On July 18, we celebrate Mandela Day and honor the first fully democratically elected leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who led the transition from minority rule and apartheid. He inspired a legacy that lives on far beyond the borders of South Africa.
The United Nations officially declared July 18 as Mandela Day in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on July 18, 2010. Commemorated on Mandela’s birthday, the day encourages everyone to make a difference in their local communities. Mandela Day is truly an occasion for all to take action and help change the world for the better.
To commemorate Mandela Day, the digital Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network hosts an annual YALIServes campaign to promote servant leadership and encourage YALI Network members to positively contribute to their communities. The 2021 YALIServes campaign highlights the spirit of volunteerism and empowers YALI Alumni and YALI Network members to help their communities recover from COVID-19 through small acts of service, either virtually or in-person.
Since the launch of YALIServes in 2017, YALI Network members have held more than 5,000 community service events in honor of Mandela Day, many led by the alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship who are leaders in taking action and inspiring positive change in their communities. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders was established in 2014 and serves as YALI’s flagship program. Since 2014, the Mandela Washington Fellowship has brought nearly 4,400 young leaders from every country in Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States for academic and leadership training.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship selection process is an open competition. The Fellows, between the ages of 25 and 35, are innovators and leaders in their communities and countries. Up to 100 competitively-selected Fellows work with private, public, and non-profit organizations in the United States for six weeks. Both Fellows and their American hosts benefit from discussing shared issues and challenges in their sectors, broadening their perspectives, and positioning U.S. organizations for international engagement.
Local communities hosting the Fellows also benefit from these exchanges. In the spirit of Mandela Day, Fellows contributed more than 39,000 hours of community service to U.S. organizations and social services from 2016 to 2019. Fellows have completed 136,000 hours of professional training at over 275 companies, organizations, and government agencies in 29 states and the District of Columbia. And, since 2015, U.S. citizens from 35 states and the District of Columbia have traveled to 42 countries in Africa for a Reciprocal Exchange . These partnerships and professional connections are intended to increase mutual understanding, expand markets and networks, and form lasting relationships — something we are seeing happen among the Fellowship’s Alumni.
Many Fellowship Alumni continue to build the skills and connections developed during the program through access to ongoing professional development, networking, and collaboration opportunities with support from the U.S. Department of State and affiliated partners. The Fellowship continues to support alumni through virtual programming to help strengthen their leadership development and their access to networks and resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fellowship leveraged stakeholder expertise to deliver a suite of virtual programming focused on strategic leadership during times of crisis. Since its launch in July 2020, nearly 1,800 individuals have accessed the portal’s courses, resources, and collaborative network.
Fellowship Alumni have also shown resiliency by serving their communities throughout the pandemic using small grants offered by the Department of State’s Office of Alumni Affairs. For instance, 2016 Fellowship Alumnus Nkosana Mazibisa received a grant to improve access to professional development resources in Zimbabwe. With many citizens having been negatively affected by the economic crisis that came with COVID-19, the need for readily accessible support is greater than ever. He created the Asakhane BisaWork electronic platform to provide users access to virtual offices, entrepreneurial resources, digital marketing tools, and an e-commerce market during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform has been incredibly successful since its launch last year, spurring the creation of a number of other companies and networking opportunities.
As we celebrate Mandela Day, take a moment to learn more about YALI and the Mandela Washington Fellowship and consider how you can make a difference in your community.
For more information on the Mandela Washington Fellowship, please visit our website .
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.