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The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs virtually hosted 700 of the brightest young leaders from all 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa at the 2021 Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit  on August 3 and 4, 2021. The Fellows engaged with U.S. government officials and private sector representatives during networking events, a Partnership Expo, and panel discussions.

The Summit also celebrated the Fellows’ completion of their six-week virtual Leadership Institutes , hosted by 26 U.S. educational institutions. Fellows focused on one of the three Fellowship themes: Business, Civic Engagement, and Public Management.

2021 Mandela Washington Fellows in Ghana gathered to celebrate the conclusion of the Leadership Institutes and their Fellowship accomplishments. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Accra

“We’re eager to see all that the future will bring – and how the seeds that we’ve planted together will bloom,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Fellows in his Summit welcome message . In this way, rather than marking the end of a Fellow’s journey, the Summit is the beginning of a new stage in their leadership path.

During the Summit, eight Fellows spoke during the Ignite Talk Showcase, a five-minute Ted Talk-style presentation. Two reflected on how their Fellowship has equipped them with new leadership skills:

“My favorite part of the Fellowship was learning about my weaknesses. I used to wonder why I had plans that wouldn’t go through. [Through the Fellowship] I learned about how to strengthen my organization, manage my anxieties, and how I want to change the world as a leader,” said Public Management Fellow Dorothy Joseph . Dorothy is ready to apply the skills she learned during her Fellowship through Bridgewater State University to her disability advocacy work in Kenya.

2021 Business Fellow Hastings Golosi  said he learned to change weaknesses into strengths during his Fellowship with Rutgers University. Hastings credited the Fellowship for its ability “to be one of the most exciting programs [he has] participated in. Starting from day one up to the end.” Hastings will continue to promote youth entrepreneurship in Malawi as a filmmaker and entrepreneur.

Building Cross-Cultural Connections

The Fellowship cultivates the next generation of leaders in fields such as civil rights, youth empowerment, climate change, gender equality, poverty eradication, and public health, and is an integral part of the relationship between the United States and the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. To build connections and foster collaboration, academic experts, local public servants, and business and civil society leaders from the United States networked with Fellows during the program and at the Summit.

This engagement enriches the exchange experience for Fellows, and can also lead to new opportunities for Americans. “The experience of working with young leaders across Africa was instrumental in shaping the vision and model of our business in our early years, which operates on the continent,” said American Reciprocal Exchange participant, Josh Shefner, Founder and CEO of Agricycle Global. Reflecting upon his networking experience at the Summit, Josh stated, “Fellows have been a part of our story at every turn, from leading country operations to advising our work with smallholders, women, and youth.”

A Resilient Cohort Capable of Greatness 

Summit speakers reflected on the themes of resilience, diversity, and inclusion throughout the two days. CEO of the Africa Center Dr. Uzodinma Iweala delivered a thought-provoking keynote designed to inspire Fellows to become great leaders. “All of our journeys must be towards an open heart because the project ahead of us is…about the connection between people and between narratives,” Dr. Iweala told Fellows in his address. “We young Africans have a chance to be fully inclusive in our thinking. That’s where greatness lies.”

Following the Summit, 70 competitively selected Fellows will participate in six weeks of virtual professional development  with U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies, and government agencies.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). YALI is the U.S government’s signature effort to invest in young African leaders, and it offers four continent-based Regional Leadership Centers and an online YALI network with more than 700,000 members.

2021 Fellows remained resilient throughout the program and attended a Summit watch event in Ghana. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Accra

Videos  of the Summit are available online.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders  is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX .

About the Author: Ian Knight is a United States Foreign Service Internship Program (USFSIP) intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. 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.

U.S. Department of State

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