WASHINGTON D.C. — Former President Barack Obama created the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 in order to support leaders in business entrepreneurship, civic leadership and public management in Africa.
What is YALI?
The Young African Leaders Initiative offers programs that educate leaders ages 25-35 in their home countries. Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) in Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Kenya provide training in “leadership, entrepreneurship and professional development” and offer networking opportunities.
While admission to an RLC is competitive, requiring a “proven record of leadership in public service, business and entrepreneurship, or civic engagement” as well as “active engagement in public or community service, volunteerism, or mentorship,” the Young African Leaders Initiative is dedicated to inclusivity and states on their website that they are committed to welcoming women leaders, leaders with disabilities, leaders with HIV or AIDS and other marginalized groups to their RLCs.
Additionally, YALI offers a specific facility for applicants who speak Portuguese but not English, expanding the number of aspiring leaders they can educate.
YALI also offers a series of online educational and networking services known as the YALI Network. These include, but are not limited to, free online courses on small business and public speaking, online chat events on Facebook and Twitter that connect young leaders, and social media campaigns that encourage YALI participants as well as the wider public to vote and learn about human rights.
YALI Skills and the YALI Network
YALI Network teaches many of the same skills emphasized at RLCs through a more informal and accessible format. Female farmer Relebohile Monethi credits YALI Network’s online classes for her entrepreneurial skills. Monethi contends that “any person, both male and female, so long as they continue to have the desire to learn, can succeed in the agricultural industry,” which is an important sentiment in her country Lesotho, where almost 50 percent of the population grows crops or raises livestock.
Clearly, YALI Network is responsible not just for the concrete skills it imparts to its participant, but also for empowerment, which is essential for success in a business setting.
The final and most prestigious arm of YALI is the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which brings 1,000 young African leaders to U.S. universities for six weeks each year. In the U.S., fellows complete coursework at their respective universities before convening in Washington, D.C. to participate in a summit that offers panel discussions and networking opportunities with prominent U.S. leaders in public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Upon return to their home countries, fellows receive continued support from embassies and RLCs, and can apply to have any American partners travel to Africa for further collaboration.
Program’s Success and Inclusivity
Abella Bateyunga is one of many successful Mandela Washington Fellowship alums. After returning home to Tanzania from the program in 2015 and as national elections approached, she decided she wanted to enable Tanzanian youth to vote, mobilize and use data-based evidence to engage with social issues.
Bateyunga created the Tanzania Bora Initiative, which offers a variety programs to address her aforementioned goals, including youth-led television on the subject of political participation and coding training for young girls.
Like the RLCs, the Mandela Washington Fellowship is committed to inclusivity — 51 fellows identify as having a disability, and 50 percent of fellows are women.
At the 2014 Young African Leaders summit, Obama emphasized that “the security and prosperity and justice that we seek in the world cannot be achieved without a strong and prosperous and self-reliant Africa.” Programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative are needed in years to come, as high quality local leadership and business in developing countries will enable there to be peace and safety in those countries and abroad.
– Caroline Meyers