On July 28 in Washington D.C., President Barack Obama kicked off a three-day summit for Africa's most promising young leaders. To introduce him, the White House recruited a Longhorn: 27-year-old Faith Mangope, a South African businesswoman who recently completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on the Forty Acres.
For the past six weeks, Mangope and 24 of her colleagues have been on the University of Texas at Austin campus learning the ins and outs of business and entrepreneurship as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the White House's signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. They join fellows at 19 other top U.S. universities, including Yale, Northwestern, Dartmouth, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.
Culled from more than 50,000 applicants, the 25 UT fellows came to Austin from 18 different Sub-Saharan countries, all with the goal of fleshing out ideas for businesses that would benefit their communities back home from one fellow's dream of creating sustainable furniture out of bamboo in Malawi, to another woman's vision of providing sanitary pads to African schoolgirls to curb absenteeism in Kenya.
After completing a rigorous program that included academic coursework, community service, networking and site visits to Austin-area businesses, the Washington Fellows are now in D.C., where they will rub shoulders with the likes of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry before returning home to Africa.
Below, hear from these young leaders who with the help of The University of Texas at Austin are working to instigate global, social change in one of the world's fastest growing economies.
Learn more about the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders here.
"...We are not here because we are better than the others
We are here because we are the first, the pioneers"
An excerpt from a poem written by Anissa Issufo Arune, a Washington Fellow who is working to prevent domestic violence and abuse in Mozambique, where it's still considered taboo for women to pursue educations or dream of running businesses. Arune hopes to leverage education, health resources and financial sustainability to encourage more women to join the workforce.
"A lot of solutions to Africa's problems are residing in Africa, sort of buried, much like the natural resources below the ground. People don't feel there's enough freedom or democracy to activate their ideas. What each one of us being here can help do is be a little beacon of hope for how that can be done."
Creesen Naicker, a Washington Fellow who is working to empower villages in South Africa by partnering with them to create tourist attractions. Approximately 60 percent of Africa's population is younger than 35 years of age a statistic that spurred the White House to pilot the Washington Fellowship and select UT as one of 20 host universities for its inaugural year. The program, part of Obama's broader Young African Leaders Initiative, aims to spur growth and prosperity across Africa.
"Meeting entrepreneurs in Austin and knowing they go through the same challenges we go through back in Africa is pretty encouraging. All we have to do is never give up."
Washington Fellow Florence Kamaitha is the founder of the Pad Heaven Initiative, a business that is providing cheaper sanitary pads to African girls with the hope of curbing school absenteeism. In addition to winning a $25,000 grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation to expand her business, Kamaitha will also personally meet with First Lady Michelle Obama about girls' education issues during this week's summit.
"I believe we need to shift our paradigm to starting businesses and creating employment and wealth with a human value."
According to fellow Lombola Gama Lombola, bamboo in his home country of Malawi takes about three years to regenerate, much quicker than the 10 years it takes traditional timber. That's how he got the idea for Bamboo Express, a company that is creating eco-friendly, affordable furniture for his community. Thanks to a core curriculum developed by UT San Antonio's Anita Leffel and UT Austin's Dorie Gilbert, a professor in the School of Social Work, Lombola and his colleagues now have increased proficiency in writing business plans, crafting elevator pitches and networking all skills that will help them grow their businesses back home.
"The amazing thing is the actual mantra of The University of Texas at Austin, which is 'What starts here changes the world.' That's so true. If you allow yourself whatever situation you're in to be present within that situation, you really can change the world."
Faith Mangope, the UT Austin fellow who was selected from 500 fellows nationwide to introduce President Obama and moderate a Town Hall meeting in Washington, D.C. Mangope is the founder of New G Business Forums, which offers three-day programs to young adults preparing for employment in South Africa. Watch the live stream of the Young African Leaders Presidential Summit here through July 30.