My Priceless Experience As A Mandela Washington Fellow
By Felix Dela Klutse, 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow
Being a Mandela Washington Fellow has been a blessing for me and one of the most rewarding and priceless experiences of my life. I entered the fellowship on the business and entrepreneurial track, assigned to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
I made many worthwhile contacts, and I am working on building future relationships with these people. The most significant contacts I made are new friends from all over Africa — Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Botswana and many more. We shared our stories and, in so doing, realized we all have the same struggles and fears. We also share pride and ambition to realize our goals.
I was amazed at the vast expertise and the brilliance of my fellow Africans. These young men and women of Africa were a great inspiration with great ideas that would and could change our world. Meeting some of Africa’s smartest youth through such a platform was nothing short of mind blowing.
So far, the five weeks we spent at Northwestern University emphasized experiential learning through networking with local and regional business leaders and innovators, service projects and community interaction. The program gave us hands-on skills that exceeded my expectations. We had a special and emotional session of one-on-one coaching in leadership and social entrepreneurship.
Being introduced to top leaders in American businesses, institutions and social enterprises was another dimension of the experience. We visited top-notch companies such as Oracle, IBM’s Innovation Lab, the McDonald’s Corporation, and Google Chicago, McCormick Place just to mention a few. As my career and passion is in media, I personally got the chance to visit big media companies such as the Chicago Tribune and Crain Chicago Business.
I attended lectures and engaged in debates with my professors and other fellows about contemporary business practices. I learned methods for beginning a successful startup, strengthening a thriving business and tackling the challenges that arise for all business people.
We learned how to draw up a business plan and all its key components. I discovered that I had already been applying some of these practices in my business by instinct alone. Training exercises showed us how to make effective decisions, work in teams, and understand my strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
Talking with these successful professionals and experiencing their energy was refreshing. I have so much to learn about the business world, but I realized that I can go as far as my guts can take me. We also volunteered in community service projects — going to Evanston High School, playing with kids and mentoring teenagers. We saw the socio-economic voids that volunteer organizations fill and the benefits of giving back to society. We experienced American culture and community life at sporting events, concerts, food exhibitions, and other activities.
Personally, the leadership lessons were the highlight for me. These forced us to challenge our beliefs; to challenge what we think of ourselves as Africans as well as how we let the rest of the world define us. This fellowship reinforced what is becoming evident to the intellectuals of this world- that Africa is no longer a “dark continent”. That there is a lot of good that is coming out of it and that we as Africans are rising and rising fast!
This program was not only about learning from the U.S. but mostly from other young leaders who are doing amazing things in their communities across Africa. From this I realized again that there is potential for the U.S. and Africa to collaborate for mutual benefit.
After my six weeks at Northwestern University, I will be participating in the Presidential Summit in Washington DC from August 1–4, where I will rub shoulders with more executives from top non-governmental organizations and businesses.