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Young leaders from Sub-Saharan countries visit IU through State Department fellowship

July 13, 2016

A group of young leaders from 18 Sub-Saharan countries are visiting IU as part of the U.S. State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

kevin brown

Professor Kevin Brown gives a presentation on the 14th Amendment to the Mandela Washington Fellows. | PHOTO BY ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

The 25 Mandela Washington Fellows include a school teacher, medical doctors and public health professionals, a scientist, business people, lawyers, activists, broadcasters and even a hip-hop artist who promotes positive social behavioral change.

Nations represented are Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe.

The arrived in Indiana on June 17, and for several of them this is their first trip to the United States. They will spend the first four weeks learning about civic engagement at IU Bloomington and the last two weeks at IUPUI, with trips to Bradford Woods and Chicago included in their itinerary.

The Mandela Washington Fellows will depart July 31 for Washington, D.C., and hope to gather with U.S. President Barack Obama at a leadership summit.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders project is being coordinated by the IU Office of International Development, a unit within the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs.

“We come from 18 countries, and we all have different ways that we deal with issues,” said Juliana Owolabi, a public school teacher from Nigeria. “We listen to them and we try to compare what we have with our countries with what they have here. … I’m learning a lot, and I’m here to see more.”

The Mandela Washington Fellows have been actively engaged with faculty at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the Maurer School of Law, the African Studies Center, Political and Civic Engagement, and the Kelley School of Business Bloomington.

The fellows spent two days with officials at Cook Inc., learning about how companies can play a role in supporting community projects; and spent a couple of days at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, learning about workforce and community development.

Bloomington City Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith gave the fellows a presentation about municipal government before a tour of City Hall and a meeting with Mayor John Hamilton. 

They visited Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Girls Inc. and other social service organizations in Monroe County.

At IUPUI, they will learn more from faculty in the Kelley School and at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. At Indianapolis, they are expected to meet with Indianapolis Deputy Mayor David Hampton, former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and James Morris, an IU trustee and former head of the United Nations World Food Programme. 

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Indiana University Associate Vice President for International Research and Development Teshome Alemneh speaks to a group of Mandela Washington Fellows before a discussion with IU Ph.D. candidates at the School of Global and International Studies. | PHOTO BY JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

“It has helped them reflect on their experience, based on what they have seen here,” said Teshome Alemneh, IU associate vice president for international research and development.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship program may lead to future collaboration. Alemneh said several faculty members have exchanged contact information and interest areas where they can work together with the Mandela Fellows.

“It was a great opportunity to meet with professionals from a number of industries and sectors. We are already talking with a couple of folks from Kenya and South Africa about how the Institute for International Business might be able to assist with projects and opportunities around entrepreneurship, business skill training and capacity building,” said LaVonn Schlegel, executive director of the Kelley School-based institute.

“We are only as strong as our relationships, and this was a great opportunity to strengthen our ties to Africa,” she added.

The Mandela Washington Fellows met with Jon Racek, a lecturer in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design who is the founder and executive director of Play360, an organization that helps build playgrounds in underdeveloped countries. Engagement between Play360, which also teaches people how to make and maintain playgrounds using locally available materials, is expected to continue.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship program has fostered understanding and cultural awareness in both directions.

“It has been a helpful experience for them, but it also has been a helpful experience for us,” Alemneh said. “At all the places that we’ve visited, there has been really intensive engagement and interaction.”

This has happened in the community as well as in the classroom. Mandela Washington Fellows gave a cultural presentation at the Bloomington Farmer’s Market, which included dancing in traditional clothing. They attended the city’s Fourth of July festivities. Some of them appeared on a local radio station talk show.

Africa is far more diverse than indicated by national boundaries. This became clear when asked by one of their community hosts on a video to share traditional greetings from their respective countries.

Alemneh said the program will help raise more awareness of IU in Africa. Before being selected as Mandela Washington Fellows, several of them had never heard about IU.

“IU is becoming really visible now is a way that it wasn’t in many countries before,” he said. “I think they are going to become champions for IU. I think they are going to go back and talk about the good things that they see here in Indiana, in Bloomington and in Indianapolis. … It’s an opportunity for us.”

Hosting the Mandela Washington fellows aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success, celebrating a vibrant and collaborative community of scholars and global engagement.

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