Members of the media, alumni of the YALI program, family members and, especially, this year’s Mandela Fellows: Welcome, thank you for coming, and congratulations to this year’s fellows.
In 2010, President Barack Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative –“YALI” – to empower the incredible talent and creativity of young Africans. Last year, President Obama expanded the initiative to include a fellowship component.
The fellowship gives 500 young Africans from across the continent the opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills as the next generation of leaders in civil society, business, and government.
The fellowship component is named after one of the greatest African leaders of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. Mandela said in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, that “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
It is clear when I look at the biographies of each of these fellows, when I see the work they have accomplished, the concern they have shown for the challenges in their communities and their countries, and the rigorous academic institutions they will be attending in the U.S. this summer, that they have that formidable combination.
I have had wonderful experiences meeting and working with the YALI fellows, both before I arrived and, since I have been in Madagascar. One of my first interactions with this program occurred just moments after my confirmation hearing. One of the YALI fellows had heard I was to go before Congress that day, and decided to attend my hearing and introduce herself to me afterwards.
This year, in March, I had the opportunity to present alumni of this program to the President of Madagascar, where they outlined their vision for the country and their plans for achieving it. In both cases, I appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit that the first Mandela Fellows showed in figuring out what they wanted, and the determination they showed in working for it. I expect that I will have similar stories to tell soon of this new group.
In a moment, I am going to invite each of this year’s fellows, from Madagascar and the Comoros, to stand and introduce themselves. Before I do, I want to applaud and to thank the family members of each of these fellows that have joined us today.
I know you have worked hard to raise such amazing young men and women, and I want to acknowledge the sacrifices you have made along the way to do so. As you prepare to send them off for this incredible adventure in the United States, I want to acknowledge your efforts, and congratulate you as well.
Now, I invite each of the 2015 Mandela Fellows to stand, introduce yourself, tell us where you will be studying in the United States, and say a few words about your work in your home country.