Young African Leaders Embark on Six-Week Leadership Training at Drexel University

This summer, 25 young leaders from 20 countries from sub-Saharan Africa are taking on coursework, community site visits, meetings and more.
Mandela Fellows
Fellows posing with Mario the Magnificent, Drexel's iconic dragon mascot statue. Photo courtesy of Parfait Kouacou. 

This article was written by Parfait Kouacou, PhD, an associate teaching professor in the College of Art and Sciences, and the academic director of the Drexel Mandela Washington Fellowship Institute.  

Drexel University is hosting 25 young African leaders for a six-week intensive leadership training program. The diverse cohort, representing 20 countries from sub-Saharan Africa, is part of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX, this program has been implemented at Drexel since 2017. 

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and aims to empower future African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities and local community engagement. Launched in 2014, YALI supports participants in fostering economic growth, strengthening democratic governance and enhancing peace and security across Africa.

Mandela Fellows
Fellows attending a leadership session in a classroom at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law. Photo courtesy of Parfait Kouacou.

Since the fellowship’s inception, the U.S. Department of State has supported nearly 6,500 Mandela Washington Fellows from sub-Saharan Africa, helping them develop leadership skills and forge connections with U.S. professionals. The cohort at Drexel University is focusing on the Leadership in Civic Engagement track, joining 700 other fellows hosted at 28 educational institutions across the United States. Drexel’s cohort will focus on the Leadership in Civic Engagement track; tracks at other partner universities include focuses on public administration and business.

Two weeks into the program, the Mandela Fellows have already engaged in academic and leadership coursework, community site visits, meetings with staffers of elected officials and other activities to enhance their civic leadership skills. They also received insights from representatives of the U.S. Department of State during a site visit to fellows in these first few days.

At a welcome reception attended by university leadership, city council officials, diplomats and corporate and community organization partners, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David S. Brown, PhD, praised the fellows: “Your presence here is a testament to the power of collaboration and global engagement. Your unique perspectives and experiences enrich our campus community, fostering an environment where innovative ideas can flourish. Together, we are building a brighter, more inclusive future, grounded in the principles of democracy and civic engagement. Drexel is proud to support your journey as emerging leaders dedicated to making a profound impact both locally and globally.”

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Group photo of fellows in front of the Thomas R. Kline School of Law, venue for the Institute. Photo courtesy of Parfait Kouacou. 

“The energy and innovative ideas that the Fellows bring to the table are truly inspiring. Their commitment to making a positive impact in their communities is a testament to the transformative power of this fellowship,” commented Parfait Kouacou, PhD, associate teaching professor in the Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages and the academic director of the University’s Mandela Washington Fellowship Institute.

“We made several enhancements to our program this year, including inviting back two of our alumni from previous years to share their insights,” explained Ahaji Schreffler, senior director of Education Abroad and Administrative Director of the Institute. 

The two returning alumni, Ntombifuthi Khumalo from South Africa and Bakang Thabiso from Botswana joined the program as teaching assistants and shared how they've leveraged their fellowship experiences to bring innovative solutions to their home countries.

“During my visit at Drexel University’s Environmental Observatory, I witnessed firsthand the impact of sustainable practices,” Bakang said while elaborating on one of his projects. “I brought this inspiration back home to Botswana. I launched an innovative environmental initiative where high schoolers tackle environmental challenges like reducing waste generated in school by turning it into vermicompost to sell to local communities.”

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Dean David S. Brown giving a welcome presentation to incoming fellows at Drexel University. Photo courtesy of Parfait Kouacou.

“My participation in the Mandela Washington Fellowship has expanded my perspective on global leadership, providing valuable insights into equity, equality and inclusion,” Ntombifuthi said. “This transformative experience has enabled me to cultivate partnerships aimed at amplifying my contributions within my organizations and initiatives in my country South Africa and the African Continent.”

Over the next few weeks, fellows will make a tangible impact on the local community by supporting two nonprofit organizations addressing hunger and homelessness. They will also engage in cultural exchanges and discuss leadership visions with Drexel University President John Fry.

After their leadership institutes, fellows will participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in Washington, D.C., where they will engage in networking and panel discussions with 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.