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

Health Care In Cuba
Can the death of former Cuban President, Fidel Castro, reinvigorate U.S. – Cuban relations?

Fifty-six years ago, U.S. President Eisenhower placed an economic embargo and severed diplomatic relations with the newly recognized Castro regime, in hopes to “build an open and democratic country.”

Over the subsequent decades, U.S. policy on Cuba is best described as complacent – rarely altered and ineffective. Consequently, the United States faces backlash for the failed policy by other countries in the Latin American sphere – citing “Washington’s isolation of Cuba increasing proved counterproductive.”

Relations remained unfettered until 2014 when President Obama and President Castro simultaneously announced a diplomatic rapprochement.

A fresh slate for U.S. – Cuban relations conjures the prospect of increased benefits for both countries – particularly the isolated health care in Cuba.

Cuba, however, is associated with the appellation, the “Cuban Health Paradox”, which defies the conventional wisdom of associating the health of a country with its overall wealth.

Health care in Cuba is remarkably robust. In 2014, Cuban life expectancy was slightly higher than that of the United States. The centrally-planned government heavily invests in the Cuban Health Paradox, which is exemplified by high childhood vaccination rates and a swath of doctors.

The Communist government has also ensured that health care in Cuba is a fundamental right afforded to all citizens. Moreover, the Cuban health paradox has produced a citizenry that is “more likely to die from the maladies that kill rich people – cancer and heart disease – than the communicable disease that kills in most poor places.

That being said, the Cuban people still contend with grave health risks. Many important medicines are not available and specialized medical care is nearly non-existent. Even basic disinfectants are sparse.

Beyond health care in Cuba, the Cuban economy has demonstrated a rapid decline in standard economic measurements over the last 60 years. The underwhelming performance is highlighted by the reduction of independent newspaper among Latin American countries. Additionally, Cuba is increasingly more dependent on outside sources of funding. In 2013, remittances accounted for $5.1 billion, which was enough to provide every Cuban with $1,000. The figure is striking when compared with the average annual salary of $260.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

Electrify Africa
President Obama has signed into law the Electrify Africa Act of 2015, which will bring electricity to millions in Africa.

About two-thirds of people in Africa do not have access to reliable power, according to BBC News. The Electrify Africa Act will establish a strategy to help sub-Saharan countries implement power solutions to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.

For people without electricity, simple tasks such as cooking or reading are complicated without a light source at night. Many people in Africa are also unable to use modern technologies, like cell phones or computers, or do basic tasks such as refrigerating food and medicine.

The lack of electricity causes some families in Africa to use fossil fuels or charcoal, which has a negative effect on the environment and health.

According to BBC News, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce stated that this initiative will “improve the lives of millions in sub-Saharan Africa by helping to reduce reliance on charcoal and other toxic fuel sources that produce fumes that kill more than HIV/Aids and malaria combined.”

Electrify Africa
Power Africa was launched by President Obama in 2013. It took nearly two years for it to pass through the Senate and House of Representatives and become the Electrify Africa Act of 2015.

The U.S. initially invested $7 billion in the project but that number has since risen to nearly $43 billion. According to Voice of America, the high cost of energy in sub-Saharan Africa makes producing exports impossible, so it would be beneficial to the U.S. to help Africa become a major trading partner.

In addition to the U.S. government, African governments and private companies are involved in the development of the Power Africa initiative. The Electrify Africa Act provides a framework for companies to invest in African energy solutions.

The long-term goal is to double the amount of electricity available to people in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing electricity to 50 million people in the region by 2020.

Kaitlyn Arford

Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, Voice of America

Research done by CARE found that girls in 26 countries are more likely to be forced into marriage before the age of 18 than to enroll in secondary school. The report Vows of Poverty was released on Oct. 11, 2015, the same day as International Day of the Girl.

The two stunning figures presented in the report were: 39,000 girls around the world are forced to marry each day, and 62 million girls are currently not in school, with half of them being adolescents.

The tradition of child marriage is what continues the cycle of poverty in developing countries. “Every time a girl under 18 is forced into marriage or prevented from attending school, it’s a missed opportunity to improve that girl’s life and strike at the roots of poverty,” said CARE Australia Chief Executive Dr. Julia Newton-Howes.

The U.S. Department of State initiated an Adolescent Girl Strategy in cooperation with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. The strategy focuses on enhancing American foreign policy to end child marriage.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama encourage efforts to educate adolescent girls through the Let Girls Learn initiative, which focuses on “community-led solutions that reduce barriers between adolescent girls and their education, including the elimination of child marriage.”

On a national level, governments are reinforcing laws that prevent child marriage. The 2014 Girl Summit resulted in 43 nations signing commitments to end the practice of child marriage. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia have recently initiated campaigns and legal reforms to end child marriage.

In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, communities have stopped at least 180 child marriages since 2013 thanks to the TESFA program. CARE partnered with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Nike Foundation to break the cycle of poverty. The program focused on improving girls’ education, health, business and financial literacy.

In Bangladesh, the local women’s empowerment group, EKATA, works to end the tradition of child marriage by discussing with parents the adverse effects of the practice and urging them not to force their daughters into early marriage.

Seeing as poverty promotes child marriage practices, in South Sudan cash incentives are given to parents who enroll or keep their daughters in school. In Senegal, community and religious leaders publicly criticize the practice of child marriage.

“We focus on women and girls because we know that empowering women is the key to ending poverty,” stated Howes.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: Vows of Poverty Report, The Hill, Leadersinheels
Photo: Wikimedia

In a recent landmark visit to Africa, President Obama pledged to all African nations that the United States was planning on reaffirming its efforts to bolster all aspects of African reform, ranging from economic to social reforms. Obama’s visit bared a theme of hope for the future of all African nations, as the President visited extensively with the African Union in their headquarters located in Ethiopia.

“Africa is on the move,” was the slogan repeatedly used by President Obama throughout his time on the African continent. The ideology behind this phrase comes from the recognition of African reform in taking steps forward regarding technological improvements as well as economic developments. An article by the Guardian stated, “Politicians and entrepreneurs love to point out that the old stereotypes of war, famine and hopelessness have been replaced by some of the fastest growing economies in the world, as if they are the first to discover it.” Obama was quick to shed light on Africa’s new image in the 21st century during his time on the continent.

Homophobia across Africa was a big issue of conversation for Obama during his visit to Africa. The President made it a point to relate the topic of homosexuality in a social context to the African Union. According to the same article by the Guardian, “The president compared homophobia in Africa with racism in America.” Obama’s stance was one of progressiveness towards a typically close-minded group, but the President used his immense popularity in Africa due to his Kenyan roots to connect with the people. The media response to Obama’s message was extremely positive with many outlets beginning to call for reform on their own.

In addition to speaking out against homophobia, Obama also spent time championing for women’s rights. An article by All Africa was quoted as saying, “[Obama] added that Africa has to attach due emphasis to women and girls because unless girls are educated and given opportunity to be innovators, engineers, doctors, business women, it will be difficult to the continent to bring about change.” The President arrived in Africa to push an agenda that would help Africa as a whole rise up to a new level of social reform and is walking away with satisfaction.

Diego Catala

Sources: All Africa, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Many organizations and individuals are becoming more vocal against the Helms Amendment. Passed by a conservative Congress in 1973 as a reactionary measure against the landmark court case, Roe v. Wade, the Helms Amendment denies women in countries receiving American aid the ability to get abortions with government money.

This amendment has received flack from both liberals and conservatives due to the denial of safe abortion options for women who are victims of rape during war. The opposition has grown a lot of steam world wide.

Before President Obama touched down in Kenya last week, the Kenyan government tore down a billboard that seemed to be politically motivated. According to reports, the billboard implored President Obama to utilize his executive action to help women who are victims of rape in developing countries.

After the Kenyan government took the billboard down, many were upset. Perhaps the government wanted Obama’s trip to his father’s country to be pleasurable and void of political dissonance.

Obama is not just receiving pressure to revoke the amendment abroad, but also at home.

Before his trip to Kenya, 70 U.S. non-government organizations called for Obama to visit health clinics in Kenya that attend to women’s’ health so that he can see for himself what the amendment is causing.

At the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice” in June, religious leaders requested that Obama use swift action to revoke the amendment. The support to revoke the amendment is not just from leaders, but from the majority of the American public.

BuzzFeed reported that 81 percent of people support a woman’s right to have access to an abortion in the case of rape or for the safety of the mother. Although this poll shows people’s views domestically, they can translate to the global stage.

Women living in countries rampant with a gang and terrorist violence are subject to rape. Because of the lack of protection the perpetrators have, the victims are oftentimes subject to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

Due to rape being a tool of war, many from both sides express their disdain for the harsh bill. Perhaps the president will one day voice his opposition.

Erin Logan

Sources: The Daily Beast, Buzzfeed 1, Gender Health, Buzzfeed 2
Photo: Woman Under Seige Project

Rope isolated on white background
I expect that you, like most Americans, are beginning to ponder who you’re going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. If this is the case, then you might also be causally conversing about or considering the factors most important to your decision. Let me draw your attention to one of the most significant aspects of the presidency, foreign policy.

For a President to be successful in foreign policy it is fairly likely that they will need to have foreign policy experience. When you hear the words foreign policy your mind might initially jump to the conflict in Ukraine and the threats from ISIS. The less considered aspect of foreign policy is foreign aid. If a president does not have a good deal of foreign policy experience, as we saw with President Barrack Obama, it is likely that this president may neglect foreign aid and focus only on military conflicts. This is a problem because foreign aid is integral to the United States’ economics and national security.

Foreign aid has been neglected in foreign policy and viewed as “charity” rather than as a strategy for a long time. During the Obama administration, this neglect grew. According to USAID, the United States’ aid organization, has had about a 16 percent drop in funding since 2009.

Before Obama was elected many concerns were raised, as described by an article in Time magazine, about Obama’s lack of experience in the foreign policy arena. The article stated that perhaps his international experience would prove to be enough.

It appears that this was not the case.

“Obama’s critics see a president adrift, lacking firm convictions or a strategy for dealing with the world,” says an article by Elias Groll on Others such as Dr. Colluci on U.S. News and World Report even go as far as to describe Obama’s administration as a “foreign policy vacuum.” While perhaps this is a little extreme, it is fair to say that Obama did in fact have little experience in foreign policy and that is reflected in his actions abroad as a president.

Obama has focused too much on military conflicts and strategy and has allowed aid funding to decline significantly. Perhaps if he had had more experience he would have learned an important lesson before becoming president: that the global security that he has been working toward could be better sought through stabilizing countries economically and through building infrastructure.

Foreign aid can both spread democracy, as has been the United States’ goal since the Cold War, and fight terrorism. Perhaps Washington should return to foreign aid as a strategy, rather than continuing to use the military to maintain its sphere of influence.

The Marshall Plan could arguably be listed as one of the United States’ greatest foreign policy successes. This move gave the United States the influence it sought, stabilized countries after World War II, and spread democracy.

In addition, while poverty does not necessarily cause terrorism, reducing global poverty will reduce the human resources of terrorist organizations. Not only that, but reducing global poverty will also prevent at-risk populations from being recruited by these organizations in the future.

The next President should be someone who has had enough experience to realize the importance of foreign aid for these reasons. The president should have had enough military and aid experience to know the value of each, and enough foreign policy experience to know that the military is not the most vital part of our national security.

Even if this president does not know the importance of aid to United States’ foreign policy, I hope that at the very least they will realize that increasing U.S. foreign aid will provide a new job market for United States citizens.

– Clare Holtzman

Sources: The Borgen Project, Clingendael, Foreign Policy 1, Foreign Policy 2, Time, U.S. News & World Report

Since President Obama’s announcement of his nomination of a new USAID Chief to replace Rajiv Shah, the name Gayle Smith has been echoed throughout political websites, blogs and news media platforms. With the conversation focused on Gayle Smith, many debate whether she is the prime candidate to head the world’s largest bilateral aid organization.

Gayle Smith is no stranger to development circles. As an African regional expert and former senior leader of 6 years for the National Security Council, Smith has addressed a record setting number of humanitarian crises.

Among her accomplishments is her oversight of the Open Government Partnership, a corruption-fighting initiative encouraging transparency among world governments as well as the empowerment of their citizens. She also oversaw the creation of Power Africa, an aid program fostering connections between African energy firms to allow electricity access to some of the continent’s 6 million who are without power.

Home to the Central African Republic, who has the world’s lowest economic growth rate of negative 36 percent, Africa looks to be a region in need of special attention. A USAID leader specializing in African development might just be the key. Smith has already pronounced herself a proponent of aid to Africa in her prioritization of Power Africa, and could be a valuable asset to the advancement of the numerous countries struggling to keep poverty rates at bay while stimulating economic growth.

Before working alongside President Obama as part of the National Security Council, Smith co-founded the Enough Project in 2006, an organization working to stop crimes against humanity and end genocide in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. The Enough Project first obtains information on the ground, then determines the best solution and mobilizes Washington and the American public to promote policies that work toward a better world. Smith has had an evident history not only of addressing the world’s atrocities, but of working through political leaders to become agents of change in the international arena; a task that is not always easy with regard to issues of genocide and poverty.

“I want somebody who knows all the players, who knows all the levers of power, who’s familiar with them,” Howard Berman, former congressional representative for California commented.

For those seeking a new player who knows the ropes, optimism is in the air. Smith has already been recognized as a development ‘insider’. Jim Kolbe, former congressional representative serving Arizona stated, “Few people know development as Gayle Smith does, and fewer still understand the intricacies of the spaghetti bowl that makes up our whole aid/development system.”

With Smith’s demonstrated knowledge of the inner-workings of the world of aid organizations and development agencies, many are hoping she will be able to continue to steer USAID on the track of reform while promoting a more flexible decision-making process.

Ritu Sharma, co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide, is confident that Smith is the right person to succeed Shah. She believes that Smith even has enough clout to change some of USAID’s most stubborn patterns. Sharma stated, “A big problem with our aid is that there’s so little flexibility. When the train’s going in the wrong direction, [we] can’t change tracks.”

Given Smith’s past experience and insider knowledge of the system coupled with the leverage she holds, one thing we do know for certain is that if confirmed, she could be a highly influential leader of USAID with the power to not only support a number of recent humanitarian needs, but also to promote critical reform within the organization.

– Amy Russo

Sources: The Hill,, Enough Project, Devex
Photo: Flickr

Social mobility in the U.S. played an extremely crucial role in President Barack Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address. He took the opportunity to comment on the furthering economic divide occuring between the lower middle and upper middle and upper classes in America.

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well,” the president asked, appealing to lower class Americans.

One of the stories he told pertained to a young couple who was negatively affected by the economic crisis of 2008. The story represents that of resilience and the couple was able to rebuild their lives.

In addition, Mr. Obama is sending a bill to Congress that would lower the cost of a community college education to zero. President Obama said that the measure will provide students without the means to go to college, an opportunity to attend without taking on large amounts of debt.

“Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” Mr. Obama said.

College tuition is on the rise and inhibiting many from receiving graduate degrees that would allow them to get higher paying jobs. In addition he requested that companies start providing more benefits for their employees including higher wages even without a bachelors or masters degree. In general, Obama solicited companies to provide more benefits because currently 43 million workers in the U.S. do not get paid sick leave.

Smoothing over the vast inequality that is present in America is pertinent to developing a better life for many citizens. Another subject he focused on was that congress needs to impose higher taxes on wealthy Americans who can afford to take higher cuts. This is likely to fail especially in a full GOP congress.

Some have called President Obama’s economic approach “populist” as he is appealing to ordinary Americans, many of whom are still suffering from the 2008 economic crisis.

Bipartisanship in congress was another focal point of the address. He focused on issues that in the past had garnered bipartisan support such as creating jobs. Although job growth in the private sector has been relatively successful, there are other parts of the economy where job growth has been limited.

Although President Obama is faced with a GOP congress he seemed to try to appeal to Republicans on a number of issues. With a majority Republican congress, Obama has no other option if he wants to make headway on a number of issues in his agenda.

Maxine Gordon

Sources: Bloomberg, NPR, The Washington Post
Photo: TIME

new strategy against isis
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

On September 10, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. (Here, the group will be referred to as ISIS. Other sources have labeled the organization as IS and ISIL.)

The aim of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, throughout Iraq and Syria. So far, ISIS has claimed control over northern Iraq and the northeastern region of Syria. The extremist group also targets people who follow religions other than Islam, particularly Christians and the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

Until February 2014, ISIS was a part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Differing strategies in establishing a caliphate in Syria resulted in the division of the groups. Today, both compete for influence over Islamic fundamentalists.

In an effort to reduce the amount of destruction caused by ISIS, the United States staged successful air strikes to keep the group out of Iraqi Kurdistan and limit their attacks on the Yazidi.

The actions of the militant group in Iraq and Syria have displaced thousands and placed many into a state of poverty. In Qaraqosh, a predominately Christian town in Iraq, 50,000 people have little access to food and water because of ISIS’s actions.

In its attempt to create a caliphate, the group is also raping and abducting women in order to use them as slaves. By targeting women and minorities, ISIS is forcing thousands into poverty. Access to basic necessities and human rights are severely limited. Poverty also compels some to join the extremist group, with no alternative to survival, and furthers its control of the region.

Identifying the force as a threat to national security, President Obama has taken action to provide military support for the Iraqi government. This effort will be continued and expanded, according to his most recent statements.

An additional 475 military representatives will be sent to Iraq to help with training, intelligence and attaining resources. The United States will work with international allies to increase intelligence and create a comprehensive strategy to eliminate ISIS. To address the number of people in Iraq and Syria being targeted, the United States will also provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict.

In outlining the new strategy, President Obama highlighted the United States’ leadership. He drew focus to America’s, “capacity and will to mobilize the world against terrorists … our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

President Obama argued that the capacity and willingness to end a problem created a moral obligation for the United States to act. This obligation is not limited to military action. The new strategy against ISIS includes humanitarian efforts to alleviate the burden of conflict, which is closely related to poverty. Should these types of efforts continue, the United States could act as a role model for poverty-reducing strategies across the globe.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Vox, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian,