Mandela Washington Fellowship Application Q&A

Mandela Washington Fellowship Application Q&A

>>TODD: Hi. I’m Todd Haskell.>>BRITTA: Hi. I’m Britta Bjornlund.>>TODD: And welcome to our live Application
Q&A for the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship. We’re very excited to be talking
here today about the program. It was just a
few months ago that I was sitting in a ballroom with 500 of the 2014 Washington Fellows
waiting anxiously for our special guest, the President of the United States, President
Barack Obama, to welcome the Fellows to Washington.
The mood in the room was one of great expectation and excitement, and indeed, when
one of the Fellows came out to introduce the President, the roar of the crowd drowned out
the end of her introduction. The President’s remarks to the Fellows and the dialogue that
followed captured everything that this program is about: exchange between Africans
and Americans, hope for a better future for Africa, faith in the capacity of young Africans
to make that future a reality, and a belief in
shared values of democracy, justice, and equality. The President, I’m told, was thrilled and
he can take the credit. The Mandela Washington Fellowship is his initiative, an initiative
he created because he believes Africa is a region
on the move. There are great challenges. Sure. But the President believes there’s a
new Africa, more prosperous, more confident, that is finally taking its place on the world
stage. And that’s why four years ago, he launched the Young African Leadership Initiative
that we call YALI. He wanted to tap into the imagination, the courage, the “yes, we
can” attitude of young Africans like you. And
since then, we’ve worked with young people across the continent to empower them with
new skills and entrepreneurship and leadership and new partnerships in education and
health and technology. Last summer’s Fellowship showed its potential in that ballroom
when the President met with the Fellows.>>TODD: The Mandela Washington Fellowship
had brought young Africans to the United States from all over the continent to develop
their skills at our best colleges and our best
universities. And now the same Fellows have returned to Africa, applying those skills
they have learned. Many are now working in internships
or implementing proposals, some with grants made available through YALI. Wherever
they are, in civic leadership, in public administration, or in entrepreneurship, they
are representatives of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which as I speak, is
bringing real, positive, necessary change to
Africa. President Obama had a vision of a bridge between the United States and the young
people of Africa that would last beyond his presidency and would shape the future of the
engagement between the United States and Africa. That vision is becoming a reality and
now we want to invite you to join in the building of this vision, of this reality moving
forward. We invite you to go to the web site,, and begin your application
so that you can become a Mandela Washington Fellow.
And we urge you to complete that application before November 5. Africa faces
many challenges. We know that. But President Obama believes that young people
in Africa are ready to face those challenges. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems
impossible until it’s done.” Britta.>>BRITTA: Thanks Todd. It’s a great honor
to be speaking directly to thousands of aspiring leaders throughout Africa. Hello
everyone. Todd and I really enjoyed having this
opportunity to answer questions live last year. And so we’re thrilled to be able to
do this once again this year. I hope you all have
lots of questions. If you’re hosting a viewing party
for this program, don’t forget to take pictures and share them with us.>>BRITTA: Let me just start by saying that
working on the Mandela Washington Fellowship last year was the highlight of my time here
at the State Department. My staff and I spent more than a year and a half preparing for
the exchange, refining the model, selecting the
implementing partner through an open competition, drafting the application, meeting with
officials at the White House, reading and scoring applications, preparing the universities,
and many, many meetings, on and on, with so many small details. But nothing could
prepare us for the excitement of getting to meet the Fellows in person. Each Fellow I
met was interesting, smart, well-spoken, and committed
to a better future from Africa. So I can’t wait to meet the next batch of wonderful
young leaders and to see where you take your communities, countries, and continent.>>BRITTA: So for those of you who don’t know,
a few main points about the program. It is a six-week academic and leadership institute
in one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, or public
management. We will select 500 of Sub- Saharan Africa’s top young leaders, aged about
25 to 35, to participate. Fellows will participate in groups of 25 at one of 20 institutes.
The institutes are held at diverse universities and colleges throughout the United
States. Each six-week program draws from the university’s or department’s unique set
of expertise and resources but also has common elements to the other institutes. The
institutes include academic study, workshops, case studies, site visits, networking
opportunities, mentoring, and practical leadership training. As one of our goals is
promoting mutual understanding between the people of Africa and the people of the United
States, Fellows will also interact with everyday Americans and get a chance to experience
American culture, through visits, community service, and cultural programming.
One additional thing about the institutes: this is a six-week, very intensive program.
If you apply, please be prepared to dedicate yourself and your time to the institute. You
won’t have much time to continue your work at
home remotely. You really will need to take a break from your home endeavors to focus
on the program and your leadership path.>>BRITTA: Now at the end of the institutes,
all 500 Mandela Fellows will convene in Washington, DC for a three-day Summit, as
we did this past year. During the Summit, Fellows will have the chance to meet and interact
with President Barack Obama, as well as many other prominent U.S. government, business,
and civic leaders. The 2014 Summit really was a highlight of the program, and
with the feedback from last year’s cohort, the
2015 program should be even more dynamic. After the Summit, up to 100 Fellows will
remain in the United States for an additional six to eight weeks after their academic
institute to participate in internships in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors
with organizations throughout the United States.
The internships are designed to be high level, professional development opportunities that
relate to Fellows’ professional experiences. Then Fellows return home, where they will
have access to additional programming, including leadership centers, mentoring, community
service activities, and internships in Africa.>>BRITTA: Now for a few tips on the applications.
Last year, we received over 49,000 applications for 500 slots. So yes, it is
very competitive. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t
possible. The application includes several components. First and foremost, be honest.
Second of all, don’t be humble. This year the application includes six short answers
or essay questions. My tip is to write clearly
and concisely. Answer the question as specifically as possible. Give us ideas about
things that speak to you personally. Don’t give
a broad answer about a general topic. We are trying to learn more about you, your
interests, your work, and your future. The application deadline is November 5. Don’t
forget to get them in by the fifth. We have no exceptions after that date. After November
5, first your application will be read and scored
based on the set program criteria. If you make the semi-finalist round, you will be
called in for an interview in your country, probably in January or February of next year.
Finalists will be notified in late March. Now
it really is an open competition, so we invite you to apply.>>BRITTA: Now it’s time to take some questions.
Don’t forget to ask your questions in the chat space on this page and on Twitter, using
#YALI2015.>>BRITTA: Okay, I’m going to start by reading
the question and then I’ll give you my answer. “Can someone apply without sitting
for the TOEFL exam, but if they have a good understanding of English?” Yes. The TOEFL
exam scores are not required. Proficiency and
fluency in English is required but you do not need to have scores, so if you feel that
you speak pretty good English but haven’t taken
the exam, please go ahead and apply. If you make it to the semi-finalist round and you
go into an office at the embassy or somewhere else in your country, the staff there will,
of course, be having the interview in English and
will get to have a little bit of a feel for whether you actually can speak English or
not. But TOEFL scores are not required. Todd.>>TODD: Thanks Britta. Question for me here.
It says, “Which criteria is used to select the
best applicants?” You know, criteria sort of breaks down into two groups. First of all,
there’s criteria to apply and you can get a lot of the answers to these questions at
our web site, But essentially the
basic criteria people need to apply is they have to
be in the right age range, which is ages 25 to 35, although we will accept younger
applicants in very special cases. We’re looking for people who speak English. We’re
looking for citizens of Africa who are living in Africa at the time. But when we make the
selection, when we…as Britta was pointing out, we do receive a lot of applications for
this program. We’re really looking for leaders,
folks who are going to make a difference in the
future of Africa. So we’re looking for people with an established track record of leadership,
of making positive change in Africa, and people with a vision for the future. And we’re…as
Britta was saying, the essays and the applications that you submit are very important
because we want to see people who’ve had a track record of making change and are looking
forward to making change as we move forward.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s another question. “Can
we submit several applications? Will that improve our chances? Are there any penalties
for applying multiple times?” You cannot submit several applications and it will not
improve your chances. I believe that if you submit several applications, your first application
will be the one that is considered your actual application. All the subsequent applications
would be tossed out. So there really is no advantage for submitting more than one
application.>>TODD: And here’s a question for me. “Will
this initiative continue after President Obama leaves office?” That’s certainly the
intention and one thing that I have found in my
time working in the State Department is that U.S. policy towards Africa is remarkably bi-
partisan. Democrats and Republicans, the two major parties in the United States, will argue
about a lot of things but there is an extraordinary unanimity about our policy towards
Africa. We’ve seen that with the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an act where the
United States has significantly lowered tariff barriers for countries in Africa and that
began during the Clinton Administration and continued
during the Bush Administration, continues today. Similarly, with the President’s
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a substantial commitment to confront the HIV/AIDS
crisis on the continent, which began during the Bush Administration and has continued
during the Obama Administration. And President Obama certainly looks at YALI as
his legacy for Africa, and I can tell you that
there is substantial support throughout Congress and throughout the government for the
program. Britta.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question for me.
“Can Africans with substantial stay or exposure to the United States be qualified to apply?
What are their chances?” Well, this is kind of a
tricky question. I think the program really does try to target Sub-Saharan Africans who
have had less exposure to the United States. But no one is disqualified from applying,
so you still are qualified and eligible even
if you’ve had some exposure to the United States. In
terms of what are your chances, it’s really hard to say. We really don’t know what the
competition is. So I just…I encourage you to go ahead and apply.>>TODD: Okay, question for me. “Does the successful
submission of the application form automatically qualify one for U.S. citizenship?”
That’s an easy one. (laughing) No, the answer is no. We’re obviously looking for
African applicants and the point of what we’re trying to do here frankly is we’re trying
to work with young Africans who are qualified and
amplify their skills, but the whole overwhelming point of it is to help Africa and to sort
of improve the relationship between the United
States and Africa. So somebody who applies for the program who then has the intention
of remaining in the United States or becoming a
U.S. citizen would not be in line with the goals of the program. Obviously, by applying
for this program, you’re not limiting your future
ability to immigrate or anything like that, but
that’s not the point of the program. What we’re looking at is folks who will go back
to Africa and make a tremendous difference in
their home countries, whatever that country might be.>>BRITTA: Okay. Here’s a question for me.
“How does formal education play a role in the
selection process? Will candidates be disqualified based on whether or not they have a
formal diploma or degree?” So, formal education plays a role in terms of, we are looking at
your application as a whole and your person as a whole. In the application, not only do
you answer questions but you’ll be inputting information
that’s going to auto-populate into a resume. So we certainly will see and consider
what your formal education is. But you will not be disqualified if you do not have a formal
diploma or degree. As Todd mentioned, we really are looking for leaders in the communities,
out in rural areas, in cities, in countries. So whatever the leadership means for you,
it’s just…it’s looking at your whole package, so
it’s not required.>>TODD: Okay, question for me. “What is the
required commitment to return back to Africa? Will Fellows need to sign an agreement?”
The program, again, is for folks who are planning to go back to Africa and apply the
skills that they’ve learned. It’s much like any
visa application. At the time, someone will apply for the visa after they’ve been selected
for the program. We certainly will be looking
for people who have the intention of returning to
Africa. And if it’s clear that someone’s intention, in fact, is not to do that, then they really
shouldn’t qualify for the program and they certainly won’t qualify for the visa.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question for me from
an online participant who’s asking, “Last year, I applied to participate in the Washington
Fellowship and I was chosen as an alternate. Am I eligible to apply this year?”
Absolutely. If you were chosen as an alternate, obviously you have very high qualifications
and we encourage you to re-apply. Even if you
weren’t chosen as an alternate, we’d encourage you to go ahead and re-apply this year.>>TODD: Yes, please re-apply. I think we were
really struck last year by how many really great candidates did apply and just missed.
And we are really looking for a lot of those people to apply again.>>TODD: Here’s a question for me. “Do I have
to be rich or wealthy to apply and be selected as a Fellow?” No. To be honest, I
think Britta and I can both give numerous examples of Fellows we met who were from very
modest backgrounds and we welcome that. In fact, we are looking for the best
folks, no matter what their religion, no matter what
their gender, no matter what their socioeconomic standing, race, creed. We’re looking for a
diverse group of applicants but certainly, this application is not limited to the privileged.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question for me.
“What are the plans to ensure that young persons with disabilities are equally represented
in the 2015 Fellowship cohort?� Well, all of our exchange programs here at the State
Department really embrace diversity in every aspect of that word, and so we definitely
try to include people with disabilities in our
programs. I think last year, in 2014, we were really pleased to have something like four
percent of our participants were people who had self-identified as having disabilities.
We made all kinds of accommodations to make sure
that they could participate as easily as any other participant. And I think that the Fellows
who had disabilities were really quite pleased with the program and it was really
neat to see that they participated and that they
really gained a lot of confidence and a lot of leadership training and ideas that they
will take back to their endeavors, whatever they
are, in their countries in Africa. So we definitely are hoping to have Fellows with
disabilities in the 2015 cohort. So we encourage you to apply. And you can…the application
does ask you if you have a disability. So, it
doesn’t affect your chances negatively in any way, so we encourage you to go ahead and
check that box so that we can have a look at you. Thank you.>>TODD: There’s a question. “If I do not have
a passport when I apply for the Fellowship, will it affect my chances for selection?”
No. It will not. We are…we understand that lots of
people don’t have passports and when they apply. That’s not an issue. Now, of course,
if somebody is selected, they will have to get
a passport in order to travel and participate in
the program. But we’re trying to work in enough time that people will be able to complete
the travel formalities, getting passports, getting visas, so that we can make sure that
they can participate in the program, if they are
indeed selected.>>TODD: Okay, here’s another question from
the American Corner in Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire. And, first of all, let me say
hello to all my good friends in Cote d’Ivoire. But
the question is, “What are the costs that the YALI program cover?” Okay, the YALI program
covers all the costs involved in participating in the program. So what does that include?
That would include the cost of your visa application, certainly. It would…the cost of
traveling to the airport in order to get on the plane. It includes the airplane ticket.
It includes your accommodation and food and incidentals
while you’re here in the United States, your travel within the United States,
if you qualify for an internship. It would cover
the cost of your time while you were doing the internship here in the United States.
And then it would cover the cost of your plane
ticket back home. In addition, at that point, you
would be eligible for a wide range of grants and opportunities when you were back in
Africa. So, I mean, you shouldn’t look at this as something that’s going to cost you
any money. I think Britta’s point that she made
earlier is an important one, that this is…we’ll be
asking you for a time commitment. But in terms of money, you shouldn’t be out of pocket
for this at all.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s another question. “What
type of documents should applicants attach to their application? As an example,
should a journalist include their most compelling report? What impact would letters
of recommendation have on the application?” It really is up to you what
documents you decide you’d like to upload. So I
would just suggest that you pick the documents that you think best reflect your…either
your professional expertise or your leadership capacity. I mean, certainly many, many
applicants last year uploaded letters of recommendation and those were very helpful for
us. But certainly, adding something like your past journal report, something like that,
is totally acceptable as well.>>TODD: Right. Not required, I think you would
say, but it doesn’t hurt, and it may help. Here’s a question for me. It says, “On the
application, it is stated that applicants should
select the sector that most closely aligns with his or her family, her daily work, education
or community involvement. However, the application
instructions also say that candidates may not be placed in their chosen track. Why
would that be?” Okay. I think Britta was pointing out that we get a lot of applications.
And we have found that we get some�more applications from certain countries in one
track rather than another. And what we do want
is we want to have a really strong group of applications but we also want to have the
kind of diversity in the three tracks. And I should
say here that the three tracks are civil society, business entrepreneurship, and public administration.
So if we have a particular slate…or recommendations coming in from a particular
country for inclusion in the program, when we look at that list, it may be that we really
need someone in civil society, for instance, or in
public administration, and we don’t have enough candidates there. But there is someone
who considers himself a business entrepreneurship person, but we also see that they’re
involved in civil society, and they’re such a strong candidate, we don’t want to leave
them out of the program. So there may be minor
adjustments made in that way. I think that’s going to really be the exception rather than
the rule, that the track that you identify as the
track for yourself, in the overwhelming majority of the cases–99 percent, I think–are going
to be where the successful applicant ends up. But nonetheless, there may be an incidence
where we take a different approach. But really, I think that’s the exception rather than the
rule.>>TODD: Here’s another question. It says,
“What kind of opportunities exist when participants return back to Africa…back
home to Africa after the program?” I think this is
really important and I want to take a little bit of time in answering this question because
I think we’ve had exchange programs in the past
and many have…some people in the audience might have participated in programs,
and generally the focus has been on the program itself while it’s ongoing here in
the United States. And certainly, I think, the
Mandela Washington Fellowship pays a lot of importance to the time here in the United
States. Again, there are these excellent programs at universities and colleges around the
United States. There is the Presidential Summit, where folks get a chance, frankly, to ask
President Obama what’s on their mind. And I think last year’s participants will tell
you that the President will tell them. So that’s an
important part. But we also really value the importance of the program continuing on once
participants return to Africa. And to do that, what we’ve done is a range of different
opportunities for folks once they return to Africa. So what do those opportunities include?
They include the possibility to apply for grants for your business or even for other
opportunities through embassies, financial opportunities to support your efforts in your
other fields of work. They include mentorship opportunities through our colleagues
at USAID, where our Fellows have the opportunity to be mentored by more senior
people. They include the possibility to do internships at different businesses and firms
across the African continent that, again, our
colleagues at USAID are working on. Our embassies across the continent are working with
the return Fellows to form Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni organizations. And
these organizations will be engaged in various activities in partnership, often, with the
embassies themselves, and there will be different financing available there. There will be
regional conferences that will be spread out across the continent, where returning Fellows
will get together to take stock of where they are, what they’ve done since they got back
from the Fellowship and plan opportunities moving forward. It’s a very fluid process
and a lot of this is already entrained. A lot of
it is developing. I think we’ve been very heartened
to see, with the Ebola crisis, for instance, in parts of West Africa the way that the YALI
Fellows in the affected countries have stepped up and played a leading role in organizing
the response there. And certainly, our embassies across the continent have a commitment
to work with the Fellows in making this a reality. So I’m really glad this question
was asked because I think this is one thing that really
makes the Mandela Washington Fellowship so important. It isn’t just the time in the United
States, as important as that is as laying the
ground work. But this is the beginning of a relationship that we hope will continue
to exist moving forward in the years ahead as the Mandela
Washington Fellowship alumni cohort begins to grow. We’re very excited about that
possibility and we’re very interested that this will shape…largely shape the future
engagement between the United States and the people of Africa.>>TODD: And I see there’s another question
for me here so let me take it.>>BRITTA: Please>>TODD: [laughing] It’s for me. It says, “Will
applicants from West African countries currently being affected by Ebola be considered
for the Fellowship?” And the answer to that question is an emphatic yes. We’re very
committed to maintaining our engagement with West Africa. Now we’re also very concerned
about what’s going on and President Obama has made it a very strong commitment
on his part that the people of West Africa are
not alone in this fight, that we stand with them, that we are doing what we can to mobilize
the international community to take action on this…you know, to meet this problem.
I mean, I know that people talk about the Ebola
problem in West Africa but it’s not a problem alone for West Africa. It’s for the world.
I think that the President has recognized that, that
together…we have to work together to meet this need. And we are committed that our
exchange with West Africa and with Africa go forward. I can’t predict the future. There’s
a lot of things that can happen between now
and then. But we are committed to making this program go forward and, as I speak, there
are exchange visitors from West Africa in the
United States now. And we certainly don’t plan and we certainly hope that that doesn’t
change. Britta.>>BRITTA: Thanks Todd. Okay, here’s a question
for me. “I want to apply to a university in the United States after the program. Do
I still qualify to apply?” There’s no restriction for you to not apply just because you’re thinking
about going to a U.S. university after the program, although you are required at the
end of this program to return back to Africa. But
it certainly is possible that you could then return to the U.S. for some kind of study.
Just to point out once again that we are looking for
the future leaders of Africa, so we are looking for people who are committed to their home
communities and countries to implement change and, you know, work towards a prosperous
Africa. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that you would be not qualified
just because you’re thinking about going to a
U.S. university.>>TODD: Okay, I think the…next question
up on the teleprompter?>>BRITTA: So yeah, so we got that one. Unless
you have anything to add?>>TODD: No, I think Britta made the point
well. I mean, obviously some of the Fellows may want to go on to the future and do different
things and some of that might involve studying in the United States. Certainly,
there’s no elimination of that possibility.>>BRITTA: Okay, another question for me. “After
being selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, what is the criteria
for being selected for the U.S.-based internships?” So there is a question on your
application and we’re going to be looking at
that question, which is, “Would you like to apply to the Mandela Washington Fellowship
Internship?” And we ask you…during your interview, we’re going to ask you a bit about
why you want to apply, what you want to get out of the internship, what you hope to gain
from a professional experience in a U.S. office. And it really is during your
internship…excuse me, during your interview that the people interviewing you will rate
you in terms of your suitability for the internships. And then back in Washington, DC, we
have a big selection meeting, when we go through those top candidates for the internships
and we make our final selections there. But we will try to make it fairly diverse, so
bring interns from all the Sub-Saharan African countries.
So it’s actually the same criterion selection materials that you apply for the
Fellowship.>>BRITTA: Okay, so here’s another question
for me. “The selection criteria says leaders with a proven record are ideal. Is there a
time range of experience or record that is required?” I’m getting all these tough applicant
selection questions. You know, our criteria is pretty relaxed for a reason. That is because
we want to sort of be able to read your application and possibly interview you in
person and really get a feel for who you are as a
person and where you’re headed. So there’s no set range of experience that is required.
I don’t know, Todd, do we have a feel for how
many years of kind of professional experience we like to see? A minimum, or?>>TODD: I think a lot of these questions are
really subjective rather than objective. In other words, if somebody has more experience
and more recent experience, that’s better, right?>>BRITTA: Right.>>TODD: But that doesn’t mean that somebody
who had experience several years ago and maybe has taken a break to study or resolve
some family issues is eliminated. In fact, that
might even be something that’s looked upon as good. We’re going to be looking at the
whole person.>>BRITTA: Yes.>>TODD: And so a lot of these issues…again,
subjective rather than objective. And that’s the best I can do. Sure. Alright. Here’s a question. “I’m a Togolese
but living in Morocco. Is it possible for me to
apply for the Fellowship?” I mean, I would invite you to apply. I think that you need
to recognize that the application process, the
interview and the rest of it will be occurring in
Togo for you, not in Morocco. Generally, we’ve been looking at Africans living in Sub-
Saharan Africa as the most qualified candidate. And if it does appear that someone has
established his life and his future outside of Sub-Saharan Africa…and we do kind of
draw the line at the Maghreb countries. So, in
other words, for the purposes of this program, we
don’t look at Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt as part of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Then, those folks would have…in that same sort of subjective/objective way, would have
a hard time convincing us that they were actually
part of Africa’s future. But it’s possible candidates could establish that. This is something
that you’re really going to have to address in your application when you put it
forward. I would also note that the interviews for the finalists, for selecting the final
groups, will be taking place in Sub-Saharan African
countries. So that would also present a challenge for you. Now, a Togolese living in
Nigeria, on the other hand, would be a much easier thing to do, would be easier to apply.
And the embassy in the country in which you’re living will likely be able to do the interview
for you and then transmit that back to our embassy in Togo to make a decision. I hope
that answer is clear. There is information along
these lines at the web site if you
have additional questions about that.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question for me.
“How many participants will be accepted in each of the sector tracks: business and entrepreneurship,
civic leadership, and public management?” So, we are trying to have it
stay fairly balanced: one-third, one-third, one-
third. It’s not exactly perfect with 500. We will have six institutes in the public
management track, seven in the business and entrepreneurship track, and seven in the
civic leadership track, which, if my math is correct, equals 150 finalists or Fellows
will be chosen in the public management track and
175 for each of the business and entrepreneurship and civic leadership tracks.>>TODD: Okay. Here’s a question for me. “What
can I do to demonstrate my leadership if my initiatives and experience were not formal
and are not traceable?” Not formal and not traceable. I think that the application is…maybe
this should go without saying, but if it doesn’t, I’m going to say it. (laughing) The
application is really, really important. If your
leadership qualities, the things that you have accomplished, are not the kind of thing
that you won an award or, you know, you have a
diploma to show, you’re really going to have to
demonstrate that in your application. But I will tell you that I think last year, we
had some Fellows who, if you just looked at their resume,
you know, their list of jobs and the different things they had done, maybe it wasn’t quite
as impressive as when you actually read their essay and they talked about the challenges
they faced and the things they had done. And I
know when I sat down with those people, I was really, really struck by how impressive
the accomplishments some were. In fact, one thing
that I think Britta and I commented on was sometimes when people put their resume in
the application, they put their job at the top of
the resume, and then we spoke to them a little bit or we read in their essay, and it turned
out that after hours, they were working with an NGO or maybe they were piloting a small
business, entrepreneurship opportunity at home. And, really, looking at their resume
and maybe what’s completely traceable and obvious
looking at their resume was not even the most important thing about the person, that
they had this whole other side to them. And that’s really…if you’re that kind of person,
we really need to see that come through in the
application and the essay. And a lot of times, those are among our most impressive
candidates. So sure, we’re definitely looking forward to the people who have a traceable
record, who have diplomas and the rest of it, but we’re looking for these other folks
as well. So please don’t use that as a reason not to
apply.>>BRITTA: And just to echo that point, the
questions really do allow you to draw on those experiences. We’re asking you about your community
work. We ask you about where you see yourself in 10 years. So that gives you
the opportunity to talk about where you hope to
go. And we ask you about your most significant professional accomplishment or an
innovative idea. So even if you don’t have some of this background, you do have the
opportunity, I think, to really demonstrate what makes you special and unique.>>BRITTA: Here’s a question for either of
us. I’ll go ahead and read it and then we can
decide who gets to jump in. “What makes people under 25 years eligible for the
Fellowship?” Well, I can tell you, technically, that the system will allow you to apply if
you are at least 21 at the time of the deadline.
So that means people between the ages of 21 and
25 are eligible to apply. And we saw some really outstanding Fellows last year, in 2014,
that were only 21 or 22. So what makes you eligible for the Fellowship? Something
outstanding, I think, something that we’ve talked about all along, you know, really what
makes you a leader in your community or your organization or your country. I don’t know.
You want to add anything?>>TODD: Well, I think…we just saw a teenager
win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Now, we’re not as open-minded as the Nobel people because
we’re not letting teenagers apply. But the problem is, right, is when you’re 21…when
I was 21, I hadn’t really done much yet and it
would have been hard for me to demonstrate something. But there are actually folks out
there who’ve done a great deal. So it’s probably a little bit of a harder climb for folks like
that but we welcome their applications. They will receive the same consideration that
older applicants do, but of course, they probably face a little bit of a hurdle that they
haven’t had their time in their lives to have the proven record of leadership that we’re
looking for.>>TODD: Here’s a question for me. “What are
the impact of the program for the development of Africa?” It’s a great question.
You know, President Obama has talked about this program at length, and, you know,
the United States is very committed to the development of Africa. In our strategic goals
for Africa, certainly development is at the top
of the list. It’s the reason the President brought the leaders of the continent together
this summer. It’s the reason that we are engaged
in Power Africa, an effort to dramatically increase the level of electrical power that’s
going on in Africa, you know, to feed businesses. It’s the reason that we promote the African
Growth and Opportunity Act, which significantly lowers U.S. tariff barriers
and has created a range of industries throughout Africa. Businesses have grown up to export
to the United States. It’s the reason we do so
many things, and yet having said that, I’m really struck by the fact that the President
will often say that, of all his legacy in Africa,
of all his efforts, he thinks this program will be the
one that he’s most remembered for. And, as he said, it’s not the most expensive program.
You know, it’s not always the one that foreign leaders come and talk to us about. But he
really believes that the young people of Africa, the generation that we see now…and we
sometimes talk about this as the youth bulge because the quantity of young people and the
quality of young people in Africa are so great that we are really looking at a generation
that can bring about fundamental change and development.
And he hopes, and we believe, that through this program we are identifying future
leaders, we are identifying the people that will make the future change possible and bring
about the development that we’re looking for. So I know the President…there’s very
few issues that the President is focusing on as
much on a day to day basis as this program. And so that’s why I’m urging you, on behalf
of the President, please do apply. Do get involved.
And I know that we’re going to see real change that comes out of the efforts we’re
making today. Britta.>>BRITTA: Okay, thanks. Before we move on
to more of your great questions, we want to show this great picture that the U.S. Embassy
Namibia just sent in to us. Hello Embassy Namibia and thanks for joining the program
today.>>TODD: Hey Namibia. I have a question here.
“What happens to the applicants who will not make it through? Are there any programs
or activities available to them?” You know this is…it’s an interesting question and
it’s something that kind of grew out of the popularity of this program. I’ll be honest.
I think…Britta, I’m not giving away any state
secrets here that when we did this program last year, we didn’t expect to get 49,000
applications. We thought we’d get quite a few applications but we had no idea. And what
we were struck by, what folks throughout the State Department were struck by, Secretary
Kerry…in fact, what struck President Obama was that, wow, there’s this massive group
of young people in Africa who are raising their
hand and are saying…who are responding to his call to build a bridge, to create these
kind of connections and talk about development and the future of Africa and how we can make
it better. So that actually led to a new initiative, something that we call the YALI
Network. You’ll notice that when you sign up to
apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, there’s a button that you can press to join
the YALI Network to sign up for further information about the program. And what we’ve
done is we’ve collected those names and email addresses and we regularly communicate
with these people who’ve signed up to join the YALI Network with information. And we’re
also pushing out a number of resources to these folks–training opportunities and different
ideas–so that we can begin a conversation with them. And one thing we’re also…and
this is really purely as a result of the massive response
that we got from you last year…these Regional Leadership Centers in Africa, where
we recognize that the numbers that we have for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, 500
a year now and we hope that number will begin to grow, is still somewhat limited,
especially when you consider the full number of
folks in Africa. So these Regional Leadership Centers that we are working with African
partners to establish in different countries on the continent will provide the kind of
training opportunities for members of the YALI Network to people who apply for the
program and don’t necessarily make it. So, I mean, stay tuned. We’re working on making
concrete these programs that are moving forward. But there are just a whole range of
resources. So I would urge you, when you fill out your application, do sign up for the YALI
Network. We’re looking forward to working with people in the YALI Network moving
forward. And we hope actually, I know Britta and I hope, that a lot of the Fellows that
we get this year will come from people who joined
the YALI Network last year and who are joining the YALI Network even now.>>BRITTA: And of course, there are other exchange
opportunities too for Fellows…(crosstalk) for applicants from
Africa. So we know that many of our applicants who applied then were chosen for other programs
in the United States, so that is a possibility.>>TODD: I know a lot of you are sitting here
watching this in either U.S. embassy libraries or American Spaces or maybe you’re watching
it with representatives from your embassy. Please go up and talk to them about the kind
of programs that we have, after Britta and I
are done, of course. Go up and talk to them about this and they should be able to talk
to you about the possibilities. They may not
be things that are available tomorrow but there
are things that are available soon and we hope will become an important part of the
relationship we have with members of the YALI Network.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s another question. “Can
a Fellow return to their home country and do an internship with a U.S. agency there?”
Sure. I’m not sure I fully understand the question but once you return to your home
country, of course, you can do an internship with a U.S. agency. It may or not be part
of the Fellows program. The Mandela Washington Fellowship does include internships that take
place in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re talking about one of the internships that’s part of
the up to 100 that will take part in internships in
the United States, those take part here in the United States but there certainly are
opportunities to have internships in Africa as well.>>TODD: Okay, here’s a great question. “What
is the mission of YALI?” I think when the President founded this, actually four years
ago but then he’s revisited this on several occasions, he talked about tapping into the
imagination and the courage of young Africans, of building a bridge between the United States
and the young people of Africa, of developing the skills that these folks had
and beginning a conversation with them that will
kind of shape our relationship moving forward. He wanted to make sure that we took
advantage of the potential of young Africans and to build a better future for the continent.
I think that’s…the amazing thing really is
when you look at U.S. goals in Africa, when you look
at President Obama’s goals, they’re very similar to the goals, I think, that young Africans
have for their future. They’re very similar to the goals that Africans in general have
for their countries. And I think that we’re…you
know, there’s set-backs and there’s challenges, but I think we’re beginning to see a lot of
that come true. I think we’re…the level of
economic growth throughout Africa, the opportunities are really expanding quickly and we
look at YALI as sort of a key input into that to sort of bring about the better future that
we know is possible.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s another question. “For
applications for the civic leadership track, is proven volunteerism required?” I think
the application gives you the opportunity in a
few different places to talk about your volunteerism. There’s a question that asks you the
role that you play in your community, what interaction do you have with your community
outside of your professional work. You can also document any volunteerism that you have
done in your resume. Certainly, we need you to be factual and honest but I’m not sure
what it means by proven volunteerism. We need you
to be honest, of course. But you don’t need to send in any kind of certificate or necessarily
a letter of reference from that volunteer organization.>>TODD: Thanks Britta. Here’s a question.
“Is there a plan to support Fellows who return to their home countries after the Fellowship
to continue the role they play in their communities?” Yes. I mean, I think we’re very
committed to do that. Now, to support the role. In other words, our embassies in the
field are very interested in working with the
Fellows and talking to them about their goals and moving forward. We are working to set
up mentorships for any Fellow who wants one, so these would be people who could
provide advice moving forward. We are working through our embassies to establish
alumni organizations of Mandela Washington Fellowship members so that that can be an
important part of organizing folks and putting together kind of programs for moving
forward in a whole range of ways. I know I’ve talked a little bit about this earlier but
I really want to emphasize just how important
is the ongoing activities on the continent. This Mandela Washington Fellowship doesn’t
end when folks board the plane to go back to
Africa. In some ways, that’s really just a beginning.>>BRITTA: Yeah, it’s kind of a unique program
in that way, that it really is just the first step
in a longer engagement with the United States and the continuation of this program.>>TODD: Exactly.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a resume question.
“On the resume portion of the application, applicants are asked to write in the third
person pronoun. Does this also apply to the personal statements?” No. You should write
your personal statements in the first person. I think if it says, you know, “Where do you
see yourself professionally in 10 years?” You
want to say, “I believe that I will be the President of Togo in 10 years,” or whatever
your answer is. Definitely write your essays in
the first person. They’re going to be much more
personal. They’re going to be much more readable. They’re going to be much more
believable.>>TODD: Here’s a question. “Is there a quota
of selected Fellows from each country?” We’re always looking for diversity in our
program. So we’re looking for diversity in gender.
I think last year’s cadre of Mandela Washington Fellows was exactly 250 men and 250
women. We are looking for diversity…people have asked about handicapped folks, and we
certainly want to make sure that that important sector of your countries is represented.
We’re looking for diversity in religion, in race, in creed, in ethnic background. We’re
looking for diversity in every single way. And we’re also looking for diversity in country.
So what…we do have sort of an effort to make….well, we want certainly some Fellows
from every country and we want Fellows in proportion
to the size of countries and…in addition to the quality of applications that are coming
forward. So we do look at targets. There’s no
100 percent fixed quota or anything like that. But we want to make sure that we don’t get
500 applicants from Togo and none from any other country on the continent. We want to
make sure we have a good spread out across the continent as a whole.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question for me.
“What do you mean when you say ‘leaders’? Does the term apply only to those in the political
arena or do you also consider those in innovation, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement?”
Absolutely. A leader is a very broad term and certainly there are leaders in civil
society. There are leaders in non-profits. There are leaders in business. Probably many
of you who are thinking about applying already are leaders and so it’s just a matter
of you really demonstrating that and proving that to us on the application and/or in your
interview. You do not need to be in the public sector or to be in elected office to be a
leader.>>TODD: Okay, I’ll try this one Britta and
feel free to chime in if you’d like. “What is the
difference between YALI and the Mandela Washington Fellowship?” Okay. About four
years ago, the President announced the YALI Initiative. That’s the Young African
Leadership Initiative. And the Young African Leadership Initiative includes a wide range
of activities. But the premiere program at the
center of YALI is the Mandela Washington Fellowship. I mean, other parts of YALI includes
the YALI Network. That’s all the different folks that we’re pushing out…people who
sign up to receive our emails that have information about MOOCs and other educational
opportunities. These Regional Leadership Centers, where we will be providing training
at different parts of the continent, that’s part
of YALI. We are establishing…if some of you are in American Spaces now, we’re
establishing kind of super-American Spaces that we’re going to call YALI Spaces. There
are a host of different programs that all fall
under the umbrella of YALI but the one that is sort
of at the center of YALI is the Mandela Washington Fellowship. And that’s the program that
we’re talking about now. Does that about get it?>>BRITTA: Sounds good to me.>>TODD: Sounds good to her.>>TODD: Okay. Here’s another question for
me. “Is it possible to get partners from the USAID to partner with my business through
my involvement in the YALI program?” One thing that we did a lot of at the Summit,
and I’ll let Britta probably expand on this, but is we
gave opportunities for Fellows to network. And that was networking with each other but
it was also networking with American businesses,
with American entrepreneurs, with American politicians and statesmen, with a
wide range of folks so that they could present themselves. I know there was a lot of focus
on how to pitch your business. So really, you
know, this is a program that provides folks who are selected with the opportunity and
at that point we expect them to get involved.
In addition, a lot of U.S. businesses that are on
the continent are providing internships for the YALI Fellows when they return back. Am
I missing anything, Britta?>>BRITTA: I don’t think so. I mean, I think
the program is very, very packed. So, along with your academic coursework, you will also
have opportunities for networking and hopefully a little bit of unscheduled time
as well. So if there are specific businesses that you
want to get in touch with while you’re in the United States or while you’re in Chicago
or wherever it is you are for your institute,
that you’ll have a little bit of time to do that. Okay, here’s a question from Twitter. “Is
it necessary to get a letter of recommendation from my school or workplace?” So I think Todd
touched on this earlier. You are welcome to submit letters of recommendation or upload
other documents, supplemental documents, as they’re called. Those are optional, so
it is not required to have a letter of recommendation from your school or workplace.
It certainly helps but it is, by all means, optional.>>TODD: Okay, a question for me. “If selected,
will the program managers negotiate an absence permission from an applicant in case
of refusal of the current employer?” This is
something that we face with a lot of our exchange programs is that somebody gets selected
from one of our programs and then their employer says, “No, he can’t go. He’s too busy.”
And then often the next line is, “But I’ll go.” (laughing) No. We do our best. We will
provide…our embassies do provide letters, you know, to explain what the program is and
the reason why the employer should allow the person to travel. But, of course, your
employer is your employer. And ultimately, we can’t force an employer to say let him
go or not let him go. We will certainly make the
effort to explain to the employer why it’s in the
best interest of the employer to allow his employee to go and to improve his skills and
his capacity to perform in a certain job. I don’t
recall that this was a wide scale problem last
year. I think most employers…the overwhelming majority of employers…I can’t actually
think of a case where somebody said no about their employee going, but that doesn’t mean
I can rule it out.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s another question. “What
are the stages in the selection process?” Okay, so the first date that is the most important,
which probably most of you know, is November 5, because the applications are closing.
Starting on November 6, we’re going to start reviewing the applications, reading
and scoring them, and we’ve recruited out to
hundreds of readers throughout the United States, who have an expertise in one of the
tracks or an interest in Africa to follow a scoring rubric to score your applications.
At the same time, our colleagues in the embassies
and consulates around Sub-Saharan Africa, are
going to be reviewing your applications. They are going to start calling semi-finalists
in for interviews in January and February. It’s possible
they might start calling them as early as mid-November or December, but I think the
bulk of the interview time will be January and
February. If you are chosen as a Fellow, you will find out sometime around late March.
And, of course, it is an option, if you can’t get away from your job or there is something
in your life that makes it for you unable to
attend, of course, you can turn down the Fellowship. And that’s always a good news
for people who are on the alternate list. So
you’ll find out if you’re a Fellow or an alternate in late March. And IREX, who is our
implementing partner, our NGO that helps us in this program, will notify all the
unsuccessful candidates by the end of March. And, at that time, you can start getting your
paperwork together, your passports and so on, and getting your documents ready to apply
for your visa. And you would come to the U.S. in mid-June and start the Fellowship. So
that’s the selection process. Did I miss anything, Todd?>>TODD: The only wrinkle I would add is there
obviously are events going on in certain countries, like there might be elections,
different things that are happening, which our
embassies will probably try to avoid scheduling–you alluded to this–the interviews or
selection process during that period. So don’t be surprised. You know, in some countries,
you may get a phone call earlier about an interview than January or February. But I
think that’s pretty much the standard one. In certain
countries, the application process may move more quickly. It certainly will not move
more slowly than that. You will be able to know by early March whether or not you are
a finalist for the program.>>BRITTA: Actually, it’s mid to late March.>>TODD: Mid to late March.>>BRITTA: Don’t get them too excited too soon.>>TODD: Yes, okay.>>BRITTA: The only other change that we have
made from last year is that you will find out that you are a finalist, that you have
selected for the Fellowship first and then you can
start working on your paperwork, and then in a week or two we will let you know exactly
which institute you are placed at. And you don’t have any ability to choose which
university or college you’re going to. You will be placed in a university or college.
But we’ll let you know that slightly later than we let
you know that you have been selected.>>TODD: Okay. “Can an applicant be selected
in the business and entrepreneurship track even though he or she has not yet founded
a company?” Well, I mean, I think there is more
to doing business than founding a company, although that’s a really big part of it. Look,
there’s a lot of applications and there’s a lot of folks who’ve accomplished things.
And I’m really encouraging…if you think…I’m encouraging
people to apply. We’d like lots of folks to apply. But if…you know, I don’t want to
take this question too far, but if you haven’t had
much experience in business, think about how your application will stand up against
somebody who has. There is other kinds of experience in business but I think that’s
an important criteria to keep in mind.>>BRITTA: Okay, here’s a question. “Why are
applicants asked how long it has taken us to
complete the application? Will this have an impact on our potential selection?” No, that
will not have any impact on your potential selection. It’s just a question for us that
allows us to get a feel for how difficult or how
easy the application is. And that will help us to
redesign the application in future years to kind of get a feel for how long it took applicants
to really fill it out. But it has no bearing on your selection.>>TODD: I know when you fill out an application
like this, there is sometimes a tendency to think a lot of the questions are criteria.
Actually a lot of the questions sometimes are just
helping us to make sure that it works better in the future. So that’s something to keep
in mind.>>TODD: Here’s a question for me. “Are people
with degrees from the United States or Europe favored during the selection?” They’re
not favored. They’re not eliminated either. We are looking at all applicants and interested
in that. Having said that, if we’re looking at
somebody who’s already had a lot of experience in the United States, particularly in an
academic environment like this program is providing, we do scratch our head a little
bit and think, “What kind of value-add are we
really giving by this person participating in the
program?” So I can tell you, last year we did have some people who had degrees from
the United States participate in the program.
But I think that it is definitely not something that
counts in your favor and may work against you, but nonetheless, we have open minds and
it will really depend on what the other applications look like.>>BRITTA: Todd, we are running out of time,
but we have time for one last question. I’ll go
ahead and read it.>>TODD: Sure.>>BRITTA: “Are there educational opportunities
in the United States for Fellows who would want to further their education after
the program?”>>TODD: Do you mean as part…well a number
of things, I think, and you can chime in. Immediately after the program, no. I mean,
no. You go back to Africa and work on sort of
the…apply the skills that you’ve had. Now down the road, life is long and, you know,
a year or two down in the future, people may suddenly
come across an educational opportunity and want to go back and study. But in the
immediate aftermath, we are looking for folks who are going to be heading back and looking
to begin their lives and start again.>>BRITTA: I guess it’s safe to say that this
program is not a feeder program into any kind of master’s program or, you know, workforce
in the United States. We are absolutely looking for leaders who are going to go back
and make changes or follow their own leadership path. But, as Todd mentioned, for
some of you that may include further study in
the United States. Probably for the majority of you, it won’t, but it certainly is a possibility.>>TODD: Well, I mean, I’m afraid we’re out
of time for today. Thanks for all the great questions, really. This has been great. And
don’t forget to join us on Thursday, October 30
for a second web chat. And for that web chat, we’re going to be featuring a 2014 Mandela
Fellow, somebody who could tell you exactly what this experience is like.>>BRITTA: And someone who watched this web
chat last year and it inspired him to apply. So it’ll be interesting to hear his viewpoint.>>TODD: Maybe next year, you’ll be doing a
web chat.>>BRITTA: We want to thank you so much for
your wonderful and active participation and again, we encourage you to visit
for more information about the application process. Good luck and see you on October

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. I have applied this year (2016), and hopefully I will make it through…This is a rare opportunity and from us in Africa, we are grateful….I am finally 25 years old and I am looking forward to being selected, hopefully.

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