Young African leaders participate in entrepreneurship program

by Katie Rafter | 7/28/16 6:54pm

For the past six weeks, 25 young African business leaders from 17 different countries have been participating in the Young African Leaders Initiative at Dartmouth, training to become entrepreneurs and change-makers in their communities.

This is the third year that the College has hosted a cohort of Mandela Washington fellows, bringing the total number of fellows hosted to approximately 75, according to YALI academic director Amy Newcomb.

This year, the College hosted fellows from countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia and Niger, which are being represented at the College for the first time since the program began, Newcomb said.

Newcomb, who is in charge of coordinating the different aspects of campus that come together to form the cohesive YALI program, said that this year was unique in that the College hosted a larger cohort of fellows in the creative sector.

She said the College is involved with the program in Africa as well, helping to implement it on the continent by working with local trainers and YALI alumni in about 14 countries to help the program expand.

The program at the College focuses on business and entrepreneurship with classes taught by Thayer School of Engineering professors and Dartmouth alumni. Fellows also engage in the Upper Valley community by participating in service projects and visiting local companies.

Engineering professor Peter Robbie ’69 taught a one-week intensive design-thinking workshop for the third year in a row, with the intent to help the YALI entrepreneurs focus on improving the experiences of the target population of their businesses, he wrote in an email.

“The goal of my session was to provide an introduction to the creative human-centered design process that forms the basis of design-driven entrepreneurship,” he wrote.

He wrote that the lens of design helps entrepreneurs to think about how to address the needs of real people.

Robbie said that the premise of President Barack Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship is to use American educational resources to help elevate young African business leaders to become effective leaders in their communities.

“It’s a wonderfully hopeful and optimistic point of view based on engagement, change, and personal growth that has infected all of us who have been involved with the program,” he wrote.

Robbie hopes fellows will leave the YALI program at the College with new points of view about sources of innovation, leadership, communication and networking with other African and American entrepreneurs.

Dartmouth alumnus and entrepreneur Richard Nadworny ’82 taught a four-week class centered around design-driven entrepreneurship, a class he also taught in Kenya last year.

He said that spending time thinking about and understanding the people that they are creating businesses for helps entrepreneurs build a stronger foundation for their businesses and stronger pitches for their clients.

Nadworny said that the biggest thing he wants Fellows to gain from the YALI program is a new perspective on business and a way to “disrupt the status quo of business creation in Africa” because the continent has huge potential but also faces huge challenges, he said.

“We give these young people a new way of looking at succeeding, and growing and creating an enterprise,” he said.

There are a total of 1,000 United States Mandela Washington fellows, and all will attend a three-day conference in Washington, D.C. this weekend, where they will participate in sessions with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. One hundred of these Fellows are also selected to stay on in the U.S. and are placed in different companies around the country to see how American businesses function.

Fellow Ebunoluwa Farinde, from Nigeria, is the founder of Gallereno Works, a business that makes beads and ashoke, a Nigerian ceremonial indigenous textile, and runs a foundation that focuses on training young disadvantaged women in communities.

She said she applied to the fellowship to gain valuable skills that would help her grow her business and networking community.

“I think it is the leverage I need to really expand my business,” she said.

She said she learned that the more processes involved in designing a product, the better it will be. She also learned the importance of the target audience.

“I also learned a lot about empathy, you should be able to solve your customers problems, relate to them and present to them a solution that they can easily use,” she said.

She hopes to adapt business models she has witnessed here and the program has inspired her to do more when she gets home.

Fellow Belisa Rodrigues, from South Africa, runs a boutique management consultancy firm for creative and cultural industries across Africa.

Rodrigues said that the group was very close and spent a great deal of time together and she felt constantly challenged to sharpen her interpersonal skills.

“You’re living together, eating together, laughing together, crying together and you’re making connections and I think that really is the most valuable part of the program,” she said.

She said that meeting other African business leaders is valuable for her, as for consultants, everything is based on your knowledge, network and social capital.

She said when she gets home she wants to create her own unique methodology using what she learned from the program, as well as her own pan-African experiences.

Nadworny said it is great to see the energy with which the fellows leave the program at the end of its six-week period.

“They are overflowing with creativity and innovative ideas and the will and belief that they can make significant changes in their countries and communities, and that is an amazing thing to be part of,” he said.