The first Mandela Washington Fellowship Conference was held in Accra recently and the event brought together a great number of young leaders from 21 West African countries. The conference was organised to bring together the young leaders of YALI (Young African Leaders Intiative) to enable them to share their expertise and engage on issues which they have defined as critical for the future of Africa. 

The first day’s session, saw prominent leaders such as U.S Ambassador to Ghana, Gene A. Cretz, Deputy Minister of Education Honourable Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and Patrick Awuah Jr, Founder of Ashesi University, Ghana. It was a two-day event which covered various discussions on the Future of Africa, The New Face of Philanthropy:Call to Action and the Mandela Washington Fellows Stand Against Ebola. 

Amb. Gene Cretz’s opening remarks assured the current Mandela Washington Fellows of the continued support to be provided by the US Government despite the arrival of the end of their fellowship. 

He stressed on the importance of entrepreneurship being the backbone of the free open market economic system. 

We recognize that entrepreneurs and small business owners make up the backbone of free, open market economies. This fact is true in my country just as it is in each of yours. We have a common goal with your countries in that we want strong trade partners.


He further encouraged the participants to interact with each other in order to learn from each other in terms of their successes, failures and what enables another person to learn and move forward. 

Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa lauded the initiative of the fellowship as well as the conference. He made further comments on the current challenges being faced in the country and how we understand the challenges and how the solution also lies with us. 

Catch up on the live streamed session courtesy of IREX on their YouTube channel.

After the keynote sessions, Parminder Vir of The TonyElumelu Foundation made a presentation on how the foundation gives back to african entrepreneurs through its entrepreneurship program; Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP). 

 Parminder Vir (Tony Elumelu Foundation)
Parminder Vir (Tony Elumelu Foundation)

It was an insightful first day with a packed auditorium of both French and English speaking future leaders. 

A 15 minute coffee break enabled participants to network and connect with other fellows and organisations. 

 Ruka Yaro De-Liman
Ruka Yaro De-Liman

Ruka Yaro De-Liman expressed her gratitude for the fellowship and how much her capacity had increased after the fellowship. Her poultry business and networks had increased within the time she spent in the fellowship and of course afterwards. It’s still increasing she said as she smiled through the interview.  

A rich panel made up of leading entrepreneurs and change makers from Africa was an insightful session which focused on where Africa is and where it should be heading and how to get there. Moderated by Mfonobong Ekpo, the panelists included Chude Jideonwo, founder of Future Africa Project; Patrick Awuah Jr, founder of Ashesi University; Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, Executive Directior, West Africa Civil Society Institute and Fredrick Swum, Partner at McKinsey & Company. The discussion ranged from gender inequality, challenges in being a change maker, social activism and leadership. 

 The panel on The Future of Africa
The panel on The Future of Africa

Patrick Awuah Jr, founder of Ashesi University made blunt points on gender inequality and how Ashesi University is working continuously on creating gender balance in the prominent university. He mentioned how age difference is also a barrier in gender inequality and how old men occupying certain positions refuse to let go to allow the young leaders to occupy their positions. 

Questions flowed from participants who were eager to know the thoughts of the esteemed panelists on various issues ranging from advocacy, entrepreneurship and employment. 

On July 28, 2014, in front of the inaugural class of Fellows, President Obama announced the renaming of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in honor of Nelson Mandela. This was previously the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). 

Congratulations to all new YALI Fellows for 2015, Africa is looking forward to your transformational leadership on the continent. 




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