The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the United States’ signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders as they foster economic growth, enhance democratic governance, and strengthen civil society structures that will help the continent sustainably grow and prosper. Launched in 2010, YALI is composed of three programs designed to complement one another by providing a variety of resources and avenues of opportunity: the Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs), the Mandela Washington Fellowship, and the YALI Network.
A staggering 60 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa are under the age of 35 years. The challenges found on the continent, including political instability, corruption, and rising threats of violent extremism, are exacerbated by an expanding youth bulge weighed down by high unemployment and limited education options. Bolstering opportunities for leadership development and community engagement will play a key role in alleviating these challenges.
Through YALI, the United States is investing in an emerging generation of young African leaders by committing resources to enhance leadership skills, invigorate entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders with one another, counterparts in the United States, and other innovative leaders in both private and public sectors. Young people not only are shaping Africa’s future, but also hold the potential to be a powerful force for change on the continent.
USAID is proud to be part of this U.S. Government initiative and works closely with the Department of State and the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) on program implementation. USAID is responsible for the management of programming at the YALI Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) located on the African continent. The Department of State is responsible for the U.S.-based annual Mandela Washington Fellowship and monitoring the virtual YALI Network.
Regional Leadership Centers
Launched in 2015 by USAID, YALI’s Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) are regional training hubs located in Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, and South Africa. The RLCs have provided gold-standard transformational learning and leadership training to nearly 23,000 participants between the ages of 18 to 35, including a successful pivot to virtual training at the onset of the pandemic. Typically headquartered at local institutions of higher learning, the RLCs increase the relevancy and positive impact of YALI by training young African leaders on their home continent. Applicants apply to a specific RLC based on the country in which they live or their preferred language. The training has been provided in three formats: in-person, online, or hybrid (a combination of in-person and online learning) at no cost to the participant, and is offered in English, French, or Portuguese. The application process is highly selective, and successful candidates have already demonstrated an aptitude for leadership in their profession. Selected participants engage in leadership training from four to twelve weeks across one of three tracks of study: Civic Leadership, Public Management, and Business & Entrepreneurship. Once participants graduate, they join a vibrant YALI alumni family and network, and continue connection to the RLCs through additional training and professional development opportunities, participation in their country’s YALI Alumni Chapter, and YALI resources and connections.
Mandela Washington Fellowship
The Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) is a highly selective, Department of State-sponsored fellowship program that is open to young civic, business, and community leaders between the ages of 25-35 from sub-Saharan Africa. Successful applicants attend a six-week Leadership Institute at a U.S. college or university for academic coursework, leadership training, and networking opportunities. Leadership Institutes are followed by a multi-day summit in Washington, D.C., where Fellows are able to forge connections with one another and U.S. leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors, setting the stage for long-term engagement between the United States and Africa. Since 2014, the MWF alumni network has grown to over 5,000 alumni. Learn more about the MWF here.
Also overseen by the Department of State, the YALI Network is a free, online portal allowing the greatest reach to the YALI program. Anyone can become a member of the YALI Network, which grants members access to over 25 online courses and Video Vignette Series that cover a range of topics, from promoting the rights of women and girls to starting and growing a small business. The online courses include discussion guides, quizzes, and the opportunity to earn YALI Network certificates. There are also hundreds of blogs and podcasts available that feature YALI Network members and their incredible achievements. The YALI Network includes about 700,000 members and can be accessed here.
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