Young African Leaders Initiative

President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 in an effort to invest in the next generation of African change-makers. Through regional training centers, student exchange programs and follow-up resources, YALI empowers young African leaders to “spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Despite its short tenure, YALI is already establishing itself as a force for good. Here are three success stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative: 

Food For All Africa

Elijah Amoo Addo, a former chef at a restaurant in Accra, Ghana, used the leadership and business skills he learned from YALI to help launch Food For All Africa (FFAA), the first community food bank in Ghana. In 2011, Elijah noticed a homeless man rummaging through a dumpster for leftovers to feed his friends on the street. Moved by the encounter, Elijah began eliminating waste at his restaurant, saving the surplus food to feed the needier members of his community.

Three years later, Elijah applied to YALI’s s West Africa Regional Leadership Center to amplify his vision of feeding the hungry. Today, FFAA saves and redistributes up to $5,700 worth of food each month. Elijah, who hopes to expand services to other African regions within the next five years, is one of the true success stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative. 

Lead Oak Foundation

While working at the primary health center of Benin City, Nigeria, primary care doctor Ajimegor Ikuenobe was disturbed by the scale of the malnutrition problem among the children in the community. After researching solutions to the crisis, Dr. Ikuenobe discovered a formula of maize, soya bean and groundnut that was high in the essential nutrients developing children need. Dr. Ikuenobe started Lead Oak Foundation to distribute the formula to vulnerable communities and to provide clothing, health consultations and cooking demonstrations to mothers and caregivers.

In 2017, Dr. Ikuenobe was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, YALI’s flagship program. The fellowship empowers leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking opportunities. The Fellows are selected between the ages of 25 and 35, and “have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries.”

YALI Network

In addition to the Mandela Washington Fellowship and the regional training centers, another success story from the Young African Leaders Initiative comes in the form of the YALI Network, an online platform where members can connect with other leaders in their community and learn from experts in their field. The YALI Network also offers a range of training, blogs and other toolkits to help amplify impacts.

Whether its members are hoping to solve specific problems like Elijah and Ikuenobe, promote human rights, start a small business or simply improve their public speaking skills, YALI is empowering the next generation of African change-makers.

– Whiting Tennis

Photo: Flickr

Mandela Washington FellowshipThe 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

Photo: Flickr