Humphrey School News

Mandela Washington Fellows: Four Years of Global Impact

June 16, 2017
Mandela Washington Fellows 2016

For the fourth straight summer, the University of Minnesota is welcoming 25 of Africa’s most accomplished emerging leaders for a six-week academic and leadership institute known as the Mandela Washington Fellowship. And the experiences of previous fellows help demonstrate the program’s growing impact across Africa and here in Minnesota, as well.

The fellowship is hosted on campus by the Center for Integrative Leadership, an initiative of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and several other colleges at the University.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship,  run by the U.S. State Department, each year places 1,000 young African leaders at higher education institutions across the country for six weeks of academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, and professional opportunities.

Merrie Benasutti, who directs the program for the Center for Integrative Leadership, says the fellows take the leadership skills they develop during the program and implement them back home. And over the past three years, they have kept her informed of their successes.

Benasutti has heard from Tessa Dooms in South Africa, a 2016 fellow, who received a small grant to start a public achievement pilot program, and Thatcher Ng’ong’a in Kenya, another 2016 fellow, who secured a $250,000 grant from a local agency to establish a community-based youth project. The negotiations took only a few hours, she said, unlike previous years when the process stretched out for weeks. 

“I used some lessons I learned from the fellowship to sharpen my negotiating skills,” Ng’ong’a said, calling it her “first win” after completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship. “I am super excited and thankful to you for putting together what will obviously be a life-changing experience for me.”

The stories we hear from the fellows are stories about small wins,” said Benasutti. “But I believe it’s the series of small wins that really propels an organization or a country forward.”

Another important aspect of the program is how it fosters cooperation among fellows who maintain their relationships after they return to their different countries. “We’ve done a good job of creating a cohort of learners who are staying connected and supporting each other,” said Benasutti.

The benefits of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program extend to Minnesota, as well. The fellows spend a great deal of time out in the community, visiting nonprofit groups, government agencies, health care facilities, and large corporations like Medtronic. The sharing of information and expertise is a two-way street, according to Benasutti.

Some former participants—including those who have completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship at other U.S. institutions—have chosen to continue their education at the University of Minnesota.

Two former fellows just received their Master of Development Practice degrees from the Humphrey School last month: June Nkwenge of Uganda, who is a research assistant at the Humphrey School; and Nfamara Dampha from Gambia, who will study climate change as he pursues a PhD at the University.

A third former fellow, Bobwealth Omontese of Nigeria, is conducting post-doctoral research on cattle reproduction at the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  

Other fellows have gone on to study at places like Harvard and Columbia, Benasutti noted. She calls them “real change makers,” and said the U. S. benefits from their skills and leadership.

This year’s cohort arrives at the University of Minnesota this weekend. The group includes six medical doctors, another half dozen educators, and leaders of various government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (the 2016 cohort is pictured above, with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison).

“Not only is it an opportunity for these young leaders, it’s a wonderful opportunity for our community to get to know people from other countries,” Benasutti said. “I believe that public diplomacy isn’t just government to government; it’s person to person. We learn a lot from each other, and that should continue.”

About the Mandela Washington Fellowship

The fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), established in 2010 by former President Obama to support young African leaders as they seek to encourage growth and prosperity, democratic governance, and peace and security. Some 1,000 fellows from nearly 50 sub-Saharan countries are participating this summer.

The University of Minnesota was selected by the State Department as one of the host institutions that represent the excellence and diversity of higher education in the United States. The fellowship also includes robust programming in Africa, including networking opportunities, continued professional development, and access to seed funding.

The fellowship program is supported in its implementation by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). More information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship is available here. Join the conversation on Twitter with #YALI2017.

 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows at the University of Minnesota

  • Wine Tatiana Camilo, Angola
  • Sènan Elognissè Ursule Amoussou, Benin
  • Fanta carine Zongo, Burkina Faso
  • Alexis Habonimana, Burundi
  • Nangoh Nangoh Maweo, Cameroon
  • Nandjim Kossadoum Corneille, Chad
  • Carine Zere Nzimba, Republic of the Congo
  • Abena Yeboaa Tannor, Ghana
  • David Reed Akolgo, Ghana                 
  • Paschal Awingura Apanga, Ghana        
  • Winnie Anyango Singwa, Kenya
  • Gonkarnue Nuahn, Liberia
  • Clarence-Nocky Kaapehi, Namibia
  • Abdulrasak Opeyemi Ejiwumi, Nigeria
  • Fatou Binetou Ba, Senegal
  • Moth Diop, Senegal
  • Rahma Abdirahman Ahmed, Somalia
  • Roné Deléne McFarlane, South Africa
  • Vuyokazi Abegail Mafilika, South Africa
  • Zola Valashiya, South Africa
  • Immaculate Willbroad Kyamanywa, United Republic of Tanzania
  • Rachel Samuel Nungu, United Republic of Tanzania
  • Rebecca Kasika, United Republic of Tanzania 
  • Hezouwe Moise Akebim, Togo
  • Ian Banda, Zambia

Read biographies of the fellows.

Office of Communications

Humphrey School of Public Affairs
300G Humphrey School
301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

612-625-9436