THE United States (US) Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, on Thursday hosted a networking session for 12 Basotho men and women who will for the US next week to enroll in the 6th Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
According to the American Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer, Melissa Schumi Jones, the 12 will enroll into various US state universities and other higher learning institutes for the next six weeks to hone their leadership skills in their various fields of expertise in civic engagements, business and public management.
Ms Schumi Jones said the 2019 cohort brings the number of locals who have enrolled under the Mandela Washington Fellowship up to 67 since the inception of the programme in 2014.
“We are at 67 this year now but the numbers are much larger when you include other components of YALI where many Basotho have participated in and are therefore part of our alumni,” Ms Schumi Jones said.
“This is a very competitive programme. There are about 30 000 applications for 700 spots. Applications open in November and December and people who are interested should follow our social media platforms for more information.”
The programme is open for sub-Saharan African nationals aged between 25 and 35.
“Applicants must have a demonstrated record of leadership in a chosen field… One has to apply for one of three tracks for YALI which are the leadership in civic engagement, leadership in business and leadership in public management. For individuals here in Lesotho, it has not been about a certain type of business person or public management. We have teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and people in other fields,” Ms Schumi Jones said.
She said unlike the popular perception that the programme was designed only for youths who live in urban areas, all youths who have innovative leadership ideas were welcome to try their luck.
“A lot of time people have the impression that our programme is for people from Maseru only and that is not true. We have worked hard to ensure that the word is spread to all 10 districts. We gone on radio and done outreaches through the American Embassy employees who speak Sesotho.
“One has to speak fluent English to participate in the programme. That is a requirement that has been an issue but we do find help for those who wish to apply. We have a programme at the American Corner where people can apply and websites for those who cannot get through the American Corner.”
She said Ms Gonzales has also engaged district administrators and senior education officers to help spread the word to all parts of the country.
“Madam Ambassador (Ms Gonzales) went to every district to speak to people and encourage district administrators and senior education officers to know about the programme so that they help us spread the word. We get assistance from our alumni to reach as many people as possible.”
She said that since then, there has been a slight increase in the number of rural applicants. She also added that the limited number of rural applications could also be attributed to the fact that many youths are based in the capital Maseru where they study or work.
She also said the programme has so far reached its objective, which is to empower young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.
“There is something magical about YALI. It is a transformative programme. The transformation is multi-dimensional. Removing someone from the confines of their normal environments to focus on learning and networking, that person is bound to become better versions of themselves.
“Aside from our jobs, our family responsibilities and our daily struggles, this the time when people can do some in-depth work on themselves. The people that have invested in it care deeply about the importance of supporting young African leaders,” Ms Schumi Jones said.
She said there was hope that the programme would continue regardless of talk that the current US administration was contemplating cutting support to Africa.
“YALI started during former US President Barrack Obama’s administration and has had support from the congress. YALI is a living programme. We do not know if it is going to stay in its exact form but our commitment to YALI is going to continue. But the commitment within the US government and the broader community is absolutely there. The passion for YALI is very strong,” Ms Schumi Jones said.
Speaking at the networking session, Ms Gonzales encouraged the fellows to seize the opportunities that their time in the US will present to them for their individual and national transformation.
“I have heard about your individual stories about the wish you have to change the world around. I thank you all for being leaders in your country. I am struck by the creativity and the passion that is in you. You all deserve this opportunity,” Ms Gonzales said.
The 2019 Mandela Washington YALI cohort:
Tokiso Nthebe: Leadership in Business – North Western University
Teboho Moahloli: Leadership in Public Management – Arizona State University
Mpitseng Ntsoele: Leadership in Business – University of Notre Dame
‘Mamotsiba Makara: Leadership in Public Management – Boise State University
Thabiso Masenyatse: Leadership in Civic Engagement – Rutgers University
Thato Rammoko: Leadership in Business – North Western University
Neo Sekhesa: Leadership in Business – Clark Atlanta University
‘Nete Khoanyane: Leadership in Business – Rutgers University
Mohau Tšilo: Leadership in Public Management – Syracuse University
Rethabile Mphutlane: Leadership in Civic Engagement – Derexel University