Young African Leadership fighting COVID-19
2020 marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) by President Obama. Since its initiation, YALI has spurred thousands of young people into community activism, entrepreneurship, innovation and other leadership roles. Now, these alumi of the Young African Leadership Initiative are fighting COVID-19.

What is YALI?

Created in 2010 as a part of USAID, YALI invests in the young people of Africa by providing educational resources, networking connections and skillsets to create community leaders. YALI has three main components: the Mandela Fellowship Program, Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) and the YALI network. The Mandela Fellowship Program provides young Africans with an academic experience in the U.S., while the RLCs provide at institutions of higher learning in Africa. Both the Fellowship Program and the RLCs also offer leadership training. On the other hand, the YALI Network is an entirely online resource that aims to connect community leaders so they can learn from one another and work together.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the YALI organization has been involved in providing African communities with the information to combat and prevent the coronavirus. For instance, in June, YALI held a virtual conference entitled “Resiliency for Business Owners” in which panelists discussed steps entrepreneurs can take to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.

Alumni of the Fellowship Program, RLC participants, and the YALI Network are all working together as part of the Young African Leadership Initiative fighting COVID-19 in their communities. The following three leaders have had a particularly significant impact on their communities’ responses to the pandemic.

  1. James Papy Kwabo Jr.
    James Papy Kwabo Jr., a Liberian citizen, attended the Mandela Fellowship Program in 2019 and has since founded Alternative Youth Radio, the first youth radio station to exist in Liberia. After hearing misinformation about COVID-19 circulate in his community, he began using his platform to dispel false rumors and provide accurate information regarding the virus.
    James broadcasts stories from other Mandela Fellowship leaders across Liberia that cover ways in which COVID-19 has affected their communities. Through this story-based approach, James hopes that members of his community will understand the gravity of the situation and take action to prevent the spread of the virus.
  2. Elijah Addo
    Elijah Addo, a Chef and alumnus of the RLC program in Ghana, founded the non-profit organization Food for All Africa in 2015, which provides food for more than 5,000 people throughout Ghana and West Africa. In February when the virus started to rapidly spread across the globe, Addo and his team began projecting which Ghanaian communities would become most vulnerable and face the greatest difficulties in accessing food. On March 22, 2020, Addo launched the Food for All Ghana COVID-19 Community Emergency Intervention program. In partnership with other organizations, this program works to ensure a continuous flow of food to communities that have become more vulnerable as a result of the pandemic. Through the distribution of food boxes across the country as well as the community kitchen operating in Accra, which is both the capital of Ghana and the city with the most reported COVID-19 cases, Addo’s emergency relief program has helped thousands.
  3. Alfred Kankuzi
    An alumnus of the Mandela Fellowship Program, Alfred Kankuzi has brought his leadership and innovation back to Malawi. After realizing that many Malawi residents received information about COVID-19 from misleading and confusing posts on social media, Kankuzi decided to take action using his skills in software and mobile app development.
    In April, Kankuzi launched the phone app “COVID-19 NEBA,” which means “Hey neighbor” in Chichewa, that provides accurate information to users such as how the virus spreads and how to prevent contracting it. Given the low literacy rates in Malawi, Kankuzi’s app also provides audio content and illustrations to convey the same information. Furthermore, the app can be translated from Chichewa into two other languages, English and Tumbuka, in order to reach a wider audience.

On the 10th anniversary of the creation of YALI, members and alumni have stepped up to the plate to assist their communities as they battle COVID-19. Because of the skills participants honed through the program, the communities most strongly impacted by poverty and the pandemic have benefited from the leadership of the Young African Leadership Initiative fighting COVID-19.

Alanna Jaffee


Youth Empowerment Programs in AfricaBy 2050, Africa’s child population is projected to reach one billion, which would be the largest among the other continents. Already, the median age in Africa has shifted to 18 years old and increased the labor force substantially. The Center for Strategic and International Study released a report highlighting just how much of an impact the youth of Africa can have on the continent’s economic growth. With these trends in mind, a number of organizations are finding new and creative ways to increase youth empowerment in Africa today.

Here are three programs centered around youth empowerment in Africa.

3 Youth Empowerment Programs in Africa

  1. Young African Leaders Initiative
    The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is one of the programs created by USAID to empower young people across the world. This 2010 U.S. initiative focuses on providing Africans with resources to bolster development. These young people receive support regarding leadership skills and entrepreneurship opportunities in Regional Leadership Centers in sub-Saharan Africa. The four regional centers are located in higher education institutions and primarily target young people between the ages of 18 and 35. For example, one center located at the University of South Africa School of Business Leadership serves Swaziland, Zambia, South Africa and Madagascar. These regional centers help foster entrepreneurship and create opportunities for cross-border collaboration.The program also offers a fellowship for young Africans to study at a U.S. university and further develop their skills to become young leaders. The Mandela Washington Fellowship selects young people from 48 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to create a diverse group of fellows learning about topics surrounding business, civic engagement or public management.

    One of the most important parts of this program is the large network for young Africans to connect with each other across the continent. With online resources and regional centers in all parts of sub-Saharan Africa, every day, more young people are gaining access to information about professional development and entrepreneurship, creating a strong foundation for long-term youth empowerment in Africa.

  2. Young Africa
    In 1988, Young Africa International was founded in the Netherlands. With a goal to empower young Africans with employability and entrepreneurship skills, the program utilizes a network of independent and local affiliations to run activities in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.A majority of the funding goes to creating training centers to hire youth across these countries. It also allows local entrepreneurs to run their businesses in a successful environment. By establishing local nonprofits in these youth centers, it promotes local businesses while also giving youth the opportunity to explore career fields, develop new skills and learn lessons about the working environment.

    Targeted to the 15 to 25 age group, Young Africa also provides 43 courses to people in the program. These courses include vocational education in technical, agricultural and commercial skills. Young Africa also focuses heavily on life skills training to help empower young people to make healthy choices and grow their self-confidence so they can make a positive impact on their community.

    The overall impact of the organization can be seen by its milestones. In 2017, there were 1,980 vocational graduates from the program. Sixty-nine percent of them are now employed or self-employed. Overall, there have been 36,894 graduates from the vocational program and their incomes increased significantly. In Namibia alone, the participant’s average daily income increased from $15.30 a day to $40.

  3. International Youth Foundation
    For 30 years, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) has prepared young women and men to take control of their futures by focusing on a combination of education, employment, entrepreneurship and social innovation.Zimbabwe:Works is an example of a program focusing on employment for marginalized groups, especially women. Using the Passport to Success curriculum, the program teaches life skills to increase self-esteem, promote teamwork and motivate young people to engage in their communities. Certain partners and entrepreneurs also assist the process by providing business courses and access to microloans and related programs. Roughly 80 percent of interns with this program have transitioned to full-time employment with various companies. Also, almost 7 out of 10 women in the targeted group received financial literacy training.

    This program is just one of many examples of youth empowerment programs in Africa led by IYF. Across 14 countries, various programs introduce young people to healthier lifestyles and brighter futures.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the combined efforts of the U.S. government, Non-Governmental Organizations, universities and companies to support African youth and future leaders in hopes of creating a better future for Africa as a whole. It was established by President Obama in 2010.

Not only does YALI aim to create and shape African leaders, but it also wants to create a network between them. What is striking about this measure is that it lays down a framework for these future leaders who are full of potential, but then leaves the more substantial and meaningful portion of the work to the young leaders themselves, leaving it up to them to shape their world.

YALI goes about this goal in several ways. For example, it offers online courses for individuals who want to learn more about areas such as entrepreneurship, leadership and public management. Completion of a YALI course not only means that a person has learned about honing valuable life skills, but also that they receive a certificate to prove it.

YALI is also working to construct Regional Leadership Centers throughout Africa with the intent of increasing accessibility and relevance of training programs to leaders and future leaders across Africa. Two have opened so far this year, in Accra and Nairobi, and two more are planned for Dakar and Pretoria by the end of 2015.

The YALI Network face2face is a Facebook group that helps young African leaders share events encouraging leadership and fellowship, or even create new skills. Members are encouraged not only to attend events but to create their own on topics that interest them or that would be beneficial to their particular community. It’s a tool to help create and maintain connections.

Another huge event put on by the group is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which brought 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35 to the United States in 2014 and 2015. Fellows take academic courses in business, civic engagement and public administration and receive leadership training. Some also participate in internships. What they take home is access to new opportunities, seed funding and useful skill sets to help build their own communities.

Participants in the fellowship are selected from almost 50,000 applicants. Next year, there are plans to double the number of participants to 1,000, as well as to develop an exchange program where 80 Americans are sent to Africa to work with alumni of the fellowship program.

Each applicant has his or her own story and set of experiences that make them valuable contributors to the fellowship. For example, Grace Alache Jerry, Miss Wheelchair Nigeria, is a spokesperson for people with disabilities, founder of her own nonprofit organization and organizer of a series of benefit concerts.

Eldine Chilembo is an advocate for women’s empowerment in the maritime industry in Angola. Noluthando Duma helps orphans in her South African Province of KwaZulu Natal and hopes to develop a home to provide resources to such children.

Kenyan Kezy Mukiri said of her experience in the fellowship, “What I’m taking back with me is humanity. We need to connect; the world is becoming a global village.”

The bringing together of such inspired, dedicated minds is an undoubtedly noble cause. President Obama summed up the goal of the movement nicely at his speech at this year’s Washington Summit.

“Our hope is. . . when you have all gone on to be ministers in government or leaders in business or pioneers of social change, that you will still be connecting with each other, that you will still be learning from each other.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: Insidevoa, Miami Herald, NPR, State, Voanews, Young African Leaders
Photo: The White House Blog