Every U.S. Department of State exchange program has a life cycle. Anticipation builds for participants as their U.S. arrival date approaches. You can feel the excitement as they learn about American culture or network during conferences. This year has been different for everyone, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, and exchange programs are no exception. In response to the pandemic, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) staff began exploring ways to engage virtually with participants who could not travel to the United States as planned. YALI is the U.S. government’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders, and its flagship Mandela Washington Fellowship exchange program quickly pivoted to develop virtual programming for participants. Officially launched in 2014 with 500 Fellows, the Mandela Washington Fellowship is now a thriving network of nearly 4,400 young African leaders.
This summer, the Mandela Washington Fellowship created a new online Fellowship Portal for participants and alumni. The Portal includes lectures and panel discussions on issues such as navigating a business in uncertain times or identifying market needs and gaps. The content is available to alumni and selected finalists and alternates for the 2021 cohort. Leadership Institute Partners across the United States are developing the content in close coordination with implementing partner IREX, and they use discussion boards, action plans, and other tools to encourage engagement. With courses launching every two weeks since mid-July, Mandela Washington Fellowship participants from the business, civic engagement, and public management tracks will have access to dynamic and relevant content through the end of the year.
“In all the chaos of COVID-19, the Fellowship Portal was a very much welcomed resource! The course ‘Navigating a Business in Uncertain Times’ provided me with knowledge and tools that have allowed my business to be profitable in these very difficult times!” – Joan Enoh, 2019 Fellowship Alumna, Cameroon
By coordinating with the Prosper Africa Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellowship team launched a course on September 9 entitled “Opportunities and Strategies to Promote Partnerships with U.S. Businesses.” Developed in partnership with Rutgers University, the course prominently features Prosper Africa with an introduction by the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Tibor Nagy.
“For 10 years, YALI has supported economic growth in Africa by empowering youth to take control of their own future. Now, Prosper Africa has joined these efforts.” – Bureau of African Affairs Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy
Participants learned in the course that Prosper Africa is a U.S. Government initiative that aims to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa. The Initiative creates jobs and fosters shared prosperity for the United States and Africa by connecting U.S. and African businesses and investors with new trade and investment opportunities.
Since Prosper Africa launched in June 2019, the Initiative has directly supported more than 280 business deals across more than 30 African countries for a total value of over $22 billion. Many of these deals include small and medium-sized businesses, “the engines of our economies and a major focus for Prosper Africa,” according to Prosper Africa Chief Operating Officer Victoria Whitney.
Prosper Africa not only generates positive benefits for the global economy, but it also provides growth opportunities for business owners. One female entrepreneur based in Nigeria has secured $4.4 million for her company, Tomato Jos, with Prosper Africa support. A Ghanaian mother-daughter duo ramped up production of their shea butter product, Mother’s Shea, to sell in hundreds of Target stores across the United States. In August 2020, a Colorado company signed a deal with the government of Djibouti to build a $190 million Renewable Energy Park that will create 100 local jobs.
Through interagency coordination, the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s virtual programming module highlighted Prosper Africa resources and success stories that could inspire the next generation of leaders on the continent. Although events in 2020 have temporarily changed the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the U.S. Government continues to provide valuable services, information, and trade and investment tools to U.S. and African entities.
Connect with the Mandela Washington Fellowship at https://www.mandelawashingtonfellowship.org/.
Connect with Prosper Africa at https://prosperafrica.dfc.gov/.
About the Author: Maegen Smith serves as a Program Officer on the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
About the Author: Nina Prieur is the Senior Communications Advisor for Prosper Africa, a U.S. Government initiative to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa.