Remarks of Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard at the Virtual Meeting with 2020 Mandela Washington Fellows

Good afternoon everyone, I trust that you all have been taking necessary measures to stay safe and healthy given the current COVID-19 pandemic.

First, I want to congratulate all of you.  You should be very proud to be selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow as this is a very competitive process.  I have had the pleasure of overseeing fellowship recruitment as the U.S. Ambassador to Mali and the African Union.  It is always a pleasure to meet young and dynamic change makers, such as this group.

Nigeria has always had the greatest number of applicants and participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship.  This year more than 7,000 Nigerians applied for the 56 available slots. Your cohort occupies a unique place in the history of the program in that this will be the first time the fellowship must be postponed by a year.  Information on the exact dates of your fellowship experience will be shared in spring 2021.  But on the bright side, your cohort marks the 10th anniversary of the Young African Leaders Initiative and we, along with our colleagues in Washington D.C., have many events planned to celebrate this anniversary.

Here at the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, we will continue to engage you through virtual programs to build your capacity and prepare you for your fellowship experience. In the coming months, you will also be connected with 400 alumni of your fellowship, and thousands more from our other exchanges between Nigeria and other countries.  I urge you to be a part of all that we have planned for you; this is just the beginning of what we can accomplish together.

I encourage you to continue to be catalysts for positive change in your various communities and industries. You were not chosen because of the universities you attended, the companies you own or work for, or the titles you hold.  You were chosen because of your ability to lead and inspire others.  Your ideas, and the ability to build teams around those ideas, are critical to making Nigeria a more secure, democratic, and prosperous country, especially during this pandemic.

Finally, I’d ask that you do all you can to stay safe by following all the recommendations given by the NCDC.  I also encourage that you help disseminate official and accurate information about the pandemic situation as well as the efforts of the Nigerian government. Ignorance or inaccurate information is just as dangerous as the virus itself.  I now look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.