2014 YALI Fellows Share Their Experience of America

2014 YALI Fellows
Marcel Mutsindashyaka
Marcel Mutsindashyaka

 Marcel Mutsindashyaka

My name is Marcel Mutsindashyaka, at 25 I am the founder and CEO of UMUSEKE IT LTD, a media and IT company running the second most popular news website in Rwanda.

I am survivor of the genocide of 1994 against Tutsis and orphan since then. Knowing that media was one of the key drivers of the genocide through young people I decided to use media not for revenge but for peace building and reconciliation using the same tools – engaging young people to rebuild and educate the community.

Recently, I qualified for the highly selective and competitive Mandela Washington Fellowship for young African leaders (YALI); it brought 500 African business leaders under the age of 35 — selected from a pool of 50,000 applicants — to top U.S. universities to network and develop business and leadership skills.

I participated in Yale University’s business and entrepreneurship track with 25 dynamic, accomplished leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 from Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Being the youngest in this dynamic team and the only Rwandan at Yale gave me unique experience, exposure and opportunity to network and inspire other fellows.

The six weeks we spent at Yale emphasized experiential learning through networking with local and regional business leaders and innovators, service projects and community interaction. This program gave us hands-on skills and exceeded my expectations. We had a special and emotional session of one-one coaching in leadership and social entrepreneurship.

As my career and passion is in media and IT, I got the chance to visit big companies similar to mine like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Arise TV, IBM, Google, MIT, Harvard University and so much more.

This program was not only about learning from the U.S. but mostly from other young leaders who are doing amazing things in their community across Africa. From this I realized again that there is potential for the U.S. and Africa to collaborate for mutual benefit.

It was a pleasure meeting President Obama, and attending a summit with 500 young African leaders at Washington DC. Then I came back to Rwanda with a package of skills to be incorporated in my company and to share with Rwandans by mentoring and inspiring the next generation.

I recommend you to apply for ‪‎YALI’s 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship which is now open. This is a unique experience you can’t find elsewhere.

Doreen Karake (Department of State Photo)
Doreen Karake (Department of State Photo)

 Doreen Karake

When I found out I had been chosen to take part in the inaugural YALI fellowship, I was ecstatic. I could hardly believe that of the 1000 Rwandans, I was one of 6 who has made it! And with all the hype around the program, I am not sure what excited me more: finally setting foot in the so called “land of opportunity” that so many Africans spent their entire lives dreaming about, the fact that I would have the opportunity to meet President Obama – arguably the most powerful man on Earth, or meeting his significant other Michelle whom I look up to in so many ways (beautiful, intelligent Michelle!)

Even at the highest peak of my imagination about the whole experience, I hadn’t counted on being awestruck by my fellow African Fellows from other parts of Africa. I was amazed at the vast expertise and the brilliance of my fellow Africans. These young men and women of Africa were oozing knowledge and inspiration and great ideas that would and could change their world – our world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration that meeting some of the smartest youth of Africa on such a platform was nothing short of mind blowing.

The whole experience is dependent on so many things; the individual (how quickly you adapt to change and new environments), the institution (university) and city that you are placed in. One quickly learns that each state in the USA differs from the other states as much as Rwanda differs from any other African country, for example, Nigeria. Each city has its own identity, its own culture or lack of it, its own food, its own accent, and generally its own “feel”.

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!

If nothing else, the fellowship makes you so cognizant of the fact that we as Africans need to rise up and take control of our own glitches because we now have all it takes to provide our own solutions. As President Obama said when he was addressing us at the Washington presidential summit; that there was no better time to be born in history than today. And I couldn’t agree more; indeed, if there was ever a good time to be African, that time is now.  You need only to be a Mandela Washington Fellow for a mere six weeks for this fact to manifest itself in your mind!

Nadia Hitimana
Nadia Hitimana

 Nadia Hitimana

My Name is Nadia Hitimana, I am an Environmental Health Practitioner currently working with a social enterprise, Sustainable Health Enterprises as the Health& Hygiene Manager and Co-acting Country Director. Our goal is to address Issues that are typically overlooked, sometimes considered as taboos. Our mission to date is keeping girls in schools and empowering women by addressing Menstrual Hygiene Management challenges through trainings, advocacy and manufacture of locally made sanitary pads from Banana fibers. However, the today’s narration is not to elaborate on this great work that we do, but rather about my Washington fellowship experience as one among the six young Rwandans selected to participate to this inspiring and highly selective leadership program. The main objective is to encourage my fellow country mates to consider applying to it, especially Rwandan ladies fulfilling the requirements.

I was placed at the University of Delaware in the civic leadership track and I got to meet with other 24 young African leaders from 19 Sub-Saharan countries. This was a six week once-in-a-lifetime event where one gets to see the great work being done on the continent, ranging from civil societies to public sectors. This is when you get your eyes opened on how much promise and development potential Africa has. I should admit that I really learnt a lot and a lot from UD Washington fellows. Additionally, saying the USA has a lot to teach might sound so obvious right?  Well, allow me to tell you that experiencing that in person gives you are more in-depth understanding. We were matched with different agencies depending on areas of interest and had had plenty time to study from them. Coupling these efforts with class sessions from various university professors again equipped us more with leadership skills. Above this, meeting U.S. leaders, namely senators, governors, the University president, community organization leaders, and legislators was one great way to discuss sustainable development components, the elements achieved in the USA and the path we are following as Rwanda and Africa. I am so short of words to also mention how the program was well organized. You can only imagine what it takes to manage 500 people. And I think the U.S. government did a great job from making the application process fair and transparent to ensuring we all got home safe.

In conclusion, if you have what it requires, please apply. This will not only be a learning occasion but more a platform to share our country’s progress and best practices. Are you proud enough to fully and highly bear the Rwandan flag? Then do not miss it.

Colombe Ituze Ndutiye
Colombe Ituze Ndutiye

 Colombe Ituze Ndutiye

My name is ITUZE Ndutiye Colombe. I am the creative director at INCO icyusa, Rwanda’s first born fashion brand, whose products are culturally inspired ranging from Clothing to accessories and are available in retail and custom.

Being a Mandela Washington fellow, and especially pursuing this training at an USA Ivy League college has been a major honor. This has been an opportunity to share ideas, to see things from a different perspective, learn from not only our professors but also from my other African fellows: incredible entrepreneurs, social activists, real young Africans who are making a change and building the continent. I have been amazed by the warm care at the Dartmouth College and the willing and kind sharing culture of the community in Hannover in general.

I had an opportunity to sharpen my business skills through the intensive and rich training curriculum that was designed for us; to make great networks in our connection circles, and to learn best practices through site visits as well as getting to explore and learn about the American culture.

Through YALI, I got to learn who I am as a leader and what role I have to play. Being far from my country made me look back and realize all possibilities and opportunities we have and are not aware of; as we say in Kinyarwanda “Ngo Uwambaye ikirezi ntamenya ko cyera ” I learned that in every way we are surrounded by multiple opportunities and that if we utilize them well, we can achieve a lot.

I learned that it is not only about me, it is about my surroundings: the people and the nature that enabled me to accomplish everything that I did; and that I owe them. And I learned a big lesson from my professor Greg Fairbrothers when he said: “It is not about ideas, it is about execution.”

Through YALI I made business partners, I made friends; I made brothers and sisters. I learned more about Africa that I would have maybe ever known; I feel like I got to visit the countries of all 18 African fellows that I was with.

From day one, every day was an inspiration, I kept on wondering what I was going to say when asked how the YALI experience was after arriving back home. Every day I called it amazing, but as time passed “amazing” was not enough. Finding the right word hasn’t been an easy task; finally I just realized that this was nothing other than a “life changing experience”.

I highly recommend every young Rwandan to apply to this program. I know there are many young great achievers out there.  Learn to be inspired and bring back your experience home to share with others. #Rwanda  #LetsDoIT