In 2016 I was selected as 1 of 63 South Africans to join the 1000 Young African Leaders of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. The fellowship is a flagship project of the American State Department and a personal project of former American president Barack Obama.
The fellowship itself is part of the broader Young AfricanLeadership Initiative (YALI) and the focal point centres around a 6-week placement in an American University alongside 25 other Young African Leaders from various countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I was fortunate enough to be placed at the University of California – Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and spent a difficult but rewarding 6 weeks learning the principles and exposure of what African leadership entails.
I was blown away by the achievements and practices of my fellows in the programme and learnt more from the conversations over coffee and long bus trips across San Francisco about my own home country than the 6 weeks of lectures and workshops from Berkeley’s finest – something we were told would happen on day one by our host.
The placement culminated in a 4 day seminar in Washington DC where all 1000 fellows converged into a single hotel conference venue to attempt to meet each other and the promise of ‘ meeting’ then president Barack Obama in the Town Hall. I never the left the hotel, spending most of my time in the lobby meeting and laughing with the 1000 other fellows, sharing stories about the placements, our plans for our return and enjoying our last few days as fellows in the U.S.
On return the fellowship has supported me with mentors, business coaches, many opportunities to apply for funding and practicums, some of which I successfully qualified for (See BackStory and my practicum with the South African Cities Network) and most importantly the most valuable platform in understanding my country – a 500 message a day Whatsapp group governed by 63 other passionate South Africans who have become my guides in personal and professional development.
My fellowship ended this year at a very heart sore conference in Johannesburg this year, but as I was reminded at our goodbyes: once a YALI, always a YALI – or blood in, blood out.