As the Presidential Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders drew to a close this week, I was struck not only by the incredible talent and creativity of the young Africans I met, but also by their courage and determination to bring positive change to their communities.
A Ugandan Fellow, Catherine Anite, said, “The knowledge and information we have gathered might be a privilege to many, so we are obliged to pay it forward upon our return to Africa. Only through enriching others can we claim that the program is beneficial.”
After studying for six weeks at some of America’s top colleges and universities -- learning how to build grassroots organizations, run businesses, and manage institutions -- the Fellows came to Washington for a Summit with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power, and other top leaders from the government, private, and non-profit sectors.
In a town hall discussion, President Obama outlined the lasting commitment the U.S. is making to Africa through the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). He announced important next steps including the expansion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship to double the number of participants to 1000 by 2016. Additionally, President Obama pledged the United States will do even more to support young entrepreneurs with new grants and training opportunities in smaller towns and rural areas. In order to empower young Africans through the YALI Network, new resources such as online courses and mentoring, innovative networking tools, and training sessions with industry experts are now available at YALI.state.gov.
The primary goal of the Young African Leaders Initiative is to help burgeoning African leaders access the skills and resources they need to put their ideas into action. To do this, the U.S. is creating new YALI Regional Leadership Centers (RLC) across Africa. Joining American universities, African institutions, and private sector partners, these centers will provide opportunities for young Africans to network, access the latest technology, and get training in management and entrepreneurship. The first RLCs will open in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya starting next year. We can’t wait to see what develops!
The Mandela Washington Fellowship marks an important milestone in the U.S. relationship with Africa. It is the first international exchange program of its size and scope on the African continent. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the connections built upon the foundation of this year’s cohort.
Because President Obama believes in a strong, prosperous, and self-reliant Africa, he looks forward to hosting next week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where Presidents and Prime Ministers from across Africa will come together in the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African leaders. Some of the Mandela Washington Fellows will participate in events surrounding the Summit.
I join President Obama in thanking the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellows for inspiring us with their talent, motivation, and ambition. As they build the brighter futures they imagine, we will ensure that the United States of America is their friend and partner every step of the way.
Nelson Mandela’s famous words were quoted so many times over the course of the Presidential Summit, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” There are many challenges ahead for Africa’s next generation, but the YALI program brings Africa’s best problem solvers together to make a difference. The connections the U.S. will build with young Africans through YALI have the power overcome what today might seem impossible and define the continent’s future. What I saw over the past week was Africa’s young people aren’t just getting the impossible done -- they’re giving hope to a new generation.
Please also visit state.gov/social/usafrica for more ways you can engage about this topic on social media. And if you are a young African leader, make sure you stay connected with @YALINetwork and yali.state.gov!