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Young African Leaders Arrive at Drexel University for Six-week Leadership Institute Through the Mandela Washington Fellowship

June 26, 2023

A group of people wearing yellow Drexel shirts crowd around the Mario statue on Drexel's campus.
The new Dragons (Mandela Fellows) took photographs with the Mario the Magnificent statue on Drexel's University City Campus. Photo courtesy Parfait Kouacou.

This article was written by Parfait Kouacou, PhD, associate teaching professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and academic director of Drexel's Leadership Institute hosting the 2023 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

Drexel University's Office of Global Engagement welcomed 23 of Africa’s brightest emerging leaders to Drexel University City Campus on June 21 for a six-week Leadership Institute sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The cohort, which hails from 17 African nations, is part of the 2023 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI). Drexel has been an institute partner for the program since 2017.

“We are very proud to host 23 Mandela Washington Fellows from 17 African countries at Drexel University this summer,” said Vice Provost for Drexel Global Rogelio Miñana, PhD. “The Mandela Washington Fellows contribute to the thriving intellectual life on campus and reaffirm our global commitment to democracy and civic engagement. The Fellows are young, exemplary leaders from a continent that represents both the past and the future of humanity, with an abundance of both human capital and geopolitical challenges. Our faculty, staff and students are eager to work with the Mandela Fellows to seek global solutions to today's pressing issues. As Fellows return to Africa, a priority region of the world for Drexel, they will take their U.S. experience with them while leaving an indelible mark in our own campus culture here at home.”

This summer’s Institute includes opportunities for Fellows to connect with high profile national and local political figures. They will visit the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D.-Pa) as well as Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny’s office. Fellows will also have the opportunity to engage with global businesses and institutions. They will visit Goldman Sachs and the United Nations in New York City, and have a panel discussion with business executives, as well as with United Nations senior Rule of Law officers to discuss the Mandela Rules for prisoners. Fellows will also impact local community by providing support to two local non-profit organizations addressing hunger and houselessness.

Vice Provost Youngmoo Kim welcomed the freshly arrived Mandela fellows and introduced them to Drexel place-based civic engagement and the University Community Partnership on their first day of Institute.

Drexel University Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships Youngmoo Kim, PhD, welcomed the freshly arrived Mandela Fellows on their first day of Institute and introduced them to Drexel's place-based civic engagement and Drexel's Office of University and Community Partnerships. Photo courtesy Parfait Kouacou.

“We invite all Dragons to our different events, to come meet and network with our cohort of highly accomplished fellows,” said Ahaji Schreffler, senior director in the Office of Global Engagement and administrative director of the Leadership Institute. “We invite our community especially to the kickoff reception on June 27 at the Skyview Lounge on the sixth floor of MacAlister Hall (at 3250 Chestnut St.) at 4 p.m. The other event to not miss is the closing reception on July 28 at the Board and Brew café (at 3200 Chestnut St.) at 6 p.m.”

The Mandela Washington Fellowship, a flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), empowers young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities and local community engagement. YALI, which was created in 2010, supports participants as they spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX, leadership institutes offer programs to challenge, motivate and empower young leaders from Africa to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. 

Since 2014, the U.S. Department of State has supported nearly 5,800 Mandela Washington Fellows from across sub-Saharan Africa to develop their leadership skills and foster connections and collaboration with U.S. professionals. The cohort of fellows hosted by Drexel University will be part of a group of 700 Mandela Washington Fellows hosted at 28 educational institutions across the United States. Drexel has hosted over 140 Mandela Washington Fellows since becoming institute partner in 2017.

After their leadership institutes, fellows will participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in Washington, D.C., where they will participate in networking and panel discussions with each other and U.S. leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Following the summit, up to 100 competitively selected fellows will participate in four weeks of professional development with U.S. nongovernmental organizations, private companies and government agencies. 

If you would like to get involved or need additional information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Institute at Drexel University, you can read more about the program on Drexel Global's website or contact Kouacou at