Thursday, June 23, 2016
African and American lapel pin

By Austin Petroski, The Daily Iowan

A group of emerging leaders from sub-Saharan Africa has traveled to Iowa City, and the will spend six weeks engaging and participating in entrepreneurial education at University of Iowa.

The 23 participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship flagship program prepared for their six-week stay with a meet-and-greet with business leaders Tuesday night in Iowa City. They will take entrepreneurial courses at the UI and tour the state.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship was started in 2014 in part of the Young African Leaders Initiative created by President Obama. The program provides African leaders education to help them aid their communities.

Selecting fellows from a pool of 49 countries, the UI is host to participants from 19.

“These people represent a truly special type of person,” UI Provost P. Barry Butler said. “We are coordinating our activities to instill global mindsets.”

The participants come from countries all over Africa with very different backgrounds, and some had never been to the United States.

Dimy Doresca, the director of the Tippie College of Business Institute for International Business, said many of them have businesses in agriculture and livestock, and the program would help them leverage their ideas and vet them.

“This program is giving them tools they need to develop their projects,” he said.

Doresca said he was amazed by their ideas and projects. The participants will learn financial, management, and economic skills, he said, and would travel to a farm soon to learn more about agriculture.

He said he hopes they are able to take back a list of contacts in the U.S. who can help them, tools to farm in different ways, and knowledge they can pass on to others in their countries.

Peter Yakobe, a participant from Malawi who owns a chicken farm, has attempted to commercialize it. He talked about other fellows participating in the fellowship and said he likes the number of diverse backgrounds.

“This program will help me expand more,” Yakobe said, who has been to the U.S. twice before. “If business is not growing, it will be done.”

Ruramiso Mashumba of Zimbabwe also said she is interested in agricultural business. She said she took over a farm near where her grandmother lived and has tried to revitalize it.

“She grew just to feed her family, and I’m trying to commercialize it,” she said.

Mashumba said many Zimbabweans grow corn, but due to the effects of climate change, it has been harder to grow. She said the program would allow them to help each other while also learning from people at the UI.

“We are here to exchange ideas to solve major problems we have,” she said.

A fellow from Madagascar, Patrick Rasamoela, who started the first cheesecake shop in his country, said it is important to know that business owners need to be aware of their communities in order to be successful.

“We are not here for us, we are here to represent our country and bring something back,” he said.