Fight or Flight

Flags wave over the International Culture Center.

Every day young individuals across Africa see the issues and live the problems of their people. The issues they face range from violence to malnutrition, depending on their region. They struggle to find ways to improve their standard of living and strive to find ways to better their communities.

Nearly one in three Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35. Too often these young people find themselves fighting the uphill battle of seemingly helpless poverty, brutal violence and ominous famine.

The Young African Leaders Initiative identifies and empowers young African leaders who show the potential to make positive changes in society. During the summer of 2017, Texas Tech University was awarded a grant to host the Mandela Washington Fellowship sponsored by YALI thanks to efforts by university faculty and staff.

According to the YALI website, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which began in 2014, empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking. In 2018, the fellowship will provide 700 outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university, with support for professional development after they return home.

The Fellowship

This program is becoming more competitive for young people between the ages of 25 and 35. For students to be accepted, they must provide established records of accomplishment by promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries. In the summer of 2017 Texas Tech was awarded a grant provided by the state department to host 25 fellows of various backgrounds.

The Participants

“This is a competitive program from both ends,” said Reagan Ribordy, director of international grants administration and partnerships. “The young leaders have to apply to be accepted into the program, and the universities have to competitively apply for grants to host a group of fellows.”

Of the 25 fellows, five were directly involved in the agriculture industry. Of the five who had various backgrounds in the agriculture industry; two were farmers, one was in charge of seed repository for the country of Cameroon, another was special counsel for agricultural development for the president of Liberia, and a microbiologist from Sudan who worked on food issues for his region. The other 20 included lawyers, politicians, educators, doctors, public health specialists, and economists.

This program also provides participants with a networking opportunity for the youth who live within close proximity of one another when they return home after completion of the program. This networking promotes collaboration amongst leaders, educators and researchers to encourage them to spread the wealth of knowledge in order to find new solutions to the problems they face.

“The program is a great example of the international collaboration and how they (the fellows) are learning and benefiting from U.S. institutions while the reciprocal exchange benefits our faculty and university, too.” Ribordy said.

The Program in Action

The 25 fellows who attended Texas Tech University were part of a larger fellow group of 1,000 individuals spread across 38 U.S. universities who took part in a six-week Academic and Leadership Institute at a U.S. college or university in one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, or public management.

“Mainly what we try to do is intersect all of the disciplines, in order to demonstrate how they all fit in the grand scheme of their own country’s development through the improvement of agricultural practices,” said Amy Boren, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications and a rural community development specialist in the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.

Dr. Boren was hired in 2014 to deepen international programing in the agricultural education and communications department.

“We try to intersect all of the disciplines and connect how they fit into the grand scheme of their countries development. You may be a public health specialist, but the health issues you are dealing with is related to malnutrition,” Boren said.

“Sixty percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 30,” Boren said. “ Their youth population is booming and it can be viewed in two ways: a critical emerging crisis or a real opportunity for targeted intervention.”

With such a youthful population, it isn’t uncommon to see children and young adults turning to violence and crime to find a way to get their next meal. The fellows have seen social injustices and public wrongdoing by their people; everything from to civil wars dividing regions, to homeless children becoming child soldiers because it is the only way to get their next meal.

“No matter what discipline they are in, they are all focused on agriculture.”

The fellows who get involved are the kind of people who want to make change. They have proven records of stewardship and are emerging as leaders in their communities. According to Boren, they have worked anywhere from foster homes and jails to presidential advisors.

“We are looking at targeted intervention, to keep young people out of terrorist organizations and keep them from being forced to violence as a means of survival.”

As the selection process gets more exclusive for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Dr. Boren was excited to begin the application process for the summer of 2018.