The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which began in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. The Fellowship provides outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return back to their home countries.
Fellows engage in Academic and Leadership Institutes, meet with U.S. federal, state, and local government officials, participate in community service, visit organizations to gain professional development, and make friendships and professional contacts with Americans. Here Ruth Mumba, Abundance Malawi's Director describes her journey.
My Mandela Washington fellowship journey started in 2015 when I saw fellow Malawians being selected to be part of the program. I told myself that one day, I would be part of the fellowship program. In September 2018, I started the application process for the 2019 intake. I took time to write about my leadership journey both at my full-time job and as a Director and volunteer of Abundance worldwide. During the application process, I kept affirming to myself that I was going to be a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow.
In March of 2019, while attending my master study classes in France, I received an email that solidified my belief of speaking things into existence. I was selected to be a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow under the Public Management track. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life. I could not believe it. I was screaming and shaking. I was overwhelmed with joy!
On 19 June 2019, I left Malawi for University of California-Davis in the United States of America to participate in the six week long program. I was nervous. I was going to meet other exceptional young African leaders who had achieved so much in their field of expertise. But I also realised I was going to make lifelong friendships and partnerships because all of us, even though we were coming from different parts of Africa, we were all working to transform a continent we call home.
Arrival In Sacramento, California
From the beginning of the program I and the other twenty-three fellows were immersed in lectures, site visits, networking opportunities and leadership development tasks. One of the best experiences I heard that during the leadership development program were the Ignite talks. An Ignite talk is a five-minute presentation given on an idea to spark thought and action of an audience. To give a powerful presentation, I had to practice the speech several times, hone into my emotions and be aware of body my body language. Body language can make or break a speech. It has the power to captivate or destruct an audience. Our leadership development coach, Oliver Hack, was an amazing man who made sure that we were all transformed into the best versions of ourselves when it came to giving presentations.
The program allowed us to network with American peers. I met with a girl called Angelica who runs a volunteer program focusing on helping young people to see the importance of public service. Through her organisation NextGov, she and other volunteers run campaigns focusing on the youth to actively seek out and choose public service so as to be in a position to enact the change they want to see. From her, I had an experience how she distributes roles in her organisation so that she is not overwhelmed. It was an amazing time meeting with young people pursuing academic careers and research.
We also had opportunities to meet with mayors and law makers who shared with us their personal experiences in their leadership journeys. The Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, shared her personal story, growing up in poverty, experiencing the hardships and the struggle of housing that people face. As a lawmaker and a mayor, she is now working tirelessly to address the hardships she faced growing up. Making sure more young people do not fall in the trap of poverty and fall into problems therein associated. She encouraged us to be relentless in our role as leaders. We must learn to use our personal experiences to fuel our passion for social change.
As leaders, it is of paramount importance to give back to the community. The fellowship gave us a chance to get involved in community service. In collaboration with different community groups in California, Davis, we harvested agriculture produce for a food bank, cooked and provided food for the homeless. We planted and pruned trees at a local park. From this experience, I learnt how to organise similar small impactful events that can transform our community as well as an individual’s life.
It was not always work and no play. We were hosted by the Davis Network for africans where we were welcomed by the mayor of Davis and shared food and dance.We celebrated the 4th of July celebration with a BBQ and fireworks. To experience more of the American culture, we were invited to dinner reception to mix food culture and networking.
I also learnt a few Sudanese dance steps.
It was amazing listening to keynote speakers like Dr Ben Carson, the assistant secretary of state, Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs and the Malawian innovator, engineer an author William Kamkwamba.
Six weeks flew by so quickly it felt like it was a lapse in time. We were honoured with our institutional certificates and prepared for the Mandela Washington Summit in Washington DC. This is where all the selected 700 Mandela Washington Fellows would converge for networking, brainstorming, breakout sessions and panel discussions under the theme of Inspiring innovation and Growth through Leadership. Overall, it was a fulfilling and life changing fellowship!
Reflections and Blogposts by Abundance members and friends
The blog posts here are a collection of reflections by people who have supported Abundance,or visited Mbando village where we work.