Dakar, Senegal (MAT) – I have never visited her home, but I have felt its wonderful warmth and hospitality.  I have never seen her prepare a meal, but I have tasted the succulence of her culinary bounty.  My ears have never heard her sing, but I know that she possesses a lovely, melodic voice. 

I have never whiffed the scent of the perfume that she wears, and yet, I breathe in her whimsical and exotic fragrances whenever my mind turns to her.  I am unaware of the headwaters of her history, but I know her offspring, who they will become, and what they will do.  To many, she is the one who has always been the loving sister, always the kind neighbor, always the Bridesmaid and never the Bride.

But they do not know her, not the way that I do. Her time has come, her beauty has been revealed, her passions and abilities have been unleashed, she is no longer the one who sits in the shadows as she has grown and is now ready and able, she is walking the center aisle with the pageantry of the Bride as all eyes fix upon her talent and beauty.  Yes, Africa, I know you.

I have never set foot on your shores, have never traversed your majestic plains, have never felt the rushing power of your awesome waterfalls, and have never climbed your towering peaks, but I know you.  I know you because I have met and worked with your sons and daughters, and they are you, and you are magnificent!

For the last three summers we, here at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, have welcomed cohorts of Africa’s best and brightest, who have come to the United States as Mandela Washington Fellows in the YALI program.

The Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) is a US State Department sponsored program which brings 1 000 Fellows to America to provide them with additional educational training in a number of areas.  At the University of Notre Dame we provide the Fellows with educational training, cultural experiences, networking opportunities, mentoring, and other experiences to help them to thrive in their professional endeavors.

As one of the world’s truly elite Universities, and as an institution that is committed to being a “force for good” in the world, Notre Dame is honored to be involved with this program and takes the responsibility to assist and develop these young African leaders very seriously.

During the six-week period that they are here at Notre Dame the Mandela Washington Fellows receive training in entrepreneurship, personal-professional branding, innovation, philanthropy, business planning, grant writing, leadership, and design thinking.

Within this program I have had the great privilege of working with young African leaders from over 25 countries, some of which include; Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, the DRC (Congo), Angola, Madagascar,  and Liberia.

Through my work in teaching them, as well as serving as a mentor to them, I have gotten to know the Fellows and I am thoroughly impressed.   They are doing fantastic work as medical doctors, barristers, entrepreneurs, translators, carpenters, scientists, technology and web consultants and service providers, film makers, Agri-Business specialists, environmental advocates, medical technicians, venture capitalists, bankers, and television show hosts.

There are many people throughout the world who are making predictions about how Africa will be the next big growth region in the world; they say that you are the future.  Yes, your future will be brilliant, but your future is now.   Your young people are bright, and they are driven.

They are doing great work as well as doing good-works for others around them.  They are focused on developing businesses, providing jobs, creating support services for the less fortunate, being good stewards of environmental resources, and advocating for positive social-change.

They are committed to providing quality education for children, to providing health care that is accessible, to helping women gain a more stable and less dependent footing in society, and, through their work, ensuring that their communities, their respective countries, and the entire continent is elevated to new levels of achievement and prosperity.

They are intelligent, articulate, and motivated people who are building a bigger tomorrow as well as a better today.  They are not just focused on themselves and being successful, but, rather, are also concerned about others who have visible as well as concealed needs and are investing their time and talent into ways to make a better life for all.

Through these acts of service, each of them is a human- lantern which shines brightly in illuminating a pathway for others.  In the broader sense then, Africa, your young-people are no different than the next-generation of young-leaders in Europe, America, or other countries in the economically developed world where talented young people are using their time and talent to build a better future.

Throughout all of the human experience we have heard a common refrain about the need to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of people.

This powerful concept has been associated with successful political campaigns, developing social movements, creating peace in post-conflict societies, and developing religious followings.  If history teaches us nothing else it is that great minds and pure hearts can be one of the most impactful “forces for good” in the world.

I am familiar with the hearts and minds of young African leaders, whose strong minds and generous hearts are the here and now as well as the launching pad for future success.  You, Africa, are a happy people, a good people, a capable people, and a people who have arrived. Welcome, Africa, to the table.

Source: Written by Bill Brennan


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