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Young African Leaders Gain Entrepreneurship, Leadership Skills

Government program brings promising leaders to Northwestern, other campuses

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June 26, 2014

By Roger Anderson, associate director, Office for Research

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In Kenya, Paul Victor Oloo teaches young African journalists to think beyond print media. This summer, with 24 other young Africans, the Nairobi-based media production company owner is at Northwestern University as a fellow in the Washington Fellowship of the Young African Leaders Initiative.  

An Obama administration program, YALI is designed to support and develop young African leaders, strengthen partnerships between the United States and Africa and promote democratic governance.

“With nearly one in three Africans between the ages of 10 and 24 and about 60 percent of the continent’s total population under the age of 35, it’s imperative that we make investments in the future generation of African leaders,” says Will Reno, director of Northwestern’s Program of African Studies (PAS).

Working with the University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Center for Leadership, PAS is hosting the 25 young Africans for six weeks this summer and will host similar groups for the next four years.

Reno, a political scientist in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Northwestern vice president of research Jay Walsh recently welcomed the newly arrived YALI fellows to campus. He urged them to connect with one other, the Chicagoans they meet and with Northwestern faculty and staff.

“You are now lifetime members of the University,” Walsh told the YALI fellows, who are taking Northwestern-designed courses on innovation and meeting with representatives from a diverse group of Chicago area organizations to complement that classroom learning.

Twenty institutions of higher learning across the country are hosting YALI participants this summer. After six weeks at their host institutions, all 500 will take part in a summit meeting with President Barack Obama. They can then opt to do eight-week internships in the U.S. or take part in continuing education in Africa.

As one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most promising young leaders, Oloo was chosen from more than 50,000 applicants to participate in YALI. The fellows come from nearly 20 African nations -- including Botswana and the republics of Cameroon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Northwestern’s YALI fellows will exchange ideas with representatives from the Chicago Cubs, Crain’s Chicago Business, IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McDonald’s, CME Group, Google, Chicago Urban League, the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

“We expect YALI fellows to make connections they can use on their return,” says Kate Klein, Program of African Studies senior program administrator.

For Oloo, the summer spent here is the experience of a lifetime. “I want to learn how to develop a business structure that works and then go back home and use it -- not just for myself but also to empower others.”