Early this year, 700 out of the over 50,000 applicants from Sub-Saharan Africa were selected by the United States government to take part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (MWF-YALI).
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative is a program aimed at empowering young leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, community service, and networking.
Each Mandela Washington Fellow takes part in a six-week Leadership Institute at a U.S. college or university in one of three tracks: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management.
We were among the 700 fellows selected and were based at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia under the Public Management Track. The school primarily focuses on equipping the fellows with hands-on leadership and policymaking skills which includes tax and trade policies.
While there have been a lot of lessons learned from this invaluable experience, the most notable lesson was on forming successful collaborations. This article summarizes two key take-aways from a collaboration point of view.
Establishing Long-Term Meaningful Relationships
One of the central themes of the fellowship was to create new long-lasting partnerships and collaborations. We had a very diverse group of fellows consisting of doctors, lawyers, accountants, professors, and advisors. The diversity of our background is what made our sessions more insightful. The sessions encouraged us to keep an open mind, listen with empathy and seek innovation from sources we would ordinarily not consider. Apart from forming partnerships based on similar interests, we took the Clifton Strengths assessment and were encouraged to partner with fellows who have complementing strengths who could be our accountability partners.
Shared Understanding of the African Union Agenda 2063
Mandela Fellows are passionate about the development of a united Africa and our cohort echoed this sentiment. From doctors working on the provision of health care in conflict areas in Cameroon to accountants who advocate for proper regulations and accountability of private sector firms in Botswana, just to mention a few. Being in the fellowship and taking deep dives on understanding the issues and opportunities in other African countries and how we can collaborate to drive change was one of the highlights of our experience. Going by the adage that “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” we are of the stance that the relationships we have formed during the fellowship can be used as a tool towards contributing to the achievement of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.
In the Agenda 2063, the AU members laid down aspirations related to inclusive growth, integration, Pan-Africanism, good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, peace and security. The Agenda further reiterates the goal to have an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential offered by African people, especially its women and youth.
Often, successful transformations begin with several fundamental elements including a clear vision and a robust roadmap and tools such as partnerships that explain how the vision will be realized. Similarly, for the Agenda 2063, it’s undoubtedly visible that Africa is on course towards achieving its agenda but collaborations could steer the agenda forward.
According to Dr. Sharon L. Hill, the academic director for the MWF-YALI Institute at Georgia State University, a shared understanding of the AU Agenda 2063 among the Fellows, creates stronger opportunities for collaborations among young African leaders.
While we do appreciate that there are other factors beyond partnerships and collaborations that influence the Agenda 2063, forming collaborations is the main contributor to this and should not be ignored.
The hope is that this will trigger a virtuous cycle of new businesses, which in turn will drive the structural transformation of economies which in turn will produce better paid jobs and make an impact on the economy. In other words, young African leaders should take advantage of the enabling conditions to ensure that foreign and local partnerships are created. The goal must be to ensure that Africa achieves the Agenda 2063 while it remains competitive on the continent and abroad.
The fellowship wasn’t just about attending classes, going to site visits and networking but rather, identifying collaboration opportunities that will lead towards the betterment of the continent and participate in realising the vision of the African Union for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.
Anita Kundy (email@example.com) and Aimee Dushime (firstname.lastname@example.org) are Mandela Washington Fellows at Andrew Young School of Policy Studies (AYSPS). The views and opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of AYSPS.