Adesina calls on Mandela Washington Fellows to be change agents for Africa

The President of the African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi Adesina, has encouraged the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows for Côte d’Ivoire to research and develop innovative ideas that will move Africa forward.

Adesina gave the charge when he hosted 18 Ivorian recipients of the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders at the AfDB headquarters in Abidjan. The 2017 Côte d’Ivoire cohort includes 20 Fellows, made up of 18 Ivorians and two Nigeriens working in Abidjan.

The Fellowship is a flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking.

This year, the programme will provide 1,000 outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at U.S. higher education institutions with support for professional development after they return home.

“We want to see you come back to take up leadership roles. You are the future, but also the present leaders. We don’t need you in the future, we need you now. The President of France is 39 years. The people that we are looking to today are young people,” the President said.

“You need to come back to Africa after the fellowship and work towards Africa’s development. Come back to Africa with lots of ideas and confidence. Do not let anyone shut out the light in your ideas.”

He extolled the diversity of the participants and commended U.S. President Donald Trump for continuing the programme started by his predecessor.

Adesina emphasized the need for greater political accountability and better management of the continent’s resources, industry led education system, lines of credit for women entrepreneurs, poverty eradication and pledged that the Bank would work with the Fellows to push their ideas through.

On women empowerment, he said, “We need to look for ways to mobilize finance for women. AfDB is providing support to banks to be able to support businesses of women. We also want to support women to be able to access these funds. Indeed, there are women entrepreneurs that are doing big things. There is no reason the business of women should remain small.”

He stressed the place of innovative ideas for development: “Inside of you are great ideas. You have got visions. Don’t let anyone turn off the light on those ideas. Be tenacious in pushing your ideas through. The Bank will be there to support the business of young people.

“Africa has to develop with pride. The time for Africa is now. We are already late, Africa has to develop fast,” the President said.

Daniel Langenkamp, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Côte d’Ivoire, stressed how the participants represent the future of Côte d’Ivoire, and Africa in general.

“We are taking a group of people and investing in them so that they lead others. It is about partnership between us and Côte d’Ivoire. It is about African and the growth of Africa. With us here today is an extraordinary group of people chosen from over 600 persons who applied for the programme,” he stressed.

One of the Fellows, and a former gender specialist with AfDB, Aïcha Blegbo, pledged to focus on activities that stimulate the market for women-owned businesses.

At the end of her fellowship, she plans to work towards strengthening access to finance for women in business − especially for women entrepreneurs and women small-scale farmers.

She described the programme as an opportunity to “perceive, analyze and feel the strong signals that come from my environment.”

Also present at the reception were the Matthew Turner, U.S. Alternate Executive Director at AfDB; Jennifer Blanke, AfDB VicePresident, Agriculture, Human and Social Development; Aka Hyacyinthe Koussi, Senior Adviser to the Executive Director for Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Equatorial Guinea, AfDB Secretary-General Vincent Nmehielle and senior Bank officials.

Upon returning to their home countries, Fellows are expected to continue to build the skills they have developed during their time in the United States through support from U.S. embassies, four Regional Leadership Centers, the YALI Network, and customized programming from USAID and affiliated partners.

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