Mandela Washington fellows help University of Iowa tap into global market

Jul 19, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Print View

IOWA CITY — Young African leaders are getting a taste of entrepreneurship in Iowa as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program offered this year at the University of Iowa.

The program stems from the Young African Leaders Initiative that was launched in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. Dimy Doresca, director of the University of Iowa’s Institute for International Business, sought to bring it to Iowa.

“When I heard about the opportunity two years ago, I jumped on it,” Doresca said. “I felt that it would help Iowa companies to understand the Africa market — which is growing really fast — and felt it would provide the opportunity to Iowa students to understand what is going on in the African continents.”

The University of Iowa now hosts its second round of fellows — through its John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center programs — focusing on business and entrepreneurship with the fellows along with not-for-profit and for-profit projects.

A big component of the fellowship includes a two-week accelerated course through the university’s Venture School, a program that emphasizes real-world entrepreneurship and innovation-based curriculum.

Venture School “really goes through and makes (the fellows) think about their business differently then what they’re taught over there,” said Kathryn McKenzie, who handles the logistics of the program.

As part of the six-week fellowship, which runs from mid-June through July 31, the fellows also traveled to Des Moines, the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids to visit local companies. Lectures are also a common facet of the program, of which McKenzie said helps the fellow’s network and build relationships.

“You’re not just meeting these people while you’re here,” McKenzie said, adding that the program emphasizes fellows should keep in contact with the lecturers by finding a mentor to help in their sector.

This year’s fellows include 12 women and 13 men, with 18 sub-Saharan African countries represented. The nationwide program selects 1,000 fellows overall and divides them between 38 host colleges and universities.

Fellows accepted are young leaders in their countries, aged 25 to 35.

“These are high achieving, young entrepreneurs from their home countries,” Doresca said. “They have accomplished a lot in their home countries . They are challenging the status quo in their own countries in different ways.”

Drake University also hosts Mandela Washington fellows.

The university receives a $150,000 grant from the state department to host the fellows.

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