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Mandela Washington Fellows Celebrated at Welcome Reception

Jay Walsh

Uche Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu of Nigeria, left and Esther Kunda of Rwanda speak with Northwestern’s Vice President of Research Jay Walsh during an opening reception for this year’s Mandela Washington Fellows.

Twenty-five of Africa’s brightest emerging leaders were officially welcomed to the Northwestern University family during an opening reception on June 23 at Guild Lounge in Evanston.

Representing 16 nations, this year’s cohort of Mandela Washington Fellows are in the midst of a six-week business and entrepreneurship institute developed in partnership by the Program of African Studies and the Kellogg School of Management.

“We have had only three lectures so far, but I am amazed by the level of knowledge and interactivity in the classroom,” says Maimouna Mbacke, a development strategy consultant from Senegal and an entrepreneur who runs a beauty shop and catering service. “As businesspeople, there are things we already know, but the way Northwestern has structured the classes and program is something I have never seen before.”

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 Fellows studying at institutions throughout the country.

Northwestern Vice President of Research Jay Walsh and Program of African Studies Director Will Reno welcomed the fellows at the reception.

The fellows spent their first weekend in the States attending World Refugee Day celebrations in Chicago; engaging with faculty and peers in the classrooms at Kellogg; visiting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office; and working with high school students through Y.O.U. Evanston.

Fellow Calvin Kebati of Kenya is already seeing the benefits after only a few days at Northwestern.

“This has been an incredible week. Northwestern feels like a home,” says Kebati. “It’s amazing how quickly the staff has made me feel at home. At the end of this program, I hope to have completed a blueprint for another business idea. The knowledge I’ll gain here, I hope to take home and build my business.”

Fellow Olumide Ogunlana of Nigeria notes that, while this occasion is not his first time in the United States, this particular voyage is very different from what he has experienced previously.

“I was already aware of some of the culture and the way people act, but did not anticipate all the walking you do here,” says Ogunlana. “In Nigeria, I drive my car to work, I drive five minutes away. I wasn’t used to all the walking at first, but now I find myself walking routinely on campus.”

Ogunlana and Mbacke have also found knowledge in their peers.

“We are all in this bubble, in our home countries, and now I appreciate more the differences between us,” says Ogunlana.

“For the first time, I’m really getting to meet Africans from all over the continent,” says Mbacke. “I’m staying with people from all different countries for over six weeks, I feel like there’s a lot we can learn from each other.”

By Kelly Coffey