When looking to shape the future of the African continent, it is imperative to look towards its young leaders both in Africa and in the diaspora. The following opinion piece discusses President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship program, and how the lack of formal engagement with diaspora counterparts is a major missed opportunity to enhance the linkages that can shape and sustain joint ventures, scale social programs, and transfer critical skills and information. The Youth Advisory Committee of The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa convened a group of Mandela Fellows and paired them with diaspora to discuss potential collaboration. This exchange confirmed that these young leaders are bridge builders and look to the diaspora for opportunities to collaborate and bridge the gaps.


The African diaspora includes over 30 million people worldwide. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) estimates that remittances to and within Africa are approaching US$40 billion. Though investment in monetary terms is critical to the Continent’s long term growth, one could argue that investment in youth is even more imperative. With such an expansive diaspora, and populations that are only getting younger, the impact that diaspora engagement can have for young leaders in Africa cannot be underestimated.

Named in honor of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship program hosted 500 dynamic young leaders from Africa in Washington D.C. for a Presidential Summit in August 2014. This summit was convened immediately following a six- week intensive program at various universities around the United States. The Young African Leaders Initiative is truly a demonstration of partnership with Africa under the Obama Administration it may stand as one of the centerpieces of the U.S. government’s Africa policy portfolio for years to come.

Mandela Fellows

Though the fellows had an opportunity to engage with a range of senior U.S. government representatives and civil society leaders, the official program exposed a clear gap in the participation of young African diaspora. Dynamic young leaders in their own right, engagement of diaspora with the fellows provides a unique opportunity to build joint ventures, scale up existing initiatives, and transfer critical skills and information. Unfortunately, there were very limited opportunities for these diaspora leaders to interact with the fellows in a substantive way. We brought together Mandela fellows and diaspora leaders for a discussion about collaboration and each group’s unique role in contributing to social, political, and economic developments across the continent.

Three women representing their home countries of Chad, Ghana, and Mozambique were paired with diaspora leaders from Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. They were purposefully paired with counterparts that had shared interests and diversified experiences.  The conversations were organic, and filled with a desire to support endeavors that will maximize the potential of both groups.

There is a clear intersection of issues from both sides that warrant further exploration.  Themes like leveraging diaspora remittances, promotion of education and cultural exchange, the importance of religion, empowerment of women and girls, and the retention of African experts or “brain circulation” as opposed to “brain drain” are examples. Doing business with diaspora also has mutual benefit. Though the spirit of entrepreneurship is strong throughout the continent, channeling (or redirecting) that spirit toward technical assistance and sharing expertise in skills like accounting, time management, and contract bidding, among other areas, is integral to growing businesses and economies.

With this intersection brought to light, the next question is how do African diaspora mobilize to support their counterparts at home? The fellows and diaspora offer some thoughtful takeaways and actions moving forward:

  1. Endeavor to be more civically engaged and active in the local community upon returning home.
  2. Strive to be more coordinated with diaspora in terms of advocacy as lots of groups are addressing the same issues from different angles and there is a need for harmonization.
  3. Leverage social media and will strive to listen more and collaborate to find solutions for challenges in Africa, as opposed to deciding for the communities what they want.
  4. Encourage diaspora not be pessimistic about going back to Africa or to doubt their abilities to impact change.
  5. Recognize that one cannot accomplish these goals alone, and acknowledge the need for and accept support from counterparts
  6. Promote the utility of community service, volunteering, and public service.
  7. Build networks for African youth and diaspora to share expertise and experiences.

It is evident that diaspora and Africanists have a clear interest in collaborating with youth on the world’s youngest continent. African-American counterparts are also encouraged to join hands to advance the cause. Groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and the African Immigrant Caucus are noted for their leadership on championing issues of people of color both domestically and on the continent.  The tremendous expertise of the Mandela Fellow participants demonstrates that they are in the driver’s seats in their home countries and across the continent. They are bridge builders, and look to the diaspora for opportunities to collaborate and bridge the gaps.   

About the Author: The Africa Society Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) is a cadre of young professionals that are passionate about the continent of Africa, and are well equipped to speak to the challenges and opportunities therein. We are composed of members from all backgrounds to include law, business, education, health, policy, academia, among others. Its activities will complement the The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa ‘s ongoing outreach and community engagement, providing an insightful and innovative youth perspective.

Contributors:  Morgan McClain-McKinney, Lydia Nylander, Farha Tahir, Chika Umeadi

Supporting Members: Akua Asare, Chinedu Enekwe, Adebo Ifesanya, Giulia Pelligrini, Theodros Roux, Terrence Tarver

2 Responses

  1. Idorenyin Blankson

    I formed a group called SAVE AFRICA INITIATIVE, our major project at the moment is called READ FOR FUN. I would like to receive support and advice on how to lead the change even from my rural settlement.

    • adebo

      My support and advice to you is to keep acting with purpose and integrity. It is your work that would shine the light of your heart for others to notice.


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