Empowerment Matters For Mandela Washington Fellows From Liberia

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Washington — “As one of seventeen Fellows selected to participate in the Professional Development Experience (PDE) internship, the Mandela Washington Fellowship offers, Samuel Fayiah Johnson is counting his blessings.


Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


Johnson, a capacity building officer at the Ministry of Health who also doubles as President of the 2018 MWF-Liberia Team, says the fellowship has provided a distinguished space to develop new skills and knowledge and offered an opportunity for continued network with other Africans to change our communities. “It will certainly play a major role in my professional and personal development. The Fellowship is like an ignition to my incessant urge to make a change in my community.”

Johnson, who was placed at the Syracuse University in New York is a PDE Intern at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Phoenix, Arizona.

He says one of his main takeaways from the fellowship is the need to solidify the principle of Ubuntu in our engagement in serving our communities, which is a guiding principle of servant leadership as was demonstrated by our role model Nelson Mandela. Secondly, the establishment of an independent legislative ethics commission is integral to enhancing accountability and reducing corruption that is pervasive in developing countries. I will strive to ensure that such commission is established in Liberia.”

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders which begun in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young Africans with the leadership training, skills and networking they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa. The Fellowship through its three training tracks – Public Management, Civic Leadership and Business & Entrepreneurship – provides outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at different universities and colleges across the U.S. with support for professional development after they return home. It is a fully sponsored program by the U.S. Department of State and embodies the United States commitment to invest in the future of Africa.

The Fellows, who are between the ages of 25 and 35, have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities, and countries. Upon returning to their home countries, Fellows 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, the Department of State, and affiliated partners.

Since 2014, three thousand seven hundred (3,700) African youths have participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship which. Over these years, a total of 97 Liberian youths – 15 in 2014, 16 in 2015, 25 in 2016, 24 in 2017, and 17 in 2018 – have participated in the Fellowship.

As part of this year’s program, seven hundred (700) Fellows participated in the six-week intensive executive leadership training, networking and skills building component of the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF), which began in June 2018 and ended with a Summit in Washington DC from July 31-Aug 2, 2018. Seventeen (17) Liberian youths participated in the Fellowship. One hundred (100) out of the 700 African young leaders were selected to participate in an additional 6-week Professional Development Experience (PDE) internship with U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies, and governmental agencies that relate to their professional interests and goals. Of the 100 selected Fellows for the PDE internship this year, three (3) are from Liberia – Samuel Fayiah Johnson, Gladys M. Freeman and J. Alexander Nyahn. The 17 Liberian fellows for 2018 are Samuel Fayiah Johnson, Mercy N. Flomo, Pokolo Andrewson, Roland S. Kamara, Ruth N. Gbatoe, Lekpele M. Nyamalon, Diana Wiah Dwanah, Roland R. Washington, J. Alexander Nyahn, Baindu Kaidii, Gladys M. Freeman, Gbolu Goldore, Genesis Kolliemene, Shirley Kais, Antoine Dayrell, Hawa Wilson and Tomah Georgina Moore.

Phenomenal Experience

Gladys M. Freeman, a Business Manager at Liberia Pure Honey was placed in Business and Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University and is a PDE Intern at Pennsylvania State College, Pennsylavania.

She says the fellowship was phenomenal, the training was great, and each week was different. “We had class room training, community service and networking opportunities.  My training covered servant leadership and entrepreneurship. Right now I have deep knowledge of leadership. I have learned that leadership is not a position but a behavior. In business, you just don’t focus on making profit, also impact the lives of people around you or your community. With the knowledge acquired, I was able to build networks. Through those networks, we are working on exporting honey and coconut oil to the US by 2019. An arrangement is on the way for some US citizens from DC to Liberia. They are going to share information on how they can integrate GeoAg sustainability practice in Liberia. This approach to agriculture will allow us to effectively address challenges of food insecurity, nutrition access, climate and over all sustainability.”

Genesis Sylvester Kolliemene, another fellow is Executive Director, Youth Positive Transformation Initiative (YOPTI). She was placed in Civic Leadership at Kansas State University, Kansas.

She says she is looking forward to returning home to contribute to her homeland. “Let me announce to my people back home that I’m returning home inspired and strengthened to rejoin you in the collective efforts to foster national growth and sustainability. I can see a better future in our great nation and I believe we are the resources we need to make the best for Mama Liberia. Developing ourselves, believing in our potentials and taking the little significant actions each day shall lead us to realizing the promising future that we long to see.”

Shirley Crawford Kais, Founder and Owner of Inside Shirley’s, formerly Shirley Beauty Plus was placed in Business & Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

She described the Mandela Washington Fellowship as having the master key that will unlock the doors to a successful future for her. “Today, my life has been impacted through the Nelson Mandela Legacy. I am grateful but I will only feel fulfilled if I impact the lives of other people which I am working toward.”

Looking to Change Community

Tomah Georgina Moore, Assistant Payroll Supervisor in the Liberian Senate Finance Department, was placed in Public Management at Florida International University, Florida. “The Mandela Washington Fellowship has been an inspiring journey which has left me with enforced enthusiasm to help make a change in my community”.

John Alexander Nyahn, Jr. Executive Director, Community Health Education and Social Services (CHESS)

Was placed in Civic Leadership at Rutgers University, New Jersey, and a PDE Intern at Peace Corps, Washington D.C. He says he owes a lot to the fellowship for transforming his life. “I was a leader, but the Mandela Washington Fellowship trained me to be a selfless leader committed to transforming waste (societal ills) into  useful product.”

Ruth Nyanamah Gbatoe, a Program Assistant at the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building, and Program Producer at ECOWAS Radio, was also placed in Civic Leadership, but at Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana. She credits the fellowship for empowering her to lead. “The Mandela Washington Fellowship has improved my leadership and networking skills. I have been empowered to lead people NOT to manage them. Leadership is not a popularity contest. It should embrace the works of others for positive change.”

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