to consider their future in a different way. I have strived to use education as a transformative influence on people's lives and have tried to bring them together for greater understanding.”