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YALI/Mandela Washington Fellows Impact Cameroon through their Symposium

View of a discussion panel.

View of a discussion panel. [USEYde Photo]

On Saturday, November 5, the U.S Embassy supported the Young African Leaders Initiative/Mandela Washington Fellows (YALI/MWF) Alumni first YALI Symposium in Cameroon, under the theme: "Reaching New Horizons with Servant Leadership,” at the Congress Hall in Yaounde. Along with the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Matthew Smith, Cultural Affairs Officer Nitza Sola-Rotger, Cultural Affairs Specialist Gladys Viban, Cultural Affairs Assistant and YALI coordinator Olivia Mukam, and Political and Economic Section Chief David Brownstein interacted with 400 youth leader participants, from the 10 regions of Cameroon, representing diverse social, ethnic, religious and professional backgrounds.

The symposium began with a 2-hour long opening ceremony, from 10:00am to 12:00am, that consisted of remarks by Mandela Washington Fellows President Christelle Chongwain, keynote address by IVLP alumna Fidele Djebba, remarks from the Director of American and Carribean Affairs at the Ministry of External Relations (MINREX) Dr. Jean Djounkeng, welcome remarks by DCM Matthew Smith, followed by a town hall between the DCM and the 400 youth participants.  The town hall was followed by a high level panel discussion on the contribution of youth to peace, economic prosperity and development, moderated by Mrs Jessie Ekukole, with the participation of Dr Jean Djounkeng (MINREX), Dr. Hilaire Kamga (Futur Afrique Consulting), David Brownstein (Political & Economic Chief, U.S Embassy), Gerald Afadani (YALI/MWF 2014 Chairperson), Marie-Paul Niat (Vice President AWEP Cameroon), and Dr Lilian Banmi Ngwana (YALI/WMF 2016).

During the Symposium, Cameroon’s YALI/MWF Alumni shared their experience during their fellowship in the United States; they showcased the businesses and NGOs they currently lead in Cameroon; and they engaged Cameroonian young leaders in discussions on the socio-economic and political development of Cameroon. The YALI symposium featured discussion panels, motivational talks, keynote lectures and an exhibition; all captured by half a dozen of their media partners from public and private press, radio and TV. The YALI/MWF mobilized their peers in discussions around topics such as:  youth engagement in countering violent extremism, lifting barriers to starting and doing business, the eradication of corruption in public service, giving a voice to underrepresented groups, sustainable financial models for NGOs, innovative funding mechanisms for small businesses, youth participation in decision-making, and shaping the Cameroonian dream.

With the presence of renown young Cameroonian leaders – such as Marc Arthur Zang (award winning creator of the CardioPad), Olivia Ngou (Country director of Malaria No more), Desy Danga (Founder of Wadjo Apparels), Alphonse Shang (EcoBank Youth Banking), Kedi Emmanuel (Intellectual Property expert at OAPI), Candace Nkoth (Director at Jumia e-businesses), Nadege Ongbile Yoko (Female Commonwealth Youth Ambassador for Cameroon), and Ako William (OAA Law Firm), the crosspollination of ideas among the youth helped demystify business creation, visualize grassroot impact, and foster expectations of integrity in public service. Furthermore, with the life stories of established business and civic leaders, such as Dr Andre Bena (CEO of CRELICAM), Mr. Behyia Leonard Bruce (Media personality), Nsoh Joseph (Founder and CEO of Essoka Security), and Thierry Nyamen (CEO of NT Foods – TANTY), the participants were inspired to action, by the stories of struggle and success of each speaker.

The event ended with an #Icommit237 canvas on which participants wrote down the commitment they individually will realize to change, improve, impact, and/or transform challenges in their communities. Youth leaders returned home with an #ICommit card which reads:

“I commit to Cameroon my country!

To be a responsible citizen, working in patriotic pride to preserve the PEACE in our country and dedicated in efforts to create a shared PROSPERITY for the development of the entire Nation. I pledge to show SOLIDARITY towards fellow Cameroonians in times of adversity and also in my service to the common good. I commit to restrain myself from acts of violence and irresponsible behavior that will infringe the rights and well-being of others and compromise the Peace, Prosperity and Heritage we all share.

So help me God!”

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The Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), brings young African professionals from across the continent to top US universities for exclusive leadership training in areas of business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management each year. Fellows, in addition, benefit from professional development opportunities, including US and African-based practicums. Competitively selected for this prestigious program, the fellows represent the continent’s emerging generation of entrepreneurs, community leaders, and public officials.