Karla Cortes, Contributing Photographer

This past weekend, the second annual Yale Africa Innovation Symposium brought together African innovators and public leaders to discuss the ways the next generation of Africans could steer the continent forward. 

After a year of planning following the first rendition of the conference, the symposium took place in locations around Science Hill over the weekend and featured a keynote speech from Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed and a guest speech from regional Senator Amara Konneh. The event also featured journalist Stephanie Busari, White House Official Deniece Laurent-Mantey and Blacktag startup founder Ousman Sahko Sow to run a series of YAIS-sponsored “Innovation Labs.” 

The symposium included a panelist discussion with African innovators to showcase the work they have done to improve economic conditions on the continent, and it ended with a celebratory gala and talent show at the Omni Hotel, featuring musicians like Nigerian singer, songwriter and record producer Young Jonn. 

“Let me underline here what truly sets Africa apart. It’s the spirit of the young people and their unwavering determination, their boundless imagination, and their relentless pursuit for a better future,” said Mohammed, who currently serves as Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, at the opening ceremony. “From change-makers driving innovation to disruptors, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In every corner of our continent, we see examples of innovation reshaping the landscape.”

The symposium hosted a large number of students from schools across the country and its first international visitors, who were visiting from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Visiting students were hosted by committee members, friends and students around the University who expressed interest in the cultural exchange for the weekend. 

The opening ceremony kicked off with a guest speech by Konneh, who thanked African youth not only as future leaders but as “leaders now.” Konneh attributed the regeneration of Africa to the youth and discussed the importance of democratically elected leaders to steer the continent despite current political strife. He urged the attendants and those part of the African diaspora to create “innovative solutions.” 

The symposium showcased its mission to support tangible solutions in its Innovation Labs, where students worked through case studies with Africa’s foremost leaders in the field to create group resolutions later presented at the closing ceremony. The winning presenters were awarded with the Dr. Ernest Ofori Sarpong Innovation Award, named after a prominent Ghanaian entrepreneur. 

Labs were open to students of all majors and disciplines, even if they did not clearly align with the lab’s theme. Yohanna Mbedgue, a first-year student at American University, told the News that even if her lab with Busari, “Unraveling the Web of Fake News and Misinformation in African Journalism,” was not directly associated with her major in public health as a pre-med student, she valued the experience she had gained. 

“Just because you’re not in the rooms where these things are being decided doesn’t mean you couldn’t be in those rooms,” Maudo Jallow, an advisor for the Gulf Cooperation Council and a panelist at the event, told the News. “So it’s just about preparing people to start thinking in the way … that really critical thinking is needed in order to prove that you can be in those rooms, and when you [are there], to be able to come up with innovative solutions.”

The symposium also hosted a panel discussion titled, “Working With and Within the Continent” with Jallow; Wagaye Johannes, chief DEI officer for World Learning; Martha Phiri, director of human capital, youth and skills development at African Development Bank; Angela Kyeremanteh-Jimoh, Microsoft strategic partnership lead for Africa; and Kadmiel Van Der Puije, CEO of media platform The Voice of Africa. 

Speakers discussed the decision-making process in focusing on Africa for growth. Phiri and Jallow discussed the conscious decision to study abroad to come back to the continent and aid in its development after their education. Kyeremanteh-Jimoh spoke about the possibilities of creating initiatives in the corporate world and the hope that others would come back to Africa to focus on its progress. Johannes also emphasized the importance of collaboration and Van Der Pujie spoke about how success is “all about partnerships.” 

“Look for problems within … the organizations and roles, the societies that you are part of. How are you making yourself visible?” asked Kyeremanteh-Jimoh at the panel.  

During the closing ceremony, Innovation Lab groups presented their resolution slideshows, which aimed to tackle the problem in their lab case studies. David Oyebade, a second-year student at Westmont College, who participated in the “Developing a Digital Transformation Strategy for Ghana” lab, told the News that he had not realized just how practical the solutions would be. 

Oyebade told the News that he left the event with a better understanding of the problem his group was solving. 

“I felt like I was challenged to come to conclusions myself based on the material that I’ve been presented,” Oyebade noted. 

Attendees waited in anticipation as previous YASA President Darren Markwei ’25 spoke about Sarpong’s achievements before announcing the winners of the award. The award was presented to the Economic Transformation Innovation Lab, helmed by Konneh, where students presented a monetary transaction app prototype as their solution to the exchange rate difficulties of African countries to trade with each other. 

The symposium ended with a gala at the Omni Hotel, which featured MC Chiboy and DJ Tidéh along with Young Jonn. Attendees were given a free raffle ticket to win a free Ethiopian Airlines flight to a destination of their choice. Proceeds of all additional ticket purchases went to the Congo Children Trust. The gala featured cultural performances along with traditional African cuisine for all attending to enjoy. 

“We’re solution-oriented here and we can come with a lot of our thoughts and areas of improvement for the continent, said Meg Lambert, a freshman at Hamilton College. “But we’re leaving with tangible connections, we’re leaving with relationship-building skills and potential internships.” 

The inaugural Yale Africa Innovation Symposium was held in November 2022.

Karla Cortes covers International Relations at Yale under the University Desk. She is a first-year in Silliman College majoring in Political Science.