Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Fosters Global Leadership Through Mandela Washington Fellowship

Amanda Castro-Crist

August 19, 2019

This is the second time the university has been chosen as an Institute Partner for the program, which focuses on empowering young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking opportunities.

During the summer of 2017, Texas Tech University hosted its first cohort of Mandela Washington Fellows for a six-week academic and leadership institute. The university was one of just 38 U.S. institutions chosen that year to host the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which focuses on empowering emerging African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking opportunities.

This year, Texas Tech was chosen as an Institute Partner for the Mandela Fellowship for a second time. On June 20, a group of 25 Mandela Fellows arrived in Lubbock to complete the university's Leadership in Public Management Institute, a university-wide endeavor spearheaded by the Office of International Affairs (OIA).

Over six weeks, the Mandela Fellows were immersed in the Texas Tech and local communities, participating in a variety of classroom sessions, site visits and community service projects aimed at empowering them with knowledge and skills they can utilize upon their return to their communities in Africa.

Darren Hudson, a professor and the Larry Combest Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics within the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, said the Mandela Fellows are not the only ones who benefit from participating in the program.

"Our interaction helps project American values to these young future leaders in Africa," said Hudson, who served as the academic director of the Texas Tech institute. "But we also benefit by learning and gaining perspective about the cultures and societies to enrich our thinking about global social and economic problems."

Ian Lértora, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology and Leadership graduate program in the College of Education and one of the co-principal investigators of the program, said he had the opportunity to be involved with both cohorts of Mandela Fellows.

"Each one of these cohorts has an immensely positive energy," Lértora said. "There really is no comparison between the two as far as differences. However, there are some similarities in that both groups of Mandela Fellows are accomplished, driven, intelligent, thoughtful and good-hearted people who want to create positive changes in the areas, countries and the continent of Africa. They are genuinely good people with a great mindset who will become leaders, or already are, leaders in their areas of service."

Mandela Fellows graduation
2019 Texas Tech Mandela Fellows graduation

What is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders?

Created in 2010, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) aims to support the growth and prosperity of bright, emerging leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa, strengthen democratic governance and increase peace and security across the continent.

In 2014, the Mandela Washington Fellowship was established as the flagship program of YALI. Since then, the U.S. Department of State has supported nearly 3,700 young leaders from 49 African countries to develop their leadership skills and foster connections and collaborations with U.S. professionals.

The 2019 Texas Tech Mandela Fellows are part of a group of 700 hosted at 27 institutions across the U.S., including only one other site in Texas, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and working closely with its implementing partner, International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), each institution offers a six-week leadership program that will challenge, motivate and empower Mandela Fellows in one of three tracks – business, civic engagement or public management.

"By hosting the Mandela Fellows, the university makes goodwill ambassadors by default. Their good experience will be passed on," said program co-P.I. Mary Murimi, a professor in nutritional sciences. "They will recruit other talented individuals and recommend Texas Tech to prospective students. It is a great program for our international connections, collaborations and contacts."

Texas Tech University Mandela Fellows
Texas Tech University Mandela Fellows

At the conclusion of the six weeks, the Fellows attend the annual Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in Washington, D.C. Following the summit, 70 competitively selected Fellows participate in four weeks of additional professional development at U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies and government agencies.

Texas Tech Leadership in Public Management Institute

Mandela Fellows at Texas Tech participated in a Leadership in Public Management Institute split into three, two-week modules. In addition to Hudson, Lértora and Murimi, the Texas Tech team leading the program included administrative director Nitasha Misra, who also is the international grants administrator in the OIA; Reagan Ribordy, director for international programs in the OIA; and co-P.I. Conrad Lyford, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Faculty and staff from several additional areas, including the Office of the President; the Office of the Provost; the School of Law; the Innovation Hub at Research Park; the Texas Tech Ethics Center; the Free Market Institute; the Department of Animal & Food Sciences; and the nutritional sciences department in the College of Human Sciences also were involved in the planning, logistics and execution of the institute.

The first two weeks of the institute laid the foundation for conscientious, accountable public service and business development, with classroom sessions on leadership and team development, public governance and creating public/private partnerships to promote accountability and economic development. The second module focused on capitalizing on gender empowerment and nutrition for healthy, successful societies, with classroom sessions covering public administration, community-focused service orientation and business development into each dimension of public service, as well as policies to develop accountability and transparency in government.

The Mandela Fellows spent their final two weeks of the institute exploring the legal and economic institutions for civil society and conflict mitigation with classroom sessions on planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of the human rights-based approach in the public sector.

Murimi, who led sessions on a human rights-based approach to nutrition and health and invited speakers to demonstrate safety net programs related to the individual right to food, said interacting with the next generation of leaders in Africa was a great experience.

"I saw passion, intelligence and hope for Africa. They were an inspiration to me," Murimi said. "My approach of instruction was very interactive, where they gave a content analysis of their situation, and we discussed ways of improving. I think the Mandela Fellows were able to see things from outside the box and appreciated practices and policies they can recommend in their home situations. The exposure to a wide selection of experiences represented by all the disciplines at Texas Tech was very beneficial to the Mandela Fellows."

Mandela Fellows at the Grub Farm
The Fellows visited several sites, including the South PLains Food Bank GRUB Farm. / Photo: South Plains Food Bank

Outside of the classroom, the Mandela Fellows visited several places in Lubbock and the surrounding areas, including Lubbock's Chamber of Commerce, County Detention Center, Courthouse and District Attorney's Office; the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center; Lubbock Lake Landmark; and the Texas Tech Equestrian Center. They also completed service activities with Meals On Wheels and the South Plains Food Bank's GRUB Farm; accompanied local police officers on "ride-alongs" and participated in Lubbock's Fourth of July festivities.

Lyford said the Mandela Fellows received targeted instructions and ideas on topics they are interested in, including health, finance and agriculture. The opportunity to work and interact with the Mandela Fellows provided an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, he added.

"I got to meet talented and creative leaders from Africa who have a passion for making a difference," Lyford said. "I expect this will lead to many future opportunities to build connections between top African leaders, Texas Tech and America, and I expect a number of opportunities for research, teaching and service to result. I hope the Mandela Fellows learned an appreciation for civil society in the United States, including academics, the justice system and our society in general."

There also were opportunities for the Mandela Fellows – some of whom had never visited the U.S. – to explore other parts of the state, like Palo Duro Canyon, where they experienced the outdoor musical, "TEXAS;" Arlington, where they attended a Texas Rangers baseball game; and the state capital, where they joined the Mandela Fellows at the University of Texas at Austin in a joint service activity at the Central Texas Food Bank.

"To be honest, I did not know about Lubbock or Texas Tech," said Azola Mzekandaba, a Mandela Fellow from South Africa. "I had to Google everything about the two, which added to the excitement. Lubbock encouraged me to pause, meditate and reflect. I felt extremely welcomed by the people, who were very friendly and willing to listen and help if you had any concerns. My favorite experience was traveling to Austin and Dallas, as it allowed for a fuller Texas experience and exposed us to the socioeconomic differences by county. The most fun was the 'TEXAS' musical in Palo Duro Canyon, which was an amazing production from plot to setting."

Rui Costa Mousinho, a Mandela Fellow from Mozambique, said though he was familiar with Texas because of his work within the oil and gas industry and with the Houston Rockets because of his familiarity with the NBA, he was unfamiliar with Lubbock and Texas Tech prior to his acceptance into the Mandela Fellowship.

"My first thought when arriving was, 'This place looks small,' especially when I saw the airport," he said. "But despite being small, people in Lubbock have great and very big hearts. The people are very friendly, helpful, welcoming and treated me like family. I felt like I was home."

Mousinho said it was hard to name a favorite experience from his time as a Mandela Fellow.

"Going to Palo Duro Canyon and watching a live musical was really great; it was my first time," he said. "The most fun was going to the baseball game. Understanding how the food banks operate and Meals on Wheels functions also was very enriching."

Looking to the future

As they return home, the Mandela Fellows will continue to be supported by U.S. embassies, the YALI Network, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State and affiliated partners with access to ongoing professional development and networking opportunities and support for their ideas, businesses and organizations.

Mzekandaba, who said he applied to the Mandela Fellowship to further his leadership knowledge and to increase his social capital by forming meaningful relationships, said programs like this are beneficial for all parties involved because of the exchange of cultural and world views that occurs. He said he plans to take what he gained from the program and apply it to his professional endeavors going forward.

"I was curious to learn from a different country and cultural perspective," he said. "The most surprising thing about this experience is that people from all walks of life want the same, improved quality of life, regardless of their living standard measure. Whether you are in Africa or the United States, we are united by the human spirit toward progress.

"At a high level, I learned three main themes, which are to be responsive, intentional and strategic as a leader. I am of the assertion that these will aid me in becoming more efficient in the work that I perform. Furthermore, the community will benefit from having young leaders like myself who will hopefully be a beacon of hope and possibility for the generations that look up to us in everyday life."

Mousinho said the Mandela Fellowship was a great opportunity to hone his skills at a U.S. university while gaining new knowledge in several areas.

"To be the best, you need to associate yourself with the best," he said. "Iron sharpens iron. It's the best platform to develop your leadership skills, knowledge and networks. I learned a lot about the farming industry, nutrition and ethics, and how the different stakeholders can collaborate on tackling social issues in the community. When people come together as one, great things can happen. This is the greatest lesson I learned. The experience has strengthened my desire to solve social issues in my own community."

Lértora said that interacting with both cohorts, in 2017 and 2019, has benefited him tremendously. He said he hopes all the Mandela Fellows see the value in every one of their peers.

Mandela Fellows and President Schovanec
Mandela Fellows and President Lawrence Schovanec

"They are all on a similar mission to be the change they want to see and together they will make a formidable team of motivated young professionals who will change the landscape of the continent of Africa," he said. "I am touched by their determination to try to better their continent for the people who may not have the voice to speak for themselves. I am encouraged by the hopes they have for their people at home. I am inspired by their passion to create change."

Lértora said he is grateful for the connections he made because of the program, what he learned about life from the Mandela Fellows and what the Texas Tech community gained by hosting them.

"This is an opportunity to infuse even more diversity into the landscape of our campus," he said. "It is important for our students, faculty and staff to hear the things these young, motivated professionals are doing to engender change. Many Mandela Fellows overcome numerous obstacles to place themselves in a position of service to their people. Their selfless nature is something we can all draw from to increase our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

"I am truly grateful for my time with the Mandela Fellows. My interactions with them inspire me to be a better counselor, teacher and researcher, but more importantly to be a better son, husband, father and human being. That is a gift I will carry forward for a lifetime."