As Prepared For Delivery | August 13, 2015 | Gaborone
Thank you for coming to celebrate the return of eleven of our thirteen Mandela Washington Fellows! Two Fellows remain in the US on internships.
President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democracy, and enhance peace and security across Africa. The Mandela Washington Fellowship began in 2014 and brought 500 young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States. This Fellowship has become the flagship program of YALI.
These Mandela Washington Fellows participated in six week academic and leadership programs hosted by top U.S. universities like Northwestern University in Chicago, Syracuse University in New York, the University of Texas at Austin, and University of Wisconsin.
Fellows networked with leaders in the U.S. government, civil society, and private sector. Following the academic program, Fellows travelled to Washington D.C. for a three-day Summit hosted by President Obama.
I’m told our Fellows will partner with the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellows by joining the Botswana YALI Network, a registered nonprofit organization that coordinates YALI alumni projects. The YALI alumni organization has been working with the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to hold workshops to empower young teachers with leadership skills and is developing a program to provide business mentorship and guidance to young entrepreneurs.
I’m told you will also develop projects that focus on empowering Batswana youth. You will establish a National Youth Week to highlight issues that concern youth and develop platforms to address them. You will hold quarterly Networking and Mentoring Forums across Botswana to mentor young people and empower them to express their concerns and goals. You will establish a Wi-Fi enabled “YALI Park” in Gaborone to help youth network and gain leadership skills. You will create a Botswana YALI network twitter account to further involve young Batswana.
The U.S. government is committed to helping you accomplish your ambitious goals by working with businesses, Botswana’s government, and NGOs to create professional opportunities like internships, mentors, and funding.
We at the U.S. Embassy feel privileged to be working with our “lucky thirteen” Fellows. I am inspired by your motivation, creativity, and vision for Botswana. You will receive a certificate for being a YALI fellow. You must prove the value of it every day. In courts, in corporate boardrooms, on the streets of the towns and villages of this remarkable country.
What is in your hands? Remember, in my country Rosa Parks changed the world with nothing but a bus ticket in her hand. In Sharpeville the world came to a halt because of young people who had nothing but burning passbooks in their hands. Surely you have more power in your hands. You are the most powerful generation that this world has ever known. In one hand, you will have a certificate that says you are indeed future leaders. In your other hand, many of you have smartphones which concentrate more human capital than has ever been deployed in recorded history. What is in your hand? You might combine that certificate and smartphone and create a tool that completely changes the interface and accountability between civil society and government. Have faith in that power, your power.
I recall Aimee Cesaire’s faith towards the end of Notebook of a Return to the Native Land:
“It is not true that the work of man is done/That we have no business on earth/that we parasite the world/whereas the work as only begun…/And no race has a monopoly on beauty, intelligence, on strength…/and we know now that the sun turns around our earth/lighting the parcel designated by our will alone/and that every star falls from sky to earth at our omnipotent command.”
As the Greek lyric poet, Pindar, wrote, “Oh my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.” I urgently await your good deeds as the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows jolt your communities, energize this nation with your power and optimism, arrest the heavens with your enthusiasm, initiative, and limitless energy.