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Washington Fellows gain insight, connections through ASU academic institute

group photo of Washington Fellows for Young African Leaders
July 16, 2014

Twenty-five accomplished young professionals from Africa are sharpening their civic leadership skills through a six-week training institute led by the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University.

ASU was chosen as one of 20 American universities to serve as an academic institute for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the new flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. The Washington Fellowship is a program of the U.S. government and is supported in its implementation by IREX.

Launched in 2010, the institute is the Obama Administration’s signature effort to support young African leaders in their effort to spur growth, strengthen governance and enhance peace and security across Africa.

This summer, cohorts across the country are participating in one of three focus areas: business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; and public management.

ASU’s civic leadership institute is oriented toward young Africans who serve the public through non-governmental organizations, community-based nonprofits or volunteerism.

South African entrepreneur Bongiwe Ndakisa started the Kwenzekile Community Development Centre to empower rural youth. Ndakisa’s center teaches young people computer skills, engages them in sports and encourages community development.

For more than three years, the venture has been successfully helping youth in rural and disadvantaged communities gain the skills needed for employment. She hopes to addresses the challenge of giving youth useful skills while keeping them in their community with meaningful employment opportunities.

“There are many partnerships being created here,” Ndakisa says of the Washington Fellowship program. She mentions her colleague Frank Dugasseh’s idea for mobile libraries, which fits into her own efforts to expand access to education in Africa.

Dugasseh founded the Wechiau Community Library in northern Ghana, which now serves more than 800 children in five districts with an emphasis on girls and the visually and hearing impaired.

“In the northern part of Ghana, illiteracy is greater than 72 percent, and with children who are in school, especially at the primary level, less than 9 percent can read and write,” Dugasseh says. “Many of them are not going to get the right tools to proceed to universities and other institutions, so initiating this intervention was a way of trying to get people interested in reading.”

The fellows are also gaining networking opportunities across the state.

Last week, Dugasseh met with African Energy in Tucson to explore options for bringing solar power lamps to his community, which would allow kids to read at night.

“I don’t often get the opportunity to come over to the states and pass on to another organization that might be interested in seeing that a child progresses,” Dugasseh says.

Fellow Martin Muganzi of Uganda also met with African Energy to learn more about how the solar power industry can create jobs in his home country.

Uganda has one of the largest youth populations and highest unemployment rates in the world, and Muganzi wants to introduce the solar power industry to help create jobs while implementing sustainable energy practices.

ASU fellows have been meeting with various Arizona officials, including a talk and tour with Cottonwood’s economic development director Casey Rooney and mayor Diane Joens about the importance of local business, and a seminar on Arizona’s booming wine industry, which has boosted economic and tourism development throughout the state. Fellows also had the opportunity to meet with Clarkdale mayor Doug Von Gausig, town manager Gayle Maybery and community/economic development director Jodie Filardo.

The fellowship at ASU serves as the beginning of the fellows’ professional training. The U.S. government has a long-term investment in the Young African Leaders Initiative, planning to work with institutions and the next generation of African entrepreneurs, educators, activists and innovators to create meaningful opportunities in Africa.

“When you send a book to a child who has never, ever seen a book before, even how to open it becomes a problem. They don’t know how to open it,” Dugasseh says. “But the joy is that even if a child isn’t able to read, and he looks at the pictures, and he smiles, I draw some satisfaction.”