young Gambians, between the ages of 25 and 35, recently returned from America,
after “successfully” completing a six-week intensive leadership programme in
the United States.
They were among a record 1,000 exceptional young African leaders who participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship this year.
The fellows: Alhasan Bah, Alagie Busso, Aji Rohey Jeng, Awa Sillah, Baboucarr Saine, Charles Degold Gomez, Chilel Kaba Jawara, Kebba Sillah, Matida Komma, Matarr Touray,
Nfamara Keita, Sukai B. Cham, Samuel Gibba, Ya Amie Touray, and Yamundow Camara were on Thursday treated to a reception by the US Ambassador to The Gambia, Patricia Alsup.
Below is the statement of Ambassador Alsup at the welcome reception of the fellows:
“I am excited to welcome all of you to my residence. Tonight, we are gathered to celebrate and honor the achievements of 15 of The Gambia’s inspiring young leaders, who successfully completed a six-week intensive leadership programme in the United States.
“These Fellows were among a record 1,000 exceptional young African leaders who participated in the Fellowship this year.
“Since President Obama launched the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) as one of his signature programs six years ago, his principal goal has been preparing the next generation of African leaders to promote good governance and economic development.
“Through YALI, the United States has committed significant resources to enhance the skillsets of an already talented group, focusing on leadership skills and entrepreneurship. YALI also connects young African leaders with one another, with the United States, and with the American people.
“Since its launch in 2010, thousands of the continent’s best and brightest young people have participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
“As President Obama rightly stated during this year’s Mandela Fellowship town hall in Washington, DC, we’re doing this Fellowship not just because the President loves the people of Africa, but also because the world will not be able to deal with climate change or terrorism, or expanding women’s rights -- all the issues that we face globally -- without a rising, and dynamic, and self-reliant Africa. And, more than anything else, that depends on a rising generation of new leaders.
“My Mission fully understands that The Gambia’s economic growth and overall progress largely depend on the country’s youthful human resource base. Sixty percent of this country’s population is under the age of 25. This is a huge opportunity for a small country with a population just under two million.
“The drive to mobilize these vital human resources, harness their creative potential, and effectively utilize them for the economic development of the country, is a responsibility for everyone.
“This is one of the reasons that the U.S. Embassy is focused on youth empowerment. That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to establish The Gambia’s first ever business incubator as a vehicle to not only drive economic growth, but to provide business startups with access to training and capital.
“Today, the Startup Incubator has successfully trained, and graduated 42 young clients. They are now successful business owners who are providing jobs to other Gambians. One of them, Binta Jarju, owner of BJ Creations, is currently attending the prestigious African Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme in Washington, D.C.
“In fact, we have nominated another Startup Incubator graduate for the 2017 International Visitor’s Leadership Programme for Emerging African Leaders; Entrepreneurship and Business Development in the United States.
I am highlighting the Startup Incubator not only because of the success of its clients, but because it is run and managed by a Mandela Washington Fellow, Mr. Alieu Jallow. In fact, the Incubator now boasts two Mandela Fellows. Aji Rohey Jeng, Regional Training Coordinator for the Incubator, is among this year’s Fellows. So, we highlight the Incubator as just one example of how our youth exchange programs are linked to other kinds of opportunities we create here in The Gambia.
“To date, we have successfully recruited and sent a total of 28 young Gambian leaders to the United States as Mandela Washington Fellows. This year, The Gambia got a total of 15 slots; more than double the number we were allotted in 2015. This was a big increase for us, and we hope to send a similar number to Washington next year.
“The Fellows with us this evening participated in all three of the Mandela Fellowship tracks – Public Management, Civic Leadership, and Business and Entrepreneurship. Two of them, Baboucarr Saine and Samuel Gibba, also participated in competitive and prestigious internships after their Fellowship experience.
“In fact, they just returned to The Gambia this week, and I look forward to hearing more about their extended stay in the United States.
“We are proud of all of your accomplishments. You represent hope for your country and the continent as a whole. My team and I at the Embassy want to encourage your work and further development, and I am sure your fellow Gambians here tonight will do the same.
“While this is a moment of celebration, we also know that your work is just beginning. We are committed to engaging all of you in activities that will not only advance the goals of the Fellowship, but impact enormously on your respective communities.
“To begin this work, I am excited to announce that this year we are dedicating $25,000 for post-YALI alumni engagement. Through our existing networks, including the American Corners, our up-country Competitive College Clubs, and the International Visitor’s Leadership Program Alumni Association, Fellows will be engaged to share leadership skills, mentor youth, and organize special community service and outreach activities.
“We strongly believe that the planned programmes will amplify the impact of the YALI programme by enabling the Mandela Fellows to use their YALI experience to benefit their respective communities.
“Fellows will also actively take part in the Embassy’s recruitment drive to identify and recruit potential Fellows for 2017. Last year, it was the job of the 2015 class to scout you. So, isn’t it natural that you scout the next batch?
“In addition to the post-YALI engagement activities, I am also glad to disclose that Fellows will also have access to a special fund of $14,500 to implement their own initiatives.
Our Embassy’s Public Diplomacy Section has begun work in earnest to recruit the 2017 Fellows from The Gambia. I am excited to tell you that the online application went live yesterday, Wednesday, September 21.
“From today until October 26, qualified Gambian youth can apply to one of three Fellowship tracks: Business and Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership, or Public Management. I encourage those of you who know exceptional young people between 25 and 35 years old, to encourage them to apply for the Fellowship.
“Even those not selected will become part of a large YALI Network, which today has a membership of over 250,000 young Africans. YALI Network member have access to free online training to enhance their capabilities and expand their skill-sets. I’d like to share a short story with you that illustrates the possibilities of the YALI Network.
“Two years ago, Mamba Francisco of Angola wanted to be a Mandela Fellow, but he didn’t qualify because he didn’t speak English. So he buckled down — joined the YALI Network, and then he studied, he researched, he found English classes, and he learned. And this year, his hard work paid off. Our U.S. Embassy in Angola chose him as a Mandela Fellow.
“This is proof that you can turn your challenges into great opportunities if you are prepared to take the initiative, do the work, and go a little further.
“Our recruitment drive this year has begun with our Facebook page where we announced the opening of the 2017 application period. Earlier this afternoon, the Public Affairs Officer discussed the Fellowship on our radio programme, “This Week with the U.S. Embassy.”
“For the next month, our Embassy team will continue using these and other platforms to reach out to Gambians to encourage them to apply. Our recruitment will also extend to rural areas of the country.
“We are assured of success because we have a secret weapon; two of the 2017 Fellows are actually living and working in rural towns. In fact, one of them, Mr. Saine, was one of only two Gambian Fellows given an internship opportunity.
“This confirms our view that talented and motivated youth, with enormous potential, are in all parts of The Gambia, not just the urban areas. It is our responsibility to scout them out wherever they are.
“I’d like to take a moment and thank the families and employers of our Fellows for their willingness to have their loved ones and staff members away for two months, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan. We know how much your support means to our Fellows and for that I thank you.
“Thank you to our Public Affairs team, who diligently managed the application process, coordinated the logistics of getting our Fellows to the United States and back, and who continue to work with our Fellows week-in-and-week-out.
“Thank you, too, to our 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows for their great job during the 2016 recruitment drive. From Kerewan to Basse, to Bansang and Jarra Soma, they broadcast our appeal throughout the country.
“The application process, including reading hundreds of applications and holding interviews, could not have been done without the dedication of many Embassy staff members and our Alumni Association. Thank you to all of you who contributed to that process.
“As we continue to enjoy one another’s company for the rest of this event, I hope you will seek out the Mandela Fellows and ask about their experiences in the United States. I, myself, am eager to hear about their plans to implement what they’ve learned here at home. Thank you all for joining us tonight.