Hundreds of young African leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Selected from a pool of more than 38,000 applicants, the nearly 700 Fellows strengthened their skills and exchanged ideas with leaders from Africa and the United States. Since its inception in 2014, the annual Summit has fostered the development of long-lasting relationships that support and expand U.S.–Africa cooperation toward achieving shared goals on the African continent.
Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce opened the Summit by underlining the goals of the Fellowship: “You have each demonstrated leadership skills, and you exemplify the mission of our bureau: to build mutual understanding between people in the United States and others around the world.”
“The Fellowship has been one of the most exciting chapters of my life,” said Arcénia Notilija Vilanculo, a Mandela Washington Fellow from Mozambique. “I’ve met amazing young leaders from different countries across Africa and built new relationships with Americans. I’m super excited about the future.”
Held July 29 through July 31, the Summit marked the culmination of six weeks of leadership training at 27 educational institutions across the United States, in a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Throughout the program, Fellows develop connections with Americans and establish networks with other young leaders from across Africa.
United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, speaking at the opening plenary of the Summit, challenged the Fellows to work together to create change in their communities: “Everyone here has a sphere of influence and the ability to get people thinking in a positive direction. You—and this Summit—give me hope that we can do just that.”
Throughout the Summit, speakers expressed how inspired they were by the Fellows’ accomplishments, enthusiasm, and plans for community projects at home, and each speaker offered advice. “I am encouraging you to take all that you have, all that you have been given, to go home and do something totally disruptive,” said Kay Coles James, President of The Heritage Foundation, during her keynote address. “Too much has been given to you to be mediocre. You have an obligation to the people who have sacrificed.”
During the Summit’s Networking Reception, held at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Fellows engaged with American professionals in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, representatives from the African diplomatic corps, and approximately 30 members of the Pan African Diaspora Youth Association, setting the stage for continued collaboration when Fellows return home. At a Partnership Expo, American companies and organizations highlighted their work and connected with the next generation of African decision-makers.
The U.S. Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Ambassador Tibor Nagy, encouraged Fellows to draw on the power of the YALI network to advance their work: “Stay connected with each other. Mentor each other. Inspire each other.”
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX.