Welcome to the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship Reunion Conference. I am exceptionally pleased to be here to open this event, and very happy to see all of you, recently returned from your six-week fellowship experience in the United States! You spent time at some of the best educational institutions our country has to offer, and I hope to hear about your experiences.
In 2014, President Barak Obama created the Mandela Washington Fellowship in an effort to engage entrepreneurial and energetic young African leaders, thus bringing Africa and the United States closer as we move forward together.
Since then, nearly 3,700 young Africans have traveled to the U.S. for an exchange designed to empower them and enhance the great work they are already doing. Among those who have participated in the program were 360 Nigerians. I am told, the course work, leadership training and networking opportunities you experienced were invaluable.
Now that have returned to Nigeria, you will enter the next phase of this exchange. The purpose for bringing you all together immediately after your fellowship experience is first and foremost to compare notes on your experiences and explore ways for all of you and the U.S. government to collaborate going forward.
Second, we hope to help you expand and increase the sustainable impact of the Mandela Washington Fellowship in your communities and nation-wide, forging new networks to magnify the positive changes that you are already making. We will do this through the grants and assistance that we provide Mandela Washington alumni each year. We also encourage you to reach out to the alumni of other U.S. exchange programs and to engage with the thousands of young people who have joined the YALI Network in Nigeria.
We have made a considerable investment in you and I am sure you will prove that it was a worthwhile investment in the future of your country and in the future of Africa.
Now, I would like to single out a few high-achievers sitting in your midst, Mandela Washington Fellows who have gone above and beyond to impact their communities and who have proven themselves outstanding partners for us in our work to support Nigeria.
2018 Mandela Washington Fellow Ugochi Obidiegwu is a true leader. She has been an instrumental force in bringing a group of young professionals together to establish the Lagos hub of the YALI Face@Face group, a key partner for the U.S. Mission in our effort to reach young Nigerians and discuss important topics such as democracy, economic development, education and entrepreneurship. Thank you so much for your hard work Ugochi!
This year, 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu mentored five school girls from Onitsha, helping them develop an app titled FD-Detector, which helps to identify fake pharmaceuticals. Noting the importance of their work, she entered the group as competitors in the junior category of the 2018 Technovation Challenge in the U.S. Last month the young girls won first prize. Outstanding work Uchenna!
Segun Fatudimu, 2017 – 2018 President of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association, worked with other MWF officers of the alumni association to significantly increase the effectiveness of the organization he leads. Under his leadership, the MWF Alumni Association sponsored more frequent and more effective events focused on uplifting Nigerian youth. They hosted a Young Leaders Assembly, which inspired 500 young Nigerians to develop strategies for achieving Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals, and they sponsored the Beyond School Challenge, which harnessed the entrepreneurial skills of secondary school students from across the Nigeria and helped them hone their efforts. Segun, you and your colleagues are an inspiration!
As Consul General, I have been interacting with MWF alumni for years, always impressed and captivated by your achievements. I will tell you that the success stories from within your ranks emerge with amazing frequency and each new story provides me renewed inspiration. Thank you all!
I hope that over the next two days you will all benefit from the time you have together, working hard yet again to enhance your individual and collective efforts through collaboration. I know there is no limit to your potential. Keep up the work, and please have an excellent reunion – you deserve it.