Laura Brandão: Building the AKA Maputo campus from the ground up | Aga Khan Academies

Laura Brandão: Building the AKA Maputo campus from the ground up

From the construction of the Aga Khan Academy Maputo’s very first buildings to some of its final facilities, Laura Ivens Brandão has been involved in the AKA Maputo’s development and expansion since the very beginning. 

Laura, who is originally from Portugal and a civil engineer by trade, joined the AKA Maputo in July 2017. She began her involvement with the Academy’s construction project in 2012 as the general manager of an outsourced project management company.

“It’s interesting because, as the general manager of my former company, I was involved since the inception of the Academy as I was appointed to the project management of the AKA Maputo’s first phase, which is the phase that represents the opening of the Academy’s Early Years Centre,” Laura said. “In this way, I have been involved since the very beginning of the Academy’s construction, and this has equipped me with both an internal and external perspective of the Academy.”

Laura attained her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal. She then moved to Leuven, Belgium in pursuit of a Master’s qualification in the conservation of historic towns and buildings at the Katholieke Universiteit.

Upon the completion of her master’s degree, Laura returned to Portugal where she jump-started her career in project management. “I started my career in an area that slightly differed from my master’s qualification,” she said. “This is because, at the time, Portugal was not very focused on the restoration of historical buildings and monuments. So, I started my career in project management.”

The company Laura worked for at the time later invited her to join their newly-launched branch in Mozambique. She arrived in Mozambique in September 2010 and worked for this company until 2017 as a general project manager, where she did a lot of project management work in Mozambique.

In 2017, the company decided to cease their activity in Mozambique but Laura wanted to remain in the country. Every cloud has a silver lining, as it was at this time that Laura received an invitation to join the AKA Maputo as the Academy’s senior project manager and client representative.

 "A reputable team of international and local architects and engineers have designed the Academy to be in line with Aga Khan Development Network’s pursuit of excellence in both the physical facilities, as well as the quality of education intended to be imparted at the finished facility,” Laura said. “I am glad I was selected to execute this team's vision for the AKA Maputo." 

Praising the overall mission and vision of the Aga Khan Academies, Laura places great emphasis on the important role that the AKA Maputo plays in the betterment of the Mozambican educational sector and, ultimately, in the Mozambican society.

“This is an exceptional project because of its concept, dimension, challenge to have been built in Mozambique and, on top of all, the purpose that it develops,” Laura said. “The mission of educating and developing students to become highly qualified and socially responsible professionals and leaders, which Mozambique needs to support its socio-economic development, is what makes it an absolute honour to have been chosen to lead this project. It is an emblematic project.”













With the AKA Maputo’s significantly diverse student and staff population, Laura has found engaging with multinational colleagues to be interesting and positively challenging. She gained a thorough understanding of how the Academy’s leadership team perceives the Academy and has applied this to the construction of the campus.

“Sometimes it can be challenging because each individual has their own ideas, and sometimes it can be difficult to incorporate all of these ideas in the project development,” Laura said. “But, overall, I think my colleagues are satisfied with my work as we always try to include all of their ideas within our budget. Ultimately, the buildings are for them, for the teachers, staff members and, on top of all, for the students.”

However, the biggest challenge Laura faced was the Academy’s construction since international lockdowns eased due to COVID-19. Reflecting back, Laura said she and her team had to ensure the pandemic did not severely impact the development of the AKA Maputo. This required strong team collaboration, dedication and mutual support.

“Post-COVID-19 on a global level, particularly in terms of material costs, import costs and the lack of transportation, was quite difficult to digest and it was a fight,” Laura said. “Nevertheless, the fact that we did not have a single positive case during the pandemic is very rewarding. And although I am leading the project, it has been a great team effort. 

“I have received a lot of support from my director in Geneva and I think, all together, we are very successful. And when I say we are a team, I don’t only mean the construction team  design team, project management team, contractors and project colleagues  but I mean the Academy in its entirety as led by the Head of Academy, who closely collaborated with me to bridge the gap between construction and school.”

“The Academy was planned in phases to allow for the school to grow during construction, and the manner in which the academic team always understood the "conflicts" between construction and the normal school life were fantastic. So from the leadership team, right down to each and every colleague, we are all a team and should be very happy at the results that we have achieved amidst these uncertain times.”

Reflecting on the various beautiful spaces and facilities at the AKA Maputo, Laura says it’s rather difficult to choose only one building as her favourite. But, aside from the Court of Palms  an area on campus that has 24 Royal palms standing tall and proud  one of her favourite spaces at the Academy is the Moyo, which means heart in Swahili. The Moyo is the Academy’s amphitheatre where whole school assemblies and other fun events are hosted.

“For me, each building in the Academy has its own story and they are all very dear to me,” she said. “But I think that the Moyo is, in fact, the heart of the Academy, and the contrast of the Moyo against the rest of the buildings at the Academy is the most emblematic area in my eyes.”

Being directly involved in the development of the AKA Maputo from the start, Laura has observed how the rapid growth of the Academy has positively impacted the students and staff, alike. “It has been very gratifying to witness the joy of the students and all of the school staff,” Laura said. “They are amazed at the level of facilities that are being provided at the Academy. I have no doubt in mind that the Aga Khan Academy Maputo is the school with the highest quality infrastructures in the country.”