About Me

I am a professor with an applied focus on promoting democratic practices, political movements, and integration that deliver sustainable livelihoods. As part of this, I craft educational experiences and mobilize resources that support researchers and social innovators around the world to achieve progressive and equitable change at the grassroots and globally.

Connect with Me

My Journey

Presently, I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Leaders of Africa Institute, a global school and edtech platform scaling to meet the needs for quality research, data science, and technology development. Most recently, I was a faculty member at Davidson College and Michigan State University in the United States.

My interest in global and African affairs stems from being a Visiting Student at Oxford University, St. Anne’s College. During this year at Oxford, in December 2007, the people of Kenya experienced extreme levels of post-election electoral violence. I became interested in themes of violence prevention, election quality, and the role that international organizations play in shaping the incentives and outcomes of electoral processes. In particular, I was encouraged by Africa-based efforts, such as at the African Union, to integrate and address matters of peace and security, democratic practice, and economic integration. I was also motivated to discover best practices that could be embraced outside of the African context in flawed democracies, including the United States.

I began to extend my research and educational outreach efforts to focus on disparities in knowledge production, which gave way to the formation of Leaders of Africa and its Leaders of Africa Institute in 2019. Leaders of Africa is a school and e-learning platform that facilitates educational exchange to make upskilling experiences in research, data analytics, and technology accessible to all. As part of its educational mission, Leaders of Africa mobilizes the power of rigorous inquiry and creative expression to advance equity and justice. In 2022, the Leaders of Africa Institute received financial and technical support from Johns Hopkins University, JHU FastForward U, and the Conscious Ventures Lab, which accelerates innovative ideas and institutions likely to bring social impact.


During my research experiences and in service of promoting global dialogue, I learned advanced skills in professional photography, documentary filmmaking, and multimedia production. The written word is only one medium to reach broad audiences, and there are many other sensory avenues to engage and educate. Telling stories and giving a platform for people to tell their own stories is essential in my research and practice.

My photography and videography work expresses themes of constructing new identities, care for the public commons, the tension between our present conception of modernity and historical legacy, global connectivity, and expressions of will. This website shares some of my photos and short videos from the past few years. As you explore the website, I invite you to share your thoughts and reflections.

"Zimbabwe's 2018 Election Sights and Sounds" Trailer (2018)


The following is a select list of recognitions for social impact, research, and teaching:

  • Social Innovation Lab, Co‑founder, Leaders of Africa Institute, Johns Hopkins University, 2022-2023
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award, Co‑founder of the Leaders of Africa Institute, Johns Hopkins University, 2022
  • Non‑African Faculty with the Most Outstanding Contribution to Development of Africa Award, Michigan State University, 2019
  • Best Graduate Student Departmental Teaching Award, Michigan State University, 2017
  • University Distinguished Fellowship, Michigan State University, 2011-2016
Hanging Out With Jay, Mascot of Johns Hopkins University (2022)
Photo Credit: Johns Hopkins University, FastForward U

Just for fun

I am a budding cyclist thanks to my local Chicago bike trails and a tennis (and Pickle Ball) player with an interest in the politics of football (soccer) and an avid Aston Villa (English Premier League) fan since 2005.

Outside of the EPL, I have adopted several international teams including the Kaiser Chiefs (PSL South Africa), Hearts of Oak (Ghana Premier League), and CAPS United (Zimbabwe Premier League). Farther afield, I enjoy amateur astronomy. And, I love spending time with my one and only, Angélique Utopia.

Peter Penar, PHD

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia