“A Force for Positive Change”
I appreciate the welcome. As this conference is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, let me say on behalf of the Mission, you are all welcome – and welcome back from the United States! I am grateful that you have come from the far corners of Nigeria to be with us, and each other, today.
I am glad to see that we have U.S. exchange program alumni with us today – both Mandela Washington Fellows from years past, but also distinguished leaders of the Hubert Humphrey Alumni Association of Nigeria. We asked them to come back to share their experience with you, the Class of 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows, and they kindly agreed.
It’s so important to pull together the talent we have across so many U.S. programs, and across so many years. It’s important that you meet each other, that you share ideas, and that you feed off each other’s energy to accomplish great things. You are all part of the alumni family of U.S. exchange programs.
I am proud to see even more energy this year, now that President Obama doubled the size of the Mandela Washington Fellowship to more than 1,000 Fellows from across the continent. You can see it right here in this room with most of the 100 Fellows from Nigeria in 2016. Not everyone could be here today, but we know they are here with us in spirit.
And that is why we are holding this conference. President Obama couldn’t have said it better than when he met you this past August: you are, each of you, “a force for positive change.”
When we selected you for the Fellowship, you were already leaders accomplishing positive change. You have been finding solutions to lack of electricity in your communities. You have been at the forefront of recycling waste sustainably, so that your water and land is cleaner, and you created jobs in the process. You have brought education to children at risk of dropping out from school, or at risk of never attending school. You have helped hundreds of people learn how to use a computer for the first time, or how to start a business with a feasible plan.
You have been bringing medical care to your home communities, bringing treatment to the visually impaired, or community acceptance and treatment for rural women who are shunned because they suffer from fistula. You’ve found ways to protect the legal rights and increase access to opportunity for people living with disabilities. You’ve brought clothes and books and psycho-social care to the survivors of Boko Haram.
The talent and drive in this room is even stronger now, after your six weeks of leadership training and professional experiences in the United States. President Obama always intended the Young African Leaders Initiative to connect you to each other, to resources and networks in Africa and the United States, to make you the most effective leaders in business, government, and civil society that you can be.
With that investment in each of you, and with the charge given to you by President Obama, I am asking you to define this conference as the moment when you take your game to the next level. To gather everything you have learned in the United States, and from each other, and act with all the force in you to accomplish positive change in Nigeria. Ask yourself – how much more can you empower thousands of fellow Nigerians to access opportunity and gain the knowledge that you hold? How many more Nigerians can you reach?
This year, your Fellowship year of 2016-2017, you will have the support of USAID, IREX, and the State Department to attend events, organize events, create networks, and partner with other organizations. We will do that in numerous ways as my Public Affairs Section colleagues from Lagos and Abuja will explain. We want your projects this coming year to be the best they can be.
As you give back to your communities, I want you to think ahead in your work, so that you look at horizons beyond Nigeria, in concert with other Mandela Washington Fellows. President Obama put it best in 2015 when he said, “you’ll not only be making a difference in your own countries, but you’ll be the foundation of a new generation of global leadership, a generation that’s going to be working together across borders to make the world safer and more prosperous and more peaceful and more just.” After all, you are part of the Young African Leaders Initiative – so we urge you to think in continental and global terms, creating the international partnerships that will benefit Africa, and African solutions that benefit the world.
I have one last request of you. Remember the generation behind you. The online application for the 2017 Fellowship is already underway, and the deadline is October 26. You all know many up and coming young leaders in every state in Nigeria, who care about their communities. Encourage them to apply – especially women and people living with disabilities – at yali.state.gov, just as it says on the banner behind me.
With that, I once again welcome you to Lagos and the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow alumni conference. The United States Mission to Nigeria remains strongly committed to working with the young people of Nigeria, and I can’t wait to see what each of you will do to accomplish positive change.