On July 21, 2016, for the third time since 2013, the Africa Growth Initiative hosted the Howard University-based cohort of the Mandela Washington Fellows, which 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, to name just a few fields of interest.
The aims of the discussion were not only to familiarize the 25 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 of adhering to it. Many of the fellows have already started or plan to start a think tank of their own and so posed several questions to Bennett, especially about fundraising, finding strategic partners, maintaining their own independence, and creating strategies for growth.
Africa Growth Initiative Director Amadou Sy then led a moderated discussion with AGI Research Fellow Eyerusalem Siba and Center for Universal Education Project Director and Associate Fellow Kate Anderson on their experiences working in a think tank as well as issues relevant to their areas of expertise. Sy covered a variety of macroeconomic issues, while Siba shared her work on gender research, and Anderson emphasized her work on skills development on the continent. The fellows were especially eager to hear about the scholars’ takes on rising youth unemployment on the continent as well as how gender can be particularly emphasized when considering both education and employment policies. The fellows also asked Sy for his thoughts on the future of U.S.-African trade given the recent renewal of AGOA and the shifting global trade environment. The fellows were also especially keen to learn how the scholars based in Washington, D.C. are able to be kept aware of the events on the ground in Africa, how they keep plugged into the policy dialogues there, and how they maintain and utilize their networks.
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