Remarks by Maria Brewer on the send-off occasion of the YALI Washington Fellows (June 13, 2014)

Good morning, I’m the Chargé d’Affaires, and you are welcome to the send-off for President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI.  These young men and women are among the first 500 Washington Fellows selected to participate in this program taking place in the United States.

The Washington Fellows will arrive tomorrow at 20 of America’s top universities for six weeks of academic coursework and training. The coursework and programs will focus on three tracks:  civic leadership, public management, and business and entrepreneurship. Immediately afterwards, they will participate in a Presidential Summit, convened by President Obama in Washington, D.C.

Following their in-depth academic coursework, leadership training, and Presidential Summit, a few of the Fellows will stay in the U.S. to participate in an additional eight-week internship with American NGOs, private companies, and governmental offices.

The Washington Fellowship is a key part of President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. It was created 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.

Nearly one in three Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and around 60 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35.  This initiative is part of the President’s overall effort to encourage investment in the education and training of the continent’s next generation of leaders.

Competition for the Washington Fellowship was very impressive: more than 49,000 applications from around Africa for the 500 fellowships were received in Washington, D.C. Of that number, more than 15,000 were from Nigerians. The young men and women here today are part of the Nigerian contingent, totaling 45 between Abuja and Lagos.  We even have one Nigerian participant studying in South Africa who will be making the trip.

However, while there are limited resources to support travel to the U.S. for YALI, our commitment to Nigerians and their interest in the program is far from limited.  We continue to engage with those who were not selected for the Washington Fellowship program, and have created a Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI Network). The YALI Network will connect the next generation of African leaders with resources from the U.S. government and to one another.  To do so, USAID is supporting the development of Regional Leadership Centers to improve the availability, relevance and quality of leadership training programs for tens of thousands of young women and men across sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.S.-based coursework and training is only the beginning of our long-term investment in these young leaders. Following their return to Africa, Washington Fellows will have opportunities for networking, ongoing professional development, seed funding, and community service. Fellows will have access to enrichment seminars, local and regional networking events and an innovative on-line platform.

In addition, the Washington Fellows will have access to dedicated funding opportunities to support their ideas, businesses, and organizations. For example, more than $5 million in small grants will be awarded in the first three years by the U.S. African Development Foundation to Washington Fellows seeking to start or enhance their own businesses or social enterprises.

We look forward to seeing the Fellows in two or four months, and learning about their experiences.  We wish them all the best, and trust that they will seize this opportunity and make the most of it.  They are the next generation of Nigeria’s leaders, and to paraphrase President Obama, “they are the change they seek.”  The U.S. is making this investment in them because we believe that positive change in Africa will come from a generation that rejects corruption, supports peaceful reforms, and advocates for the rights and dignity of all citizens, regardless of gender, religion, or tribe.  Here is that generation, and we’re proud to welcome them to the U.S. in support of that vision.

Thank you.