"There's huge opportunity...in Africa," said Stephen Cashin, CEO of Pan-African Capital. The continent's intractable problems such as malaria and other public health crises, he said, do not need to be holding the continent back. because they can be addressed. The audience -- an eclectic group gathered at the Palomar in Washington, D.C. -- applauded in agreement. With participants from the Central African Republic, Kenya, and even the tiny island of Mauritius, the event brought together young entrepreneurs from across Africa to help promote growth on the continent.
Since mid-June, 62 young African business and social entrepreneurs have been networking and interacting with peers and mentors in the United States under the Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership with Young African Leaders implemented by the Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs in coordination with Meridian International. The two-day Innovation Summit at the Palomar kicked off the experience before the participants traveled to business internships across the country through the Mentoring Partnership.
The Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership programs fall under the President's Young African Leader Initiative, a U.S. government effort to engage talented African youths who have already brought significant prosperity and social change to their respective communities. Six of the world's ten fastest-growing economies over the past decade were in Sub-Saharan Africa. By forming mutually beneficial partnerships at this crucial time, the United States can help alleviate poverty and promote economic growth.
U.S. embassies throughout Africa selected the participants for their achievements and potential for promoting entrepreneurship on the African continent. One participant, Clarisse Karungi Iribagiza of Rwanda, is the CEO of HeHe Limited, a leading mobile applications company in East Africa. Another participant, Mr. Joajuim Llisses Catinda of Angola, leads KixiCredito, a micro-finance institution currently implementing a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that aims to increase access to financial services in remote areas.
On June 13, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to the participants and called them ambassadors of their respective countries for the duration of their internship with business and not-for-profit mentors. The participants, many of whom have never visited the United States before, were encouraged to educate Americans about their home countries and the exciting new developments underway on the continent.
Before dispersing across the United States, the African youths engaged with speakers visiting from institutions such as the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, and McKinsey & Company. They also heard from top U.S. government officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and high-level representatives from Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum and USAID. One of the most useful aspects of the program, however, was the interactions among the peer contacts in the room.
These programs firmly support the first and fourth pillars of President Barack Obama's recently released U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa: spurring economic growth and promoting opportunity and development. The Bureau of African Affairs is proudly providing entrepreneurs with the tools and contacts they need to make an impact and for the United States to form lasting relationships with the next generation of African leaders.