A Fellowship Is Empowering Young People in Africa to Carry on Mandela’s Legacy
“You’re young, you’re talented, optimistic. You’re already showing you can make a difference.”
The late statesman and former president Nelson Mandela believed that young people have everything it takes to empower their communities.
During his Youth Day address in 1995, Mandela told residents of Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal that “this generation of youth stands at the border-line between the past of oppression and repression, and the future of prosperity, peace, and harmony.”
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It’s for this reason that the Mandela Washington Fellowship works to support young African people through a once-in-a-lifetime civic leadership, business, and public management training programme.
The aim is to help transform Mandela’s hopes for a prosperous future for Africa into a reality — by upskilling its youth.
Some 250 young African leaders — including young people from South Africa — are chosen out of hundreds of applications. Those selected get to participate in the year-long training programme, which is held in Washington D.C., in the United States (US).
The initiative was founded by former US President, and friend of Mandela, Barack Obama, with the hope of empowering more young African leaders to run successful and impactful organisations.
Obama established the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) after visiting some parts of Africa, and seeing the conditions in which most people, mainly poor, were finding themselves.
During his 2016 address in Washington D.C., Obama said he launched the programme because he had always believed that a person can change their communities while changing their lives.
“I believe that one person can be a force for positive change; that one person, as Bobby Kennedy famously said when he visited Soweto, that one person can be like a stone, a pebble thrown in a lake, creating ripples -- ripples of hope, he called it,” Obama said in the address. “And that’s especially true for all of you. You’re young, you’re talented, optimistic. You’re already showing you can make a difference.”
We really had an amazing insightful discussion that uplifted our sprit With the Mandela Washington fellowship alumni,@YALIRLCWA DTTR facilitator and author @AmadouChico with his first ever book. @YALIRLCEA#MyDayinYALIRLCEA@USAIDEthiopia#YALITransformation@USEmbassyAddispic.twitter.com/LwrOyu0Xc2— Nathan Baheru (@Tnathanti) December 16, 2018
While many of the young people involved come from poorer communities, according to the YALI website, they haven’t let the conditions they were brought up in affect their hopes for a better future.
And the initiatives of these young people, in different ways, have benefited hundreds if not thousands of people in their respective communities.
One of these young people is Uzochukwa Mbamalu, from Nigeria, and one of the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellows — who represented 48 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
“To describe in one word what was achieved by spending two months in America, the best answer would be ‘justification,’” Mbamalu wrote, in an account of his fellowship.
“It was six weeks of personal transformation and reaffirmation of everything I believed in,” he continued. “That entrepreneurship is the most sustainable way to solve a problem; that great businesses are not built in a day; that I should trust the process; and that we can achieve the seemingly impossible when we come together for the greater good. “
“With the new tools and confidence boost that have been given to me, I will keep acting local (focus on the energy industry in Nigeria) while thinking global,” he added. “I will keep forming both local and international partnerships for the purpose of solving the energy poverty problem through entrepreneurship.”
According to the YALI website, the organisation’s ambition for the next year is to triple the intake — to get 700 young people participating in the programme.
“In 2019, the fellowship will provide 700 outstanding young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return home,” said the organisation.
Young people between the ages of 25 and 35 who have projects that promote the livelihoods of citizens, and inspire positive change through innovation, are also urged to take part in future fellowships.
Those applying, according to YALI, should have records of their accomplishments in promoting innovation, and be able to demonstrate how they have positively impacted their organisations, institutions, communities, and countries.
While the application process for 2019 has closed, keep your eyes peeled on the website for the 2020 intake, and find out more about the application process here.