Mandela-Washington Fellowship Young African Leaders Initiative 2017
On August 1, 2017, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) joined nearly 100 organizations and agencies who currently have programs in Africa at the Mandela-Washington Fellowship’s flagship Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Expo. The Expo provided the opportunity for IFES to engage with the 1,000 YALI participants in Washington D.C. for the five-day program. The summit marked the end of its annual merit-based fellowship, which included networking events, discussions, and speeches from prominent figures intended to inspire the next generation of African leaders. The participants represent some of the best and brightest of Africa, including members from all 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. While meeting with participants, topics covered by IFES included the importance of women’s participation in the political process, disability rights initiatives, capacity building and the use of technology by electoral commissions.
Each of the YALI participants attended seminars and workshops at U.S.-based universities where these business and community leaders, aged 25 to 35, partake in six weeks of academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. Host institutes focus on leadership and skills development in one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, or public management. Former U.S. President Barack Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders as they grow and prosper, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Sub-Saharan Africa. The Mandela-Washington fellowship was launched under YALI in 2014 and acts as the closing summit to the program.
During conversations with YALI participants, one unifying sentiment emerged from every interaction whether conversing with a documentary filmmaker from Zimbabwe, a political activist from Nigeria, or a women’s rights NGO worker from Burkina Faso: each participant was ready to take up anti-apartheid advocate and former South African President Nelson Mandela’s legacy of leading by example to create lasting change within their local communities. As Mandela once said, “It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” There is little doubt that this year’s fellows intend to follow these words and change lives in extraordinary ways.
Throughout the afternoon, IFES Africa team members spoke to many passionate, engaged, and caring individuals who aspired to make their voices heard. Through the Mandela-Washington fellowship, they have learned useful skills and forged personal connections with other leaders to ensure the realization of this goal. While conversing with the fellows, many were interested in working with IFES in their own countries. One youth program leader from Burkina Faso expressed her desire to work with IFES to promote civic education among members of her local NGO. Another participant from Zimbabwe discussed his position as the youngest councilor in Zimbabwe and the national chairperson of the Youth Forum Zimbabwe; he was inspired to network with groups like IFES to further his goal of encouraging young people to run for public office. Overall, IFES was able to successfully connect with a wide range of individuals who welcomed the initiatives that IFES offers to promote the integrity of the electoral process.
As the program draws to a close, participants have access to continued resources. In Africa, there are Regional Leadership Centers located in Pretoria, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; and Dakar, Senegal representing major regions across the continent where alumni of the program can continue to receive support and guidance. Ultimately, the event linked motivated and energetic young people with organizations that have the ability to support them on their path of leadership, whether that path is in health education, political participation, entrepreneurship or a new innovation. Through participating in the event, IFES was able to educate fellows on the importance of their voice in crafting democratic and inclusive futures.