This summer, 25 young business leaders from Africa – including a Nigerian healthcare professional fighting the national war on synthetic drugs and an award-winning solar energy expert from Ghana – arrived on Yale’s campus to engage in a six-week program centered on business, entrepreneurship and community service.
The brand-new program was hosted by Yale World Fellows, an initiative that brings 16 mid-career professionals from around the world each semester for a four-month program centered on global leadership and interdisciplinary studies. The program is also a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, launched by President Barack Obama.
Yale was one of the 20 universities selected to host the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program in its inaugural year, said Uma Ramiah, communications director for the World Fellows Program. Of 50,000 applicants, only 500 were selected to participant in the initiative.
Ifeyani Awachie ’14, Woodbridge Fellow and Campus Coordinator for YALI at Yale, said the program did not aim to attract young African business leaders to the U.S.
“There was a very clear goal in the opposite direction,” she said. “The idea was to empower and connect and challenge [the participants] while also encouraging them to return to their communities.”
This goal falls in line with Yale’s wider initiative to be more involved with the African continent, Awachie said. She said the program gives Yale a chance to provide young professionals with a chance to work and prosper in Africa.
Ramiah said she thinks the program was particularly valuable to the individuals who came to Yale because of the relationships they established amongst themselves. Though all participants were involved in business and entrepreneurship in some capacity, they all came from a variety of different backgrounds, she said.
Michael Cappello, director of Yale World Fellows, said the new program used a tried and tested model that is already in place for the World Fellows Program.
“The World Fellows Program was confident that we could effectively implement the techniques and experience gleaned from 12 years of leadership development at Yale to a group of slightly younger but highly motivated African entrepreneurs,” he said.
Yale Associate Director for Africa Rachel Adams called the national YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship an opportunity to facilitate leadership development for some of Africa’s most impressive young intrepreneurs.
Valerie Belanger GRD ’06, the managing director for the Yale World Fellows Program, said she is optimistic that this summer’s participants will return to their continent with new knowlege, new connections and more courage.
Belanger added that the most “magical moments” occurred in the classroom where the African leaders interacted with Yale faculty, local entrepreneurs and business executives.
Four YALI Fellows interviewed all said the experience at Yale was positive in rethinking their career outlooks and global perspective.
Jessyca Joyekurun, one of the fellows, who runs an organization which provides outsourcing solutions and employment law advisory to small and medium enterprises, said the program changed her view of her own continent.
“[The program] has enabled me to see that the new Africa that is being built is definitely on the good track with these young leaders on board. They are definitely qualified, outspoken and I will call them ‘leaders in the making,’ or raw diamonds,” she said.
Alonge Adebayo said he appreciated the emphasis on networking and interaction with the host community. He added that he would have expected a more rigorous academic program, though he believes the U.S. State Department likely prevented host universities from imposing a heavy workload.
The YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship culminated in a summit in Washington D.C., which brought together all the African Fellows from the 20 host universities.
YALI Fellow Ethel Cofie said the final summit provided an extraordinary opportunity to meet all sorts of business and government officials, along with the President and First Lady themselves.
But Cofie also commented that 500 people of diverse backgrounds could not have easily bonded over a week in one location. Perhaps there could have been more done to create collaborations across institutions before the D.C. summit, Cofie said.
The program was an overall success, Adams said, but there is still a lot of work to be done – for instance, teaching more African courses and formulating more surveys and cases focused on Africa.
“Yale as an institution is still very light on African content,” she said.
The number of participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship is slated to double by the summer of 2016.