African Fellows Bring Talent and Entrepreneurial Optimism

By Roger AndersonJune 20, 2017

Ama Duncan was blown away by the Windy City.

“I am looking at the buildings and I feel like I am in Europe,” says Duncan, who arrived from Ghana on June 16 to take part in a series of business and cultural experiences at Northwestern. “It is really nice and rich and I can’t put words to it. Chicago is really beautiful.”

For the fourth consecutive year, the University is hosting 25 of Africa’s brightest emerging leaders during a six-week business and entrepreneurship institute sponsored by the US Department of State. The Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), empowers exceptional African talent through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking opportunities. Fellows come from every country in Sub-Saharan Africa and have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations and communities.

Members of Northwestern’s cohort of young African leaders are part of a larger prestigious group of 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows studying at institutions throughout the country.

“The YALI program taps into what is positive and dynamic in Africa today; young people who are taking charge of their futures. This group shows Americans what people in Africa can do in a dynamic and forward-looking way,” says Will Reno, director of Northwestern’s Program of African Studies. “Our YALI fellows are great role models, not only for their fellow citizens in the countries from which they come, but also for us. They show us how young entrepreneurs can get ahead, while exhibiting a strong social conscience in helping other people to improve their lives.”

Duncan, for example, has more than 12 years of experience in the human resources development field and is the founder of Corporate Training Solutions (CTS), where she helps organizations meet their performance targets through employee learning and development activities. She is also founder of The Fabulous Woman Network (FWN), where she brings women together to share experiences, learn, network, and collaborate. Through FWN, she has shared the life-changing stories of more 150 women — reaching more than 3 million people on social media. Through CTS, she has trained more than 800 people.

Northwestern’s program is being developed through a partnership between the Program of African Studies and the Kellogg School of Management and is designed to challenge, inspire, and empower these young leaders. Highlights of this summer’s program include: academic courses focusing on new venture formation taught by Kellogg faculty; site visits to Chicago businesses and nonprofits, including Google, World Business Chicago, and 1871; community service, involving mentoring high school students through the Youth Organization Umbrella, Evanston’s Young Entrepreneurship Summer Camp; and cultural activities, such as an architectural boat tour of Chicago, museum visits, concerts, and festivals.

“We’ve designed a curriculum to help these young leaders grow as individual entrepreneurs and business leaders, and accelerate their business impact,” says Paul Christensen, associate dean for executive education, clinical professor of finance, and senior advisor for global strategy at Kellogg. “Our hope is that the coursework — from business planning to attract investors to developing growth strategies — will equip and inspire these leaders to continue to shape the future of business in Africa and improve countless lives in the process.”

At the conclusion of their six-week institute, all 1,000 fellows visiting the United States will travel to Washington, DC, to take part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit.  Following the summit, 100 competitively selected Fellows will spend six additional weeks in professional development experiences with US non-governmental organizations, private companies, and government agencies.

OSR’s Mitchell Awarded Travel Grant

“You never know where a conversation might take you,” says Tanikka Mitchell, a coordinator of research programs at Northwestern’s Office for Sponsored Research.

Last summer Mitchell had an opportunity to connect with many of the Mandela Washington Fellows being hosted at the University. One relationship was the genesis of a successful grant application, which brought Mitchell to Lagos, Nigeria, this May.

Mitchell was one of more than 50 Americans selected to receive a Reciprocal Exchange Award from the State Department and nonprofit IREX. The awards provide up to $5,000 to emerging and established leaders to help fund collaborative projects with 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows.

About a year ago, Mitchell met Tessie Nkechi Udegboka, executive director of the Whispering Hope Africa Initiative — a nonprofit organization that helps poor women and people living with HIV — and the pair decided to team up.

“The chance to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Program was a life-changing experience,” says Mitchell, who has master’s degrees in nonprofit management and public health. “This project challenged me to be innovative and take initiative in developing new skills that can have a positive impact on a global community. While this was my first time in Africa, I felt right at home.”

Mitchell relied on her experiences at Northwestern and from throughout more than 10 years of experience working in community-based programs to develop a four-day workshop on capacity building, governance, strategic planning, community needs assessments, and program planning and evaluation in a nonprofit setting.

She received additional support from Northwestern staff members Alan Anderson, Tracey Gibson-Jackson, Lauren Jacobs, and Andrew Baldovsky, as well as faculty member Jabbar Bennett, associate provost and chief diversity officer in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

While in Lagos, Mitchell often found herself staying up until 3 or 4 a.m. to develop the most applicable coursework for the following day. She said she would not have been as successful without help from the Ovie Blume Foundation — a well-known youth development organization in Lagos — and Kelechi Mbah, an alumna of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

“Every day I strived to challenge those in the workshop to look for professional-development opportunities beyond their own communities,” says Mitchell. “As amazing as Chicago is, I would never have gained this global perspective on community based programs without traveling 6,000 miles to see it firsthand.”

Mitchell plans to coordinate with Meagan Keefe, associate director with the Program of African Studies, to take part in this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship institute.

Will Reno