Friday, 13 June 2014

The Washington Fellowship: leadership, management and entrepenurship

As I write this input to the IDS Alumni Blog, I am one among the 500 Young African Leaders who have been identified to participate in the inaugural Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which is an exchange program of president Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). 

Lebogang Mokwena - more photos available in the Alumni Flickr Album 

So what is it? 

The programme is organised around three leadership tracks:

  • civic leadership 
  • public management
  • entrepreneurship (or business)
Over a six-week programme delivered in various universities across the United States, the programme is structured to deliver leadership training, academic coursework, and mentoring for the African Leaders. 

The fellowship's ultimate aim is to contribute to the continent's economic growth and strengthened democratic institutions by enhancing the leadership capacity of leading African youth. 

There is no question of the strategic nature of this multi-year initiative for the United States, not least geo-politically in light of the increasing footprint of Chinese investment in Africa and the seeming rise of Islamic extremist movements in parts of the continent. 

This notwithstanding, there is no denying what an amazing opportunity this will be to interact with 499 other young people who are committed to engendering positive change on the continent and who have already started on a compelling path of public service, innovation, and social relevance and it certainly feels like a rare privilege to form part of a targeted continent-wide conversation among young people about how to address some of the pressing challenges facing the continent. 

And what will I be doing?

I have been placed on the public management track and will spend six weeks, starting in June 2014, at Howard University in Washington DC with a number of other fellows from across the continent who either work in the political arena or in government. Having worked in the national Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa since March 2011, mine has been an attempt to give practical expression to Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, that emphasises human development, particularly education, training, and skills development, as the cornerstone to national development and positive change. Additionally, my work has provided me with an opportunity to bring to bear my own personal experience of the transformative power of education and training in a country that is still grappling with the legacy of racial discrimination and limited opportunities for self and community actualisation among a racial majority. 

My past

Being a young, black South African woman who grew up in the urban townships of Johannesburg, access to opportunities for study have enabled my participation in South Africa's transformation project, hence my work in the civil service as a way of contributing to young South Africans' access to technical and vocational education and training opportunities. As the Director for Youth Development Programmes, I was responsible for developing and implanting strategies for improved youth access to and success to opportunities of study in the country's 50 Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges, chiefly through overseeing the administration of the Department's Bursary Scheme for Colleges (currently valued at approximately GBP116million, the development of academic and exit support programmes, and through the introduction of health and wellness initiatives, notably the Higher Education and Training AIDS (HEAIDS) programme. 

Looking to the Future

Through my participation in the Washington Fellowship, I hope to be able to collaborate with other fellows in enhancing young people's access to public education and training opportunities. Having been the youngest senior manager in the Department's Vocational and Continuing Education and Training branch, I am also passionate about devising an advocacy campaign that can attract talented and highly-skilled young people to work in the public service, which, in my experience, has been a dynamic, stimulating, and rewarding way in which to apply my skills and introduce institutional innovations towards improved state capacity in the delivery of important services to young people through greater student engagement.It will be interesting to figure out how best to do this while living in New York City from August 2014 when I will be undertaking graduate studies at The New School for Social Research towards a PhD in Industrial Sociology, specifically, the interface between skills and industrial development. 

While participation in the Washington Fellowship requires that fellows return to their home countries after the six weeks of leadership training (or after completion of an internship for those fellows who will be placed at an institution relevant to their leadership track for a few weeks beyond the six weeks training), I had already applied to and been accepted for a place of study at The New School and so mine will have to be a smart collaboration with fellows who will be back on the continent but there is no question that upon completion of my studies and in much the same way that I did after my studies at IDS in 2008, I will be heading back to South Africa. 

By Lebogang Mokwena, IDS Alumnus 2008 

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