The third annual Mandela Washington Fellowship concluded in early August 2017, wrapping up an intensive six-week program undertaken by nearly 1,000 young African leaders working toward community development and social change. The fellows came from all 49 nations in sub-Saharan Africa and trained at 38 colleges and universities across the U.S.
The Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The program accepts applicants between 25 and 35 years old who have demonstrated leadership in positive community development. Fellows are filtered into one of three tracks of study: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership and public management.
The 2017 cohort of fellows included elected officials, peacekeepers, activists and educators who combat a wide range of social and economic issues. Admissions to the Fellowship reflect YALI’s commitment to promoting diversity. Fifty percent of the 2017 class were women and 51 fellows identified as disabled.
During the program, participants develop skills that enable them to promote economic development and security in their home communities. Fellows are linked with U.S. mentors from NGOs, private corporations and the government. The pairs work together to develop comprehensive action plans for the fellows to implement upon their return to Africa.
The program concludes with the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit, where fellows can network and attend panels led by U.S. leaders. After the summit, 100 fellows are selected to remain in the U.S. to participate in six weeks of professional development training.
The Fellowship also provides participants with unprecedented access to seed capital for their entrepreneurial endeavors. In 2014, the U.S. African Development Foundation contributed $5 million to the program to fund small grants to the Fellows for business expansion. Additionally, the State Department gave $5 million for fellows to use on community development projects. USAID works to leverage $350 million in existing development programs to support the fellows.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship cultivates relationships between the African Fellows and U.S. influencers at top universities and across the private and public sectors. Fellows end the program well-positioned to continue driving social and economic change in their home countries.
– Katherine Parks