SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, Mandela Fellows.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What an incredible pleasure to join you for the first in-person Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in four years – (applause) – and to see, to feel the incredible energy, the ingenuity, the talent in this room.
Liz, my friend, my colleague, thank you for the wonderful introduction, but also for everything that you do every single day to help build and strengthen ties between our fellow citizens in the United States and people around the world – not the least of which, our Mandela Fellows.
Let me just start by saying how grateful I am to everyone who has made this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship Program possible. It does take a village, and that village includes our university hosts, our partners at IREX, and my own colleagues – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Bureau of African Affairs, and in our embassies and consulates around the world.
And to you – to our exceptional Fellows – congratulations. Congratulations on completing this program. (Applause).
Like Liz, I was here in 2014 with President Obama, and that’s indelibly imprinted on my own mind. And I was with and part of the president’s team when YALI was created. And I bet you that – I know this – if you ask President Obama his proudest achievements as President, that would be right at the top of the list. And what I think he’s proudest of – and President Biden, as his partner, is proudest of – is the fact that here we are years later with this program not just surviving but thriving and making a powerful difference. (Applause).
For almost 10 years now, the Mandela Fellowship has convened some of the best, some of the brightest young African leaders from across Sub-Saharan Africa. You are now part of an incredible network – a network of Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs, advocates, public servants. It’s now more than 6,000 men and women strong. Together, each of you represents a rising generation of change-makers on your continent.
All of you are driving progress on some of the most pressing issues of our time, issues that face not just Africans but Americans – people all across our planet – how to advance food security, how to prevent conflict, how to combat climate change, how to slow the spread of disease, and so many more fundamental issues that, as human beings, we have to find ways to tackle together.
These are big, big problems, and they’re all coming at a time of unprecedented change and turbulence, including, as Under Secretary Allen said, what we’re seeing right now in Niger.
But those of you who are here today, what’s so powerful is that you have ideas – you have ideas for how to address these challenges in your communities, in your region, in fact around the world. And as you work to translate those ideas into reality, you cannot imagine the difference that you’re going to make.
Now, I’ve heard about some of what you’re working on, some of what you’re focused on, some of what you’re thinking about from YALI alumni during my travels in Africa. Just a few minutes ago, I had the chance to talk with just a few members of this year’s Mandela cohort to learn about the remarkable ideas and innovation that are happening in this group.
And if you look around you today, if you look at the person next to you, on your left, your right, behind you – people who have become your friends throughout this program – one of you is leveraging technology to help farmers produce more crops, like using satellite imagery to catch early signs of nutrient deficiency in plants. Another one of you is running workshops aimed at reducing youth violence in schools, lowering those incidents by more than 30 percent. Another one of you is a doctor who is helping develop a vaccine for malaria. One of you invented a way to generate clean power by harnessing kinetic energy from traffic – talk about turning lemon into lemonade. (Laughter).
So that’s just four of you that I described. There are nearly 700 of you fellows in the program this year. So suffice to say: this is a truly extraordinary group that I know is going to produce extraordinary change, extraordinary progress.
Over the last six weeks, you’ve had a chance to sharpen your skills even further at 28 colleges and universities across the United States.
And whether you were studying with your professors, whether you were volunteering in your host neighborhoods, whether you were meeting with elected officials, connecting with other students, speaking with local business owners – in all of those activities, in all of those engagements, you’ve exchanged ideas, lessons learned, including from your work back home; you’ve traded big ideas; you’ve shared parts of your own lives, your own culture, your own countries; you’ve built new friendships. And the communities that you joined – from Des Moines, Iowa to Atlanta, Georgia – those communities are all the better for having had you among them. And I want to thank you for that.
So something that Under Secretary Allen said is really, really important, and that’s this: We want to stay connected with you. As you become alumni, we want to stay connected with you and we want you to stay connected with one another. Maybe the most powerful thing that comes out of this program is the network that you have an opportunity to build. So I hope this is really just the beginning of our journey together.
Our countries – the United States, our partners in Africa – we can only meet today’s challenges, we can only actually deliver results for our people if we collaborate as equal partners. And that collaboration needs to continue.
That idea is really at the heart of our approach toward Sub-Saharan Africa.
The approach is focused on what we can do with Africa, not for Africa. It reflects the incredible diversity and influence of the continent. It also recognizes the important role that young Africans especially have in shaping our planet for generations to come.
Look, you all know these statistics very, very well, and it’s important that more of my fellow citizens know them, too. More than 60 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. By 2030, in just a few short years, two in every five people on our planet will be young and African. (Applause.)
So – looking around this room today, I can tell – I know that, because of that fact and because of all of you, that future can and will be very bright.
We’re committed – we’re committed to working with young African leaders like you today and for years to come so that, together, we have an opportunity to build a world that’s a little bit more stable, a little bit more resilient, a little bit more prosperous for all.
And as Liz said, sometimes change feels slow. Sometimes it feels like you’re not making a difference or you’re not making the big strides that you imagined. But every step forward – every step forward – takes you closer and closer to the goal that you have.
And as you know, as you’re taking that journey, and at some point you stop along the way, you will be amazed at the distance you’ve traveled. You will be amazed at the difference that you’re making. For me, that’s a source of incredible pride that we have some small part to play in the incredible things that you’re doing. It really couldn’t be better – be any better than that.
So we know we’re already making progress. And I know that your creativity, your optimism, your imagination, your energy is not only going to advance the connections between the United States and Africa – it’s going to make a difference. It’s going to make a difference in your countries; it’s going to make a difference around the world.
And if you have the opportunity in life to actually make that kind of difference, it’s one of the most powerful things you can experience. I could not be prouder of you, but maybe more important than that, I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do in the years ahead. (Applause.)
So thank you, thank you, thank you.
I just hope that, as I said to a few of your colleagues, if I’m still around in 20 years and come knocking at your door, you’ll open it – and “Remember me?” And I am looking to you to build the future that we all want.
Congratulations to all of the Madela Fellows. Thank you.