The Future of Africa: World’s Top Mastermind of Positive Leadership

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The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) has been a beacon of hope and a platform for transformative change for the youth of Africa since its inception in 2010. Initiated by the United States Department of State under the leadership of then-President Barack Obama, YALI has consistently aimed to empower, educate, and elevate the young minds of Africa, providing them with the tools, resources, and networks to make a significant impact in their communities and nations. While YALI encompasses various programs, resources, and training opportunities across different sectors and regions of Africa, the Mandela Washington Fellowship stands out as its premier program.

Its primary goal is to empower, educate, and connect young African leaders, providing them opportunities to foster change in their communities and countries.

Fellowship Overview

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the U.S. Government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Since 2014, nearly 5,800 young leaders from every country in Sub-Saharan Africa have participated in the Fellowship. The Fellows, between the ages of 25 and 35, are accomplished leaders with established records of promoting innovation and positive impact in their communities and countries.

Introduced as a critical component of YALI, the Mandela Washington Fellowship is specifically designed to bring young African leaders to the United States for leadership training. Named in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, the Fellowship embodies his public service and community leadership ideals.

Program Structure

The Mandela Washington Fellowship offers intensive executive leadership training, networking, and skills building, followed by professional development and connections with U.S. businesses and public and civic institutions.

Global Exposure

The Mandela Washington Fellowship provides participants with a unique opportunity to spend six weeks in the United States. During this period, fellows engage in academic coursework, leadership training, and networking at U.S. colleges and universities. This exposure allows them to gain insights into global best practices, cultures, and professional networks, which they can then leverage in their home countries.

Upon completion of their time in the U.S., Mandela Washington Fellowship participants return to Africa to continue their work, equipped with new skills and a broader network. They also become part of the larger YALI network, connecting with other young leaders.

Benefits of Mandela Washington Fellowship

World-Class Education

Fellows undergo intensive training at some of the top U.S. universities and institutions. They gain exposure to cutting-edge knowledge and best practices in their chosen tracks: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management.

Networking Opportunities

The Fellowship provides a unique platform to connect with fellow young leaders from across Africa, U.S. government officials, professionals, and academics. These connections can lead to collaborations, partnerships, and other opportunities in the future.

Professional Development

After the academic residency, selected Fellows get the chance to work with U.S. companies, organizations, and government agencies, gaining hands-on experience and insights into the workings of these entities.

Access to Funding and Grants

Alumni of the Fellowship often have access to various funding opportunities, grants, and competitions that can help kickstart or scale their initiatives.

Leadership Skills

The program emphasizes leadership development, equipping Fellows with the skills to lead and inspire teams, manage projects, and drive change in their communities.

Ongoing Support

Even after the Fellowship, alumni become part of the broader YALI network, where they can access continuous learning opportunities, resources, and mentorship.

Recognition and Credibility

Being a Mandela Washington Fellow is a prestigious honor that can significantly boost one’s profile and credibility in their field of work.

Opportunity for Reciprocal Exchanges

Fellows have the chance to collaborate with U.S. professionals in Africa through reciprocal exchanges, further strengthening partnerships and mutual understanding.

Personal Growth

Beyond the professional and academic benefits, the Fellowship experience fosters personal growth, resilience, and a broader perspective on global issues.

Mandela Washington Fellowship
2023 Mandela Washington Fellows at the University of Georgia.

YALI 2024 Application is Now Open

Do you want to be a part of the next generation of African leaders? Here is your chance. The Mandela Washington Fellowship will bring up to 700 young leaders to the United States in the summer of 2024 for a comprehensive executive-style program that is designed to build skills and empower Fellows to lead in their respective sectors and communities.

The Fellowship opportunity

  • Participate in a six-week Leadership Institute at a U.S. college or university to share your experiences with and learn from U.S. citizens and other Fellows.
  • Explore industries beyond your daily work and expand your expertise.
  • Participate in a Summit with young African leaders.
  • Meet with U.S. Government, civic, and business leaders.
  • Strengthen your work through new connections, skills, and ideas.
  • Join a continental and global Alumni Network to help you seek innovative solutions to common challenges.

Application and Selection Timeline

  • August 15, 2023, |  Application opens
  • September 12, 2023 |  Application deadline
  • November 2023 – January 2024  |  Semi-finalists interviewed by local U.S. embassies and consulates
  • March 2024 |  Applicants notified of their status
  • May 2024  |  Visa processing and Pre-Departure Orientations for Finalists
  • June 2024  |  Fellowship begins in the United States

Application and Selection Process

Selection Process and Criteria

The Mandela Washington Fellowship selection process is a merit-based open competition.  After the deadline, independent readers will review all eligible applications.  Following this review, chosen semi-finalists will be interviewed by the U.S. embassies or consulates in their home countries. Selected semi-finalists will be required to participate in these in-person interviews in their home country in Africa.  If advanced to the semi-finalist round, applicants must provide a copy of their international passport (if available) or other government-issued photo identification at the time of the interview.  Selected Finalists are required to attend the mandatory Pre-Fellowship Orientation in their home country in Africa.

Who is eligible to apply?

Applicants will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  The Mandela Washington Fellowship is open to young African leaders who meet the following criteria:

  • Are between the ages of 25 and 35 on or before the application deadline, although exceptional applicants ages 21-24 will be considered;
  • Are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States;
  • Are eligible to receive a United States J-1 visa;
  • Are not employees or immediate family members of employees of the U.S. Government (including a U.S. embassy or consulate, USAID, or other U.S. Government entity);
  • Are proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English (additional guidance coming for applicants who are deaf);
  • Are citizens of one of the following countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, or Zimbabwe;
  • Are residents of one of the above countries; and
  • Are not Alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

Please note that Fellows are not allowed to have dependents, including spouses and children, accompany them during the Fellowship.

Selection of finalists from all eligible countries may be subject to review in response to local, national, or global events that impact the ability to conduct program activities.

The U.S. Department of State and IREX reserve the right to verify all information included in the application.  In the event of a discrepancy, or if the information is found to be false, the application will immediately be declared invalid and the applicant ineligible.

What are the criteria for selection?

The following criteria will be used to evaluate applications (not in order of importance):

  • A proven record of leadership and accomplishment in business or entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and/or public/government service;
  • ​A demonstrated commitment to public or community service, volunteerism, or mentorship;
  • ​The ability to work cooperatively in diverse groups and to respect the opinions of others;
  • ​Strong social and communication skills;
  • ​An energetic, upbeat, and flexible attitude;
  • ​A demonstrated knowledge of, interest in, and professional experience in the preferred sector/Fellowship track and concrete goals for applying lessons, knowledge and skills gained from the Fellowship to current and/or future work; and
  • ​A commitment to return to Sub-Saharan Africa and contribute skills and talents to build and serve their communities.

Mandela Washington Fellowship Success Stories

African Diaspora Investment Symposium Participation: In March 2023, six Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni attended the eighth annual African Diaspora Investment Symposium in Mountain View, California.

Leadership in Business at Purdue University: During their 2022 Fellowships, Alumni Molly Abende of Kenya and Boaz Berhanu Tulu studied Leadership in Business at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Virtual Professional Development Experiences: For the first time since the Fellowship’s inception, seventy 2021 Fellowship participants completed their Professional Development Experiences (PDEs) virtually.

Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund Grants: The Fellowship announced that 17 Alumni and Reciprocal Exchange Participants were awarded grants from the 2021 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund (CDAF).

Empowering Low-Income Households: As the Chief Executive Officer of Cherehani Africa and founder of Afrikapu, 2018 Fellowship, Alumna Nasreen Ali Mohamed is passionate about empowering low-income households.

Application Resources

Got questions? Visit Frequently Asked Questions about the Fellowship application to learn answers to common queries.

Check out our Resources page to download and learn more about:

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