Portland State welcomes 25 young African leaders in Obama fellowship program
Author: Chelsea Bailey
Posted: June 27, 2016

Portland State University is hosting 25 of Africa’s brightest emerging professionals this summer in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, a six-week academic and leadership institute sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, established in 2014 to empower young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa to innovate and create positive change in their organizations, communities and countries. 

Fellows will live in PSU residence halls and complete a six-week program on civic leadership, including academic coursework, leadership training, community activities and professional development. They also will work with local businesses, agencies, and nonprofit organizations such as the Cascade Aids Project, the City of Portland Planning and Sustainability Department, City Repair, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Urban League of Portland. 

“This program is an important opportunity to showcase our region and build cultural understanding with some of the world’s future leaders and innovators,” said Vandy Kanyako, director of the Mandela Washington Fellowship at PSU and professor in PSU’s Conflict Resolution program. 

The PSU cohort is part of a larger group of 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows hosted at institutions across the country this summer. PSU is one of only three universities on the west coast to participate, and the first Oregon university to host the program. To become a host institution, PSU had to demonstrate experience with hosting exchange programs, while competing with larger universities. 

The PSU Fellows range in age from 25 to 35 and represent some 21 countries from across sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Sudan, Benin and South Africa. 

They are accomplished social entrepreneurs, civic leaders, teachers, nonprofit program directors, and medical professionals. The program is highly competitive, and this year, 42,000 African young professionals applied for 1,000 spots. 

While in Portland, the fellows also will take part in field trips to learn more about the people, history and geography of the Pacific Northwest. Among the sites and places they will visit include the gorge, coast, Seattle, Washington. On July 15, they will spend a day in Grande Ronde, home of the confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde, in Polk and Yamhill counties.

For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit