On July 20, 2017, for the fourth time since 2013, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) hosted the Howard University-based cohort of the Mandela Washington Fellows, the program that aims to “empower young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.” The program is part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. The fellows, who hail from around the continent, come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, including up-and-coming lawyers, civil servants, academics, doctors, as well as civil society leaders, among others.
The aims of the discussion were not only to familiarize the 28 fellows with the experience of working in and leading a think tank, but also to demonstrate the variety of research Brookings scholars undertake that might be pertinent to the fellows’ personal goals.
Brookings Chief Operating Officer Steven Bennett began the discussion by talking about the history, goals, and challenges of the institution. Acknowledging that all think tanks have their own strategies for creating impact, he emphasized Brookings’s commitment to independence and the challenges—and importance—of adhering to it. Many of the fellows have already started or plan to start a think tanks of their own and so posed several questions to Bennett, especially about fundraising, finding strategic partners, maintaining independence, promoting quality control, and creating strategies for growth.
AGI Director and Senior Fellow Brahima Coulibaly moderated the discussion and also covered some of the Africa Growth initiative’s upcoming research agenda, including domestic resource mobilization and macroeconomic trends. AGI Research Fellow Eyerusalem Siba described her work on structural transformation and women’s empowerment. The YALI fellows were keen to discuss her research and how the major challenge of youth unemployment in Africa might be addressed. Given her extensive research on urbanization, the conversation also covered the rapid urbanization on the continent and policies for smart city planning. Center for Universal Education Echidna Scholar Damaris Seleina Parsitau discussed her work overcoming cultural barriers to girl’s education as well as emerging curriculums on the continent emphasizing skills. Fellows similarly inquired as to how skills education can help fill the growing unemployment gaps in their countries.
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