Remarks by Ambassador James F. Entwistle Mandela Washington Fellowship Pre-Departure Orientation (May 19, 2015)

May 19, 2015

(as prepared for delivery)

Good morning.  To use my favorite Nigerian expression: all protocols observed.

This is an exciting time to be in Nigeria.  You had a successful election, historic in that it marks the first democratic transfer of power from one party to another in a largely peaceful and well-organized process.  As young people, you played a pivotal role in the outcome.  As President Obama’s personal representative to Nigeria, I am here to tell you that the United States remains deeply committed to working with the people of your marvelous country, especially the youth.

First, I would like to recognize some of our 2014 Mandela Washington fellows, the inaugural cohort.   Thank you for joining us today.  I’m sure you are as excited as we are to meet the new class of fellows.  Your mentorship and partnership will be critical to the success of the 2015 program.

Now, I wish to congratulate the newly selected 2015 Mandela Washington fellows.  As you may know, you competed with more than 7,000 applicants from Nigeria alone.  You all should be proud of your accomplishment.  Your selection says a lot about who you are as young leaders and the level of impact you are having on your communities as entrepreneurs, civic leaders, and public servants.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is an integral part of President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa.  The White House created this initiative out of recognition of the critical and increasing role that young Africans are playing in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.

Last year, 45 fellows from Nigeria were among 500 young people selected from across Africa to engage in an intensive, six-week fellowship at 20 top American universities.  They also had the opportunity to participate in a presidential summit hosted by President Obama in Washington, D.C.  Some fellows also completed internships with prestigious U.S. organizations like the Smithsonian Institution,  the Brookings Institution, and Deloitte Consulting.

Since their return to Nigeria, fellows are using the knowledge and experiences they acquired in the United States to scale up their businesses and initiate projects that will have a tremendous impact on society.  For example, Lawrence Afere, an agricultural entrepreneur, quickly raised 5 million naira for the construction of his plantain chips factory after learning the techniques of crowdfunding during his fellowship at Northwestern University.  Saidat Shonoiki, another 2014 fellow, recently received a 7 million naira grant from the World Bank to a build a sustainable agricultural training center.  And, as you may have already seen in the news, Adepeju Jaiyeoba, founder of Mother’s Delivery Kits, pitched her idea on enhanced maternal care to renowned investors of the U.S. hit television show “Shark Tank” at a White House event for emerging global entrepreneurs last week.  These are a just a few examples that show how Mandela Washington fellows have taken advantage of their experience.

As you all embark on your own fellowship, I ask that you be good ambassadors for your families, your communities, and, of course, your country.  You will have the opportunity to meet hundreds of bright and inspiring minds, just like yourselves, from other parts of Africa.  Take advantage of the opportunity to learn, to share, and to expand your network.

Upon your return, we hope that you will share what you have learned with members of your communities and leverage the networks you have established to their maximum potential.  Many of you are already making an impact in your communities, indeed, that is why we selected you.  One new fellow, Chinonso Ibe, has been working with her team of volunteers to provide educational support to 150 internally displaced children in the Federal Capital Territory area.  Earlier this month, I was in Adamawa and visited an IDP camp, where several NGOs were providing services to thousands of IDPs, so I know your work here in Abuja is challenging.  Please keep up the good fight.  Your work is really making a difference, and I applaud you.

The 2014 fellows have formed a strong alumni association in which all Mandela Washington fellows can continue to make a difference.  Since their return, the impact of their programs and interactions has been felt nationwide in Akure, Awka, Enugu, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Kano, Sokoto, Abuja, Lagos, Zaria, Kaduna, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and many more locations around Nigeria.  Both the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate General look forward to working with you upon your return to expand the influence of your program and to engage over 20,000 Nigerians within the YALI network.

Once again, congratulations for the great work you are doing, and I wish you a most productive fellowship experience.