People in business clothes sitting in a row (D.A. Peterson/State Dept.)
Accomplished young leaders from 49 sub-Saharan African countries attended the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit. (D.A. Peterson/State Dept.)

When 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow Fily Keita’s flight home touches down in Mali, she will hit the ground running on a new initiative to decrease youth unemployment and increase food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Keita and four other young professionals from across the continent conceived of a pan-African vocational training program called A5 after they met while studying the business of agriculture at Oklahoma State University this summer. They were at one of 27 colleges and universities across the U.S. that hosted the Mandela Washington Fellows this year.

“Agriculture is a difficult thing. It’s not easy to do, so they give up. I would like to change the mindset,” she said.

A5 is a byproduct of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Pens and paper inscribed with YALI Network (Daniel Durazo/State. Dept.)
The YALI Network gives young people in Africa access to professional development and networking opportunities online. (Daniel Durazo/State Dept.)

Seven hundred young people with exceptional potential as leaders of business, public service and civil society were hand-picked from 37,556 applicants for the fellowship — an intensive six-week academic and leadership institute that culminated in Washington at a three-day summit from July 30 to August 2.

“Initiatives like YALI are critical to ensuring local stability, peace and economic prosperity as they seek to prepare our future leaders,” White House adviser Ivanka Trump said in her welcoming remarks.

This year’s theme of #MyMandelaLegacy honors the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the fellowship’s namesake, by encouraging Fellows, alumni, and Network members to reflect on their own legacy and how the late statesman influences their work.

I had an opportunity to meet the returning Nigerian Fellows,” said Ambassador Tibor Nagy, who led the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria in 2016. “That meeting with the Fellows renewed my absolute confidence that Africa’s future is in excellent hands with young people such as yourselves.”

“You are the reason why I applied for this job,” Nagy, now the assistant secretary for African affairs, told the crowd.

Smiling woman wearing African garb raising her arms in front of other smiling people (Daniel Durazo/State Dept.)
Attendees at the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in Washington (Daniel Durazo/State Dept.)

After returning home, the Fellows will continue their professional development with support from U.S. embassies and the YALI Network, a digital pan-African community of more than a half-million young professionals.

Ninety-eight Fellows will stay on in the United States to continue their professional development with organizations at the cutting edge of their industries that can directly guide the Fellows’ work back home.

The summit closed with alumni who had returned to the United States to share their “Mandela Legacies,” renewing the commitments they had made as Fellows. Ruzivo Chonyera, a 2017 Fellow from Zimbabwe, urged this new class to pass the torch.

“It’s your and my mandate to ensure that the stories are shared. Why should they be shared? So the next generation can build on the successes of this generation.”