Spotlight: The 2022 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders at Rutgers

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Photo of the cohorts of the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Rutgers, 2022
Tuesday, September 13th

Fifty of the best and brightest young African leaders came to the Rutgers campus this summer for the first time in two years to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

Rutgers University welcomed some of Africa’s most promising emerging leaders for two six-week Leadership Institutes this summer as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The Fellows brought with them a wealth of talents and interests, and represented 24 of Africa’s 54 countries:  Angola, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. This year’s Fellows were focused on projects ranging from youth advocacy and public health to sustainability, recycling, and environmental policy. 

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and empowers young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities, and local community engagement. YALI was created in 2010 and supports young Africans as they spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. Since 2014, the U.S. Department of State has supported nearly 5,100 Mandela Washington Fellows from across Sub-Saharan Africa to develop their leadership skills and foster connections and collaboration with U.S. professionals. Rutgers University has been selected as a partner institution every year since 2014. 

The two Institutes at Rutgers are the Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute and the Leadership in Business Institute, which each include a cohort of 25 Fellows. In 2022, the Civic Engagement Institute was led by Patricia O'Brien-Richardson, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Olabode Ibironke, Department of English, and Greg Costalas, Rutgers Global. The Leadership in Business Institute was led by Kevin Lyons, Rutgers Business School, and Johanna Bernstein, Rutgers Global.

The connectivity with the Rutgers community that develops over the course of the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Institutes continues well beyond the Fellows' departure. Relationships that are started during the summer program are maintained through regular communication afterwards, and the opportunity for Rutgers faculty to travel to Africa to continue projects exists through the Fellowship’s Reciprocal Exchange component. Rutgers has established a Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni database to help Fellows stay connected. 

Meet a Few of this Year’s Fellows

Osariemen Grace Omoruyi, who participated in the Civic Engagement Institute, is the founder of Restorative Justice for Africa Initiative (REJA), an organization that promotes access to justice in her home country of Nigeria. Grace was inspired to establish the organization to ensure that underserved people have equal access to justice. She recently received an Echoing Green Fellowship grant for $80,000 to help expand her organization. This Fellowship will help “close the justice gap for low-income earners, women, and children detained in prison without trial in Nigeria by developing a mobile app that provides free legal representation and drives restorative justice.”

Franck Goze from Cote D’Ivoire, another Fellow in the Civic Engagement Institute, is the founder of Youth Institution for Education, which is committed to helping children and youth from all backgrounds achieve economic independence through educational opportunities. One of the programs is the African Youth Solutions Center, which facilitates access to professional training and entrepreneurship programs. As Goze noted, “As a young person aware of the potential that youth can bring to drive Africa’s development, I decided to create a channel to help transform young Africans into future leaders by engaging, motivating, and guiding them in their choices for achieving their own projects as well as their personal fulfillment.”

A Fellow from the Business Engagement Institute, Rokiatou Traore from Mali, is a green entrepreneur who founded the Herou Alliance, which aims to offer technical assistance to women and youth to enable them to plant one million moringa trees. Moringa trees are widely cultivated for their seed pods and leaves that are consumed primarily as tea and used for traditional herbal medicine; in addition, they are used for water purification. Rakiatou’s goal is to ultimately integrate moringa into the daily diet of 20 million people in her country. With this ambitious goal, she hopes to help Mali address several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including poverty, health, gender, equality, economic growth, and climate action. 

Here is a short video featuring four of the Business Institute Fellows—Paseka Lesolang (South Africa), Fatou Coulibaly (Senegal), Zach Kauraisa (Namibia), and Nkosi Ncube (Zimbabwe)—discussing the ways they will impact their home communities in Africa. 

The 2022 Program

Over the six weeks of the program, the Fellows engaged in lectures, joint projects and presentations, networking events, a symposium on women’s leadership and inclusion, a symposium on climate change and health, and community service opportunities. 

The Women's Leadership and Inclusion Symposium was led by Patricia O'Brien-Richardson and Johanna Bernstein and featured as panelists the Faculty Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers Ousseina Alidou; Founder and Research Director at iHIT Hajar Shirley; and Assistant Director for Education at the Center for Social Justice and LGBT Communities at Rutgers Darnell Thompson. The event included much discussion about the ways in which we can make strides in inclusion practices around the world. 

The Global Business and Health Symposium climate change health workshop was led by Dr. Ernani Sadural, Director of Global Health at RWJBarnabas Health. The Fellows had the opportunity to work together on solving medical supply chain challenges in developing countries. 

A community service opportunity was a trip to the Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm in Sussex County, NJ, where the Fellows met Chief Vincent Mann of the Turtle Clan, Ramapough Lenape Nation, and learned about land acknowledgement, land rights, food sovereignty and food justice. 

The program culminated with a networking reception at the home of Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, where the Fellows were able to meet and engage with the President and enjoy a traditional American barbecue. (See photos from many of these events here.)

“The Mandela Washington Fellowship is one of our most important programs,” remarked Vice President for Global Affairs Eric Garfunkel. “We have been so fortunate to host cohorts of Fellows since 2014 and, as a result, now have a robust Rutgers University Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni community, of which we are very proud. Through this alumni community, we encourage our many Rutgers Fellows to network with each other and Rutgers faculty to create meaningful partnerships with each other all over Africa.” Garfunkel added, “The work that these young leaders who participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program do is truly transformative.”

More about the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Rutgers

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX, the Leadership Institutes offer programs that challenge, motivate, and empower young leaders from Africa to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
For additional information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Institutes at Rutgers University please contact Johanna Bernstein ( and Greg Costalas ( and visit our Mandela Washington Fellowship webpage.