Young African leaders come to the U.S. for intense six-week program

The 2015 group participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. (The University of Notre Dame)

The 2015 group participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. (The University of Notre Dame)

by Tom Gallagher

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Summertime at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., is perhaps the most idyllic time of the year. The busyness of the school year and nationally-competitive athletics give way to a quieter time and a slower pace. But not for 25 men and women from 19 Africa countries, who descended upon campus in June for an intense and demanding six-week learning experience. For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame is hosting a group participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

YALI is a long-term effort of President Barack Obama to invest in the next generation of African leaders. It is administered through the U.S. State Department in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps. Each year, for five years, 500 YALI fellows will come to the U.S. for the summer program in public management, civic affairs or business and social entrepreneurship. Notre Dame is one of 20 U.S. universities hosting a group of fellows. But it is not easy to be accepted. In the first year, some 50,000 applications were received for the 500 spots. This year, almost 30,000 applications were received. 

The Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development received a $150,000 grant this year from the U.S. State Department to train young African leaders in entrepreneurship. However, Notre Dame’s program cost approximately $450,000, and underwriters include Coca-Cola, IBM, Capsim, and Bisk Education.

On campus, the Mendoza College of Business Nonprofit Executive Program, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies’ Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity and the University’s Engineering, Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters program are collaborating to implement the YALI program.

“The fellows come to campus not as ‘students,’ but as our peers,” said Dr. Marc Hardy, director of YALI and director of the university’s Nonprofit Executive Education Department in the Mendoza College of Business. Each of the attendees is an accomplished professional. “We encourage the fellows to question the instructors, share their own expertise,” said Hardy.

Hardy leads a team of eight who manage the day-to-day program, which is assisted by other key leaders on campus in the development department, the Department of Africana Studies, the Initiative for Global Development and the Mendoza College of Business. Hardy is assisted by Dr. Angela* Logan, associate director for Planning and Development of Nonprofit Professional Development in the Mendoza College of Business. “We have a phenomenal team managing the program,” said Hardy.

“My own department chair, [Holy Cross] Fr. David Tyson, has been very supportive of the YALI program and we have a phenomenal leadership team,” he said.

The fellows participate in classroom training in the morning and then have group projects in the afternoon. They also have road trips to Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis for the purpose of visiting businesses and participate in cultural activities. For all 25 fellows, this is their first time visiting the United States.

Hardy himself teaches a leadership class called Sharing Fire, based on the ancient Greek story of Prometheus giving fire to the poor, shivering people so that they could have a better life. The goal for Hardy is to develop leadership skills through philanthropy, giving others tools for a better life.

“There is no such thing as ‘self-made,’ ” explains Hardy. “We all depend on others for life and success.” Hardy cautions the fellows, “This style of leadership works for me. It may not work for you. Use only those aspects that works for you.”

A key component of the program is a two-prong mentoring strategy. Each fellow has a one-on-one mentor and each participates in small group mentoring. Bill Brennan, a Senior Associate in the Mendoza College of Business, serves as both an instructor and mentors each of the fellows. With Hardy, Brennan leads the mentoring groups which focus on personal development plans for each fellow.

“I teach a three-hour course on personal brand development,” said Brennan. “I ask the fellows questions like, ‘What kind of person do you want to be?’ ‘Why do you want to do that?’ ‘What if you articulated your purpose this way or that way,’ ‘How do think people perceive you?’ These are amazing young people.”

Brennan sees a few themes emerge in his mentoring work. “The fellows are very talented with bright minds and good hearts,” he said. “They are doers and I encourage them that it’s important to tell their story not as bragging but raise awareness in a positive way so that resources they need will come. Our goal is to give the fellows hope and confidence so they can go after their goals with more tenacity.”

A few of the fellows took time out of their hectic schedules to share their YALI experiences.

Balayneh Nekatibeb Begna, Ethiopia

Balayneh Begna 05.jpgBalay Nekatibeb Begna has a master’s degree in development studies and has managed a number of agricultural growth and economic development programs for the Ethiopian government. Currently, he is a development advisor in Ethiopia for Canada. Begna also worked for KMB-Ethiopia, a charity whose mission is to eliminate female genital mutilation and to create an environment where the rights and values of empower girls and women are recognized and nurtured. Begna now serves on the board of KMB-Ethiopia.

“The YALI program is really good,” said Begna. “Extremely amazed how very relevant the courses are. We have very good cooperation from the university.”

The mentoring program has been really valuable to Begna. “In my country talking to the professor is done from a distance with respect and a fear of making a mistake,” he said. “My mentor, Bill Brennan, is very humble and friendly and he helped me to open my story of my life and where I want to be in the next five years.” 

“Bill listens, asks questions and yet he can be critical on issues raised in our conversations. He comes and has coffee with us each morning,” said Begna. “He gives me many questions and challenges with feedback for me to think about.”

“I’m not a spiritual person, but Bill has a level of spirituality and hope and he’s inspired me to know that I have certain capacities and potential,” said Begna.

In the group mentor class, Begna explains that each fellow determines what skills or capacities they need to develop and how we can achieve them with an action plan to go beyond [our] normal borders with more self-esteem.

Begna is passionate about his work with KMG-Ethiopia. He sees his advocacy against female genital mutilation as both helping girls and women, but also in a broader sense.  “I’m doing this work for the future of all children, my own daughters, sister and mother,” said Begna.

He is already thinking about how his new skills and understanding can advance his work.  “Leadership applies in business and in changing social issues,” said Begna. “It’s life changing and changes how we operate on a day-to-day basis.” He plans to bring his YALI experience to small and medium business he advises and to teaching rural women how to empower themselves. “I can teach them how to assess the market, how to impact the market, how to build capacity. I want to bring about change,” Begna said.

“I want to give what I’ve got and give it out to others,” said Begna.

Ilrshaad (Ish) Goolamally, Mauritius

Ilrshaad Goolamally.jpgIsh Goolamally is the lead partner for Forest Side, Mauritius-based Keep Moving Technologies Limited, a distributor of IT storage and software solutions. Goolamally holds an MBA and engineering degrees, along with several technical certifications. In 2014, the British Computer Society named him Personality of the Year 2014.

“I really like the YALI program, as it’s really good,” said Goolamally. One of the highlights so far is his mentoring relationship with Hardy. “He’s a very good public speaker and I’d like to go into politics in the future and this is very helpful,” he said.  After being a professional for 12 years, however, coming back to university to live in the dorms is a little challenging.

His first time in the U.S., Goolamally is impressed by Americans. “I lived eight years in the U.K. Here people are very kind, smile a lot, very welcoming,” he said. “I’m Muslim and the Muslim community here [in South Bend] is well-organized and welcoming.”

As for Notre Dame, it is more than what he expected. “When I found out that I was going to be a YALI fellow at Notre Dame, I was disappointed. I didn’t know anything about Notre Dame, I’m really happy to be selected to go to Notre Dame,” said Goolamally. 

The YALI program has enabled Goolamally to expand his network of contacts among the fellows, to gain more exposure and believes this experience will open more doors with business partners and in politics. “It’s been a very good experience,” said Goolamally.

Lebohang (Lebo) Constance Selloane, South Africa

Lebohang Selloane 03 (1).jpgLebo Selloane is the owner of South Africa-based Visionary X-Rays, which is established to give onsite mobile x-ray services to business communities with employees prone to occupational lung disease, as well as people in rural areas. She holds a degree in diagnostic radiology and is in her final year of an MBA. She co-founded Dream Girls Foundation to empower women through education and entrepreneurship.

“I’m loving the YALI program and am learning so much,” said Selloane. “South Bend feels like home. … The coursework is hectic and can feel like it’s too much, but the courses are great and quite relevant in my life and so I don’t want to miss anything.”

One of the highlights so far is the leadership development plan. “It really focuses on what kind of leader you want to be and makes you think about whether your actions are portraying your message,” said Selloane. “Sometimes entrepreneurs can take professional development for granted, but we constantly need to work on one’s self to build new skills and talents.”

Selloane only understood America from what she saw on television. But her trip to Detroit was quite impactful. “I love the trips. Detroit is actually picking up the pieces as a community, rebuilding their city,” she said. “I loved Detroit so much. It gives me hope. I attended a black expo in Detroit and seeing people of color running successful business was very inspiring.”

“YALI is a great blessing, not just for me, but for my community,” said Selloane. “I’m making plans to pass it on when I get home. I have a younger sister and we were lucky to get a good education and many of our friends did not have such opportunities. We have high youth unemployment rates and young people don’t believe they can achieve their dreams.”

“With YALI I’ve made incredible connections which open up new avenues for partnerships,” said Selloane.

Evelyn Zalwango, Uganda

Evelyn Zalwango.jpgEvelyn Zalwango runs Kampala, Uganda-based Awaka Uganda Limited, a premium bespoke furniture business with over 30 employees. She has a bachelor’s degree in information technology and a diploma in interior design. In time, Zalwango hopes to import her furniture to the U.S.

Besides the education, Zalwango is very proud of the fact that she herself is a carpenter.  “I’m a carpenter and some people say, ‘women can’t do that,’ but I developed the skills,” said Zalwango.

Zalwango is also passionate about helping landmine survivors and to educate women and youth in order to fight high unemployment. She created the Awaka Foundation to help these causes.

“Notre Dame is so beautiful. There’s a calmness on campus and I’d like to live here,” Zalwango said. Living in the dorm rooms with people from all over Africa is a challenge. “It takes time to get used to living in a dorm, but it helps us to figure out how to get along with each other,” she said.

The YALI program is having a real impact on Zalwango. “I’ve realized that I’ve been holding on to a lot and I need to let go and move forward,” she said. “If something is not right at work, I need to speak up about it and fix the problem. When others see potential in you that I never thought I had, it helps me develop confidence.”

The trip to Detroit impacted Zalwango. “It’s amazing to see the people of Detroit have hope to make their city a better place,” she said.

Zalwango is already planning on how to use the YALI experience back home. “I want to tell people about my experience and pass on the knowledge I gained here,” she said. “I want to organize conferences, little YALI programs, as a way to share what I’ve learned.”


For the conclusion of the six-week program, on Aug. 1-2 the 500 YALI fellows travel to Washington, D.C., for additional meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama, before heading home.

For Notre Dame, participating in the YALI program furthers the mission of the university. “This is a great opportunity for Notre Dame to make its mark on Africa, [this effort] is totally aligned with the university,” said Hardy. “There is potential for creating a master’s degree in not-for-profit management in Africa, as a way to help build civil society.”

For everyone involved in the intense six-week program, it is a life-changing experience. “For the YALI fellows, it is a great honor to be selected and it is truly on honor to be with them to help them develop,” said Brennan. “In a lot of ways, it’s a life-changing experience for us [the Notre Dame program team] because they touch our hearts and they give us a lot too.”

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Angela Logan's name.

[Tom Gallagher is a regular contributor to the NCR and writer of the Mission Management column.]


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