Happy Birthday Mr. President: Obama Expands Young African Leaders Initiative

Happy Birthday Mr. President: Obama Expands Young African Leaders Initiative

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a town hall-style question-and-answer session with participants from the Young African Leaders Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summi, Aug. 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Obama at Young African Leaders Summit, Aug. 3, 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Young leaders from 17 African countries broke into a happy birthday song as U.S. President Barack Obama arrived for the second Young African Leaders Initiative Presidential Summit and Town Hall, VOA reported.

Obama will be 54 on Tuesday,  Aug. 4.

In Washington, D.C., 500 exceptional young African leaders gathered for a three-day summit, where they’ll engage with public and private-sector leaders, as well as with each other. They represent the extraordinary promise of an emerging generation of entrepreneurs, activists, and public officials, according to the U.S. State Department.

Obama said more than 30,000 people applied for the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship and he’s expanding it in 2016 to include 1,000 fellows.

With strong funding support in the U.S. for African entrepreneurial projects, Obama announced the opening of a YALI office in Kenya. Other offices are planned in South Africa and Senegal.

Mandela fellows had questions for the president at the town hall. These included issues about climate change, the African quest for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, the protection of albinos in Africa, entrepreneurship, and the growing terrorist threats.

Obama announced several expansions for YALI.

A YALI Regional Leadership Center opened today in Accra, Ghana — the second of four set to open this year.

In 2016, Obama said up to 80 Americans will participate in a reverse exchange, traveling to Africa to work with Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni and other young people and institutions across the continent.

The YALI Network has grown to 140,000-plus members who have access to online courses. YALI is providing opportunities for young Africans to enhance their leadership skills and create meaningful ties with American citizens, businesses, organizations, and each other, the State Department said.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of YALI. Obama launched the initiative in 2010 to deepen the U.S.  engagement with African youth. YALI supports young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.

Now in its second year, the Mandela Washington Fellowship brought 500 young African leaders to the U.S. for six-week training sessions at 20 U.S. universities. The Class of 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in the U.S. in June. Their academic coursework and executive leadership development focused on one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, or public management. Formal university programming was augmented with workshops, mentoring, and networking opportunities with leaders in their fields.

When they return to their home countries, fellows continue to build their skills through support from U.S. embassies, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. African Development Foundation, and others. Fellows have access to ongoing professional development opportunities, mentoring, networking and training, community service, and seed fund­ing to support their ideas, businesses, and organizations.

Class of 2014 fellows are building innovative businesses, connecting with American and African investors, forging new relationships with young leaders across Africa, and serving their communities with skills developed during the Fellowship.

This year, YALI Regional Leadership Centers have begun providing leadership training to young Africans between the ages of 18 and 35, further expanding YALI’s reach. These innovative and technology rich Centers in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa will reach every country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first Center, located in Nairobi, welcomed its inaugural group of 80 young leaders in July and hosted Obama for his civil society town hall during his recent visit to Kenya.

Today in Accra, Ghana, the Regional Leadership Center covering much of West Africa began training 100 motivated and talented young Africans. The four centers will train approximately 3,500 young African leaders annually. Admission is merit-based, broadly representative of each center’s region and diversity, and will have gender-balanced participation.

YALI Regional Leadership Center partners include Microsoft, McKinsey & Company, Procter & Gamble, and others who have committed more than $80 million of financial and in-kind resources in support of the centers. The MasterCard Foundation recently expanded its contribution to the YALI Regional Leadership Centers by committing an additional $5 million in financial resources.

The YALI Network has 140,000-plus members. YALI Spaces in Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda are being renovated to provide Network members state-of-the-art physical spaces to meet, learn, and incubate ideas. Trainers will facilitate online courses and provide advising sessions on everything from business start-ups to opportunities for study abroad. Meeting rooms, collaboration spaces, and business tools will allow YALI Network members to work together to create social ventures, community service projects, and new business start-ups.