Twenty-five young African leaders visited Indianapolis last Friday to discuss corporate responsibility and political activism with local businesses, nonprofit and government officials.
The visitors are part of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which selected 500 individuals from an applicant pool of 500,000 to spend six weeks this summer at various American universities. The fellows, who are all between the ages of 25 and 35, represent every country of Sub-Saharan Africa. Half are women.
The group visiting Indy is based at the University of Notre Dame in a cohort focused on business and entrepreneurship. A total of 25 universities are participating. Other areas of cohort focus include civic leadership and public management.
In talks and panels with Congressman André Carson, Senator Donnelly’s State Director Hodge Patel and representatives from Building Tomorrow and Peace Learning Center, the group focused on corporate philanthropic responsibility, the relationship between the private and public sectors, and the importance of youth involvement in society.
Companies such as Eli Lilly, Cummins and Exact Target Marketing met with the students to outline their corporate responsibility programs, explaining how they are utilizing company resources to make environmental economic and social improvements in communities where they work around the world.
The exchange also offered an opportunity for the fellows to share their observations.
“I would like to learn more about how these [corporate responsibility] programs are monitored and evaluated," said fellow Candice Potgieter, chief executive of KZN Science Centre, a group that seeks to improve the quality of education in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, specifically for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. "I think that we can always say that we’re doing good work, but we need to make sure that we evaluate what we’re doing so we can do a better job.”
Many of Notre Dame’s YALI fellows noted Friday that African countries are indifferent about getting young people involved in government, to which Congressman Carson replied, “Indifference is worse than hatred itself. Hatred has passion; indifference doesn’t accomplish anything.”
Carson, who said his political activism began at 9 years old, participating in a protest with family, spoke with the fellows about how they can best use politics to enact legislation to accomplish their goals.
Notre Dame’s fellows represent multiple fields, such as medicine, science, technology, finance, education, agriculture, non-profit, media and film. They are business owners, engineers, CEOs, athletes, and women- and impoverished-empowerment specialists, just to name a few.
Regardless of their specific professional backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: the desire to improve life across all of Africa and encourage youth participation.
Sekou Amadou Cissoko, founder of Making Africa a Continent of Innovators (MACI), said that his goal is to make “massive change around the world, unconstrained by speech or [political] party.”
MACI’s vision is to create a culture throughout Africa that fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and the pursuit of excellence, and Cissoko hopes to work with the YALI network upon returning to Guinea to accomplish this.
YALI’s mission is to aid the fellows in their various endeavors. When they return to their respective countries, fellows will have access to resources such as networking, professional development, funding and community service from YALI regional coordinators based at American embassies throughout Africa.
In recognition that more than 60 percent of the continent is estimated to be younger than 35, Obama launched YALI in 2010 in an effort to strengthen and engage Africa’s youth in spearheading positive social and economic change.
After the six weeks at universities, all 500 fellows will meet in Washington D.C. for the Presidential Summit before returning to Africa. During this weekend, fellows will meet with the president, First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors.
One hundred of the fellows will stay in the U.S. for eight-week internships with organizations across the country.