Rutgers Selected by State Department to Host Business and Civic Leadership Institutes for Obama Initiative

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Mandela Fellows Washington DC August 2015
Monday, February 8th

Rutgers doubles cohort of fellows to offer brand new sustainable business institute

For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Department of State selected Rutgers to offer the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program as part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)—the only New Jersey university chosen to do so.

Fifty young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa who work with nonprofits and the public and private sectors will receive leadership skills and training at Rutgers that will help them improve local communities, develop economically viable business ventures, enhance peace and security, and promote employment and growth in their regions.

“We are honored to be again selected to host such a talented group. The past two years have proven that this elite cohort displays a wide array of talents and capabilities. We look forward to providing this year’s fellows with both group and individualized training that aligns with Rutgers’ mission of excellence,” said Rick Garfunkel, Rutgers interim vice president for international and global affairs. “Being part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship not only helps educate the fellows—but also helps educate the Rutgers community about critical needs and issues across sub-Saharan Africa.”

For the first two years, Rutgers has participated in the program as one of only 20 universities; when the U.S. Department of State doubled the size of the program this year, Rutgers followed suit by applying for two institutes—and succeeded.
In 2014, a multidisciplinary partnership led to the creation of a civic leadership institute, which was repeated in the summer of 2015. This coming summer, there will be two partnerships, both coordinated by the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers): School of Social Work professor of professional practice Ron Quincy and Center for African Studies faculty Ousseina Alidou and Abena Busia teamed up with the GAIA Centers to recreate the civic leadership institute for the third time.

The GAIA Centers also recruited faculty from the Rutgers Business School and the Department of Chemistry to offer a brand new sustainable business institute. 

“Not many universities get selected to host two institutes,” said Kevin Lyons, associate professor of business and academic director of the sustainable business institute. In fact, Rutgers is only one of four universities that will offer two institutes for the fellowship.

“Our 2014 and 2015 fellowships were extremely productive, and we’ve designed this year’s institutes to improve further on our past successes,” Garfunkel said.

Those successes are far-reaching. Aarthi Burtony, a 2014 fellow and blind disability advocate from Mauritius who went on to host several national disability rights events and secured a disability access internship with Microsoft, said the experience was an “unforgettable academic and mind-opening journey.”  

“The [Mandela Washington Fellowship experience] at Rutgers changed the view I had of my leadership skills. I came back to Mauritius with new avenues … and an understanding that the rights of persons with disabilities rests [in their hands],” Burtony said. “I literally adopted a different approach and method in working with the NGOs I have been involved with.

Finally, in November 2014, through the U.S. Embassy, I started a fundraising campaign to establish the first Braille library in Mauritius.”

Burtony is currently working with the Global Rainbow Foundation, a charitable trust that offers services to individuals with disabilities.

Khadija Isse, a 2015 fellow actively involved in youth mentorship, has been working to change what she says is a “negative world view” of Somalia.

“I am trying to educate young people, as much as I can, on Somalia’s history. In order to get complete information, I meet with older persons who were part of the Somali Youth League—a movement that brought independence to Somalia,” said Isse. “I am planning to continue this project until it is a national matter.”

She says the fellowship provided her with information about how to bring Somalia’s rich history, culture, and heritage to the forefront of the international perspective.

“I learned a lot about how to organize a community to establish some kind of museum or a public library where we can find books that talk about our history,” Isse said.

Quincy, who designed the civic leadership institute curriculum, said that the fellows will receive training that is both adaptable for many fields and relevant to individual needs.

“We’ll explore historical and cultural leadership topics, and we’ll engage the fellows in an open dialogue with Rutgers faculty on the work of revolutionary civic leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Quincy. “We’ll talk about the ways these leaders implemented social and political change and how those methods can be applied to their specific projects for meaningful results.”

Assistant dean of international programs in chemistry Johanna Bernstein, the administrative director of the sustainable business institute, says the program will give fellows a hands-on feel for every aspect of the product supply chain, from concept to delivery.

“The goal of the institute is to give the fellows a better understanding of decision-making. We’re going to give them a decision analysis tool that takes complex bits of information as inputs and helps them analyze different aspects that are calculated into a decision—risk is one such aspect,” Lyons said. “The tool can serve as a placeholder for critical information beyond the scope of this fellowship and in their real working lives.”

“You can lecture all you want,” said Lyons, “but without experience, the lessons might be lost.”

“The programs go well beyond in-class training,” said Quincy. Visits to iconic landmarks only found in the New Jersey region, cultural activities, community service projects, and meetings with community leaders and university faculty, demonstrate real-world outcomes.

One of these field trips will be a tour of the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, designed for the sustainable business institute fellows.

Bernstein said that “understanding the history of a technology is critical” when you’re creating a business.

“The fellows will learn some of the Edison technology histories so that they can make better entrepreneurial or manufacturing decisions,” she said. During the laboratory trip, the fellows will learn about the decision-making process behind major historical innovations, like the phonograph.

Though the civic leadership institute will focus on successful social programs and the sustainable business institute will focus on viable businesses, they have one thing in common at their core: effecting change for the common good—and there will be a “definite crossover” between the two institutes, with some joint educational activities, Lyons said.

At the end of the program, the fellows will travel to Washington to meet President Obama.

This year’s group of 50 visiting fellows to Rutgers is part of a larger group of 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows being hosted across the United States this summer. Working closely with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational Affairs and its implementing partner, IREX, host institutions have designed academic programs that will challenge, inspire, and empower these inspiring young leaders from Africa.

To find out about where fellows from past years are today, visit our Where Are They Now? page.