Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Daughton Mandela Washington Fellows Return to Namibia

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, and thank you for joining us! If demographic projections hold, by the end of this century, 41% of the world’s youth will be African.  This growing youth demographic, increasingly empowered by new technologies, is a major driver of political, economic, and social progress.  President Obama recognizes the role that young Africans are playing in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.  That’s why the White House launched the Young African Leadership Initiative, or YALI, to demonstrate in real terms America’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa.

One of the central pillars of YALI is the Mandela Washington Fellowship, through which the U.S. government seeks to provide training to a select group of Namibia’s young leaders.  We are gathered here this evening to welcome back the 2015 class of Namibia’s Mandela Washington Fellows! Please join me in a toast to their return!

The nine 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows from Namibia were put through a strenuous six weeks of rigorous academic coursework at some of America’s top universities. Each pursued one of three tracks: civic leadership, public management, and business and entrepreneurship. From what they’ve told me, they studied all day, networked all night, and volunteered all of their weekends at shelters and hospitals.  They also all participated in a Presidential Summit convened by President Barack Obama in Washington, DC.  (I hear some didn’t wash their hands for days after shaking his!)

Some of the Fellows stayed in the U.S. longer to participate in additional professional development opportunities with American NGOs, private companies, and governmental offices. And some earned extra funding to scale up their businesses or engage in community projects after they returned home.

But I’m not the one who recently returned from the Fellowship. I hope you will use this occasion to hear from the returned Fellows themselves about their experiences.

Since they have returned, the Mandela Washington Fellows in Namibia have traveled around the country, hosting town halls, talking to young people, and multiplying the effect of their own experience by sharing what they learned. I want to join them in encouraging all of Namibia’s young leaders, both those who are here tonight and others that you may know, to apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship – not because it’s a free trip to the United States but because it will change your life.  And the U.S.-based training is only the beginning of our long-term investment in your future.

I’d like to invite one of the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows to say a few words about the experience: Heinrich Hafeni Nghidipaya.

In 2016, we aim to more than double the number of participating Fellows from Namibia.  Next year in June I want to be shaking the hands of 20 Namibian young leaders who will travel to the U.S. and represent Namibia as they build their own futures.  To our many exchange Alumni here this evening, thank you for your continuing help and support, and for introducing me and my team to some of Namibia’s brightest young leaders.