Twenty–five young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa arrived at the University on Sunday to learn business and leadership skills for creating sustainable projects in their communities.
The Obama administration launched the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010 with the goal of empowering the next generation of African youth to foster democracy and peace. As part of the initiative, the Washington Fellowship was launched in 2014. Out of 50,000 applicants, the fellowship selected 500 fellows to participate at one of the 20 fellowship campuses in the country. Twenty-five of the fellows will participate in the University’s six-week program offering entrepreneurs leadership training, networking opportunities and business courses.
Teri Albrecht, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said creating a space for African leaders to work together can help these young entrepreneurs face challenges such as corruption in business practices.
“They’re creating their own support network that they would not have had without this program,” Albrecht said. “Since the first week, they’ve been thinking of new ways and new ideas of how they can work with each other and support each other once they go back.”
Creesen Naicker, a fellow and director of the marketing and management company Vision RSM, spearheaded the YoungHeroes program, an initiative to incorporate sports into South African public school systems in 2004. Through the fellowship program at the University, Naicker hopes to develop a new community project, JumpStart, which would help prepare South Africa’s youth while they search for jobs. The unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25 percent, according to a CIA report. Naicker said young leaders in the fellowship program can inspire other young Africans to become agents of change in the communities.
“A lot of solutions to Africa’s problems are residing in Africa, sort of buried, much like the natural resources below the ground, where they’re there but the people don’t feel there’s enough freedom or democracy to activate their ideas,” Naicker said. “What each one of us being here can help do is be a little beacon of hope for how that can be done.“
Ndèye Absa Gningue, a fellow, as well as a designer and director of her clothing company, Aduuna Boul Comprendre, said she aspires to create a renewed interest in traditional African fashion and local textiles. Despite her accomplishments, she said she regularly encounters age and gender discrimination.
“Age is the first barrier,” Gningue said. “People [in Senegal] are generally quite conservative, meaning that they don’t want to give leadership to youth. Coming to gender, it’s difficult because people don’t think you can handle such a position because you’re a woman.”
Gningue said more women in Senegal, including Aminata Touré, who was appointed prime minister in 2013, are reaching higher positions. Despite this progress, she said there is still an absence of role models for youth.
“Today, the challenge I personally have is lack of leadership. In the young community, we cannot wake up and say, ‘This is the leader I want to look like,’” Gningue said. “This is why an opportunity like this is great, because you can get to find other females in the team and find other people who can help you.”
Naicker said youth in South Africa have also become frustrated by the lack of leadership in the private and public sector.
“Young people now want and expect better, but if that’s what you want and expect, then you have to step up and deliver it as well,” Naicker said.
Corrections: This article has been edited with the correct spelling of Nackier name and information about the program.