The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched in 2014 as a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of State, and the U.S. African Development Bank (USADF). The YALI Network provides resources that empower young emerging leaders in Africa through academic courses and leadership training, and helps them develop skills in Business and Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership, Public Management, and other relevant topics in international development. This summer, The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders brought 700 outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of 25 and 35 to Washington, DC. This program hosts fellows at a college or university in the United States for six weeks, allowing them to take academic classes for professional development. After they complete their courses, the fellows come to DC to network and share what they have learned. This year’s YALI Expo, the fifth annual gathering of its kind, took place at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC on July 31st.
Counterpart oversees the YALI program, implemented by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). This year, some of Counterpart’s summer interns had the opportunity to spend time at the Expo and watch as the YALI fellows were able to interact with representatives from Counterpart’s Africa Programs team, ask questions, and exchange ideas.
“We spent six weeks here, and we have met wonderful people, and I think that is the major idea, to get to know people from across Africa doing different things, and the world too. The most interesting part is learning all this information, going back home and expanding on that knowledge, and applying what we learned. I personally, I have discovered myself, my personality, and skills that I never thought I could have.” said Oluwaseun Ishola, one of the fellows who came from Nigeria.
Maria Martinez, Counterpart’s communications intern, chatted with Ishola about the expectations placed on her and her community, and what youth can do to help make Africa stronger: “I think young people need to stop complaining, and take the next step, take action that will push you to achieve your goal or commitment. No matter how hard it could be, the most important thing is stop complaining, do something, and not keep waiting for a solution.” shared Ishola.
Dorice Habwe Anderse, a YALI fellow from Kenya, talked about what her next step will be after the program: “I want to apply all that I learned during this fellowship because my dream is to create my own organization. So I can engage with my community, and educate them concerning government issues and constitutional law. I have to say, I enjoyed these six weeks here in the United States. I did not realize how valuable this program could be for my life. I am convinced that this opportunity opened my eyes and I will work hard for my people.”
Fellows like Anderse will continue to receive support from Counterpart and the YALI program after they return to their home countries. The YALI program provides continued opportunities for professional development, including networking; internships with institutions in the public, private and non-profit sectors; one-on-one mentoring with industry leaders; grants to speak at key events; access to seed funding; and community service activities developing skills in critical areas such as civic leadership, public management, nutrition, global health, education, business, and entrepreneurship.
Fellows will return to their own countries and continue to build the skills they developed in the United States. This opportunity is remarkable for this group of youth because they are learning best practices to combat poverty and promote good health, quality education, clean water, and sustainable cities and communities. For Counterpart, the challenge is to keep working and building the capacity of African civil society organizations for this new generation of youth who are eager to work for their communities. They are learning from each other and from global experts, so they can be prepared to combine the best tools to create solutions to various political, economic, and social issues that will change lives throughout Africa.