Forty-two Zimbabwean youth will soon be heading to the United States for six weeks, as participants of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), that started in 2014.
The fellows, aged between 25 and 35, and who comprise business, civic and community leaders from different parts of Zimbabwe, will be placed in several U.S. colleges and universities where they will receive some training, ranging from academic, leadership and networking.
“This year we are really excited to be sending 42 Mandela Washington Fellows to the United States,” said Stacy Lomba, Information Officer of the United States Embassy in Zimbabwe.
“They will be participating in the different tracks we have in the program, both the civic leadership and the business entrepreneurship,” she explained.
According to the YALI official page, 700 youth from across Sub-Saharan Africa will participate in the 2019 fellowship, named after the late South Africa leader, Nelson Mandela.
Lomba explained that while the number of participants from Zimbabwe dropped from 60-last year to 42, Zimbabwe still has a larger number of participants than other countries with even larger populations like Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Lomba said the drop is due to budget cuts.
“It’s just broad budget cuts across the board, not specific to Zimbabwe. Its really something that affected all the countries that participate. But I will say that Zimbabwe still has, per capita, more fellows participating compared with countries that are with much bigger population like Nigeria, Ethiopia. Our numbers still compare, so we are really proud of that,” Lomba said.
YALI was launched in 2014 by former U.S. President Barack Obama, in an effort to empower young African leaders.
Executive director Mischek Gondo of the National Association of Youth Organizations applauded the Mandela Washington Program and the leadership opportunities it offers Zimbabwe’s youth.
Gondo also said the program was fitting as it honors Mandela, who was committed to service.
“There is also the issue of social-economic transformation,” said Gondo. “The program comes from one of our icon, which is Mandela, and Mandela was there to serve his community, so young people are trained to be responsible leaders at community level and also transform their community through effective participation.
According to the program website, all fellows are expected to return to their countries of origin after completion of the six-week program, to help develop their countries, “through support from U.S. embassies, the YALI Network, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S State Department and affiliated partners.”
However, there is an exception for 70 fellows who stay for an extended period.
“Seventy selected Fellows remain in the United States to participate in a four-week Professional Development Experience with U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies, and governmental agencies that relate to their professional interests and goals. The PDE is designed to give Fellows practical training and the opportunity to learn transferable skills, expand their professional networks, and apply concepts learned at their Institutes to real-world situations in the U.S. context,” reads the YALI official website.