In 2014, the University of Notre Dame became one of 20 elite universities across the United States chosen to host the inaugural class of the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), as a result of a $100,000 grant won by the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD). The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through its implementing partner, IREX.

Since then, for six weeks each summer, NDIGD has had the privilege to welcome 25 new fellows to campus each year for the MWF, which features a rigorous Business and Entrepreneurship Institute that covers topics including design thinking, social entrepreneurship, business modeling and planning, strategic leadership and personal and professional branding, as well as applying foresight and innovation.

The MWF at Notre Dame also features valuable networking experiences with hundreds of entrepreneurs, civic and community leaders, researchers, and academics throughout Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois, as well as site visits to dozens of different corporations, foundations, non-profits, and civic organizations across the region, where fellows can observe the application of different academic topics taught in the institute in the real world.

Additionally, service learning, leadership activities, and cultural exchange events are core components of the program at Notre Dame. Over the years, Notre Dame’s fellows have collectively donated over 1,600 hours of their time through volunteering with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, Habitat for Humanity, the Robinson Community Learning Center, and Unity Gardens. They have also had many opportunities to become Hoosiers, whether through cruising the rapids at East Race Rafting or rooting for the South Bend Cubs. Over the years, cohorts have exchanged ideas and grown their networks with organizations like the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the 100 Black Men of Greater South Bend, and the Rotary Club of South Bend.

Given the scope and rigor of the MWF, NDIGD has worked with several on-campus and corporate partners to help facilitate the program each year. NDIGD has received critical faculty and course support for the MWF’s Business and Entrepreneurship Institute from other units on campus, including:

Additional funding and technical support for the overall program has been generously provided by:

Over time, the MWF – which has become one of the most prestigious and sought-after exchange programs of its kind in the world – has also become one of NDIGD’s most recognizable and popular global development programs and has served as a major boon for Notre Dame as it has endeavored to become a truly international university.

By imparting these fellows with new knowledge, skills, mentors, and other resources to accelerate their own career trajectories, NDIGD has helped strengthen Africa’s next generation of leaders, who are now better prepared than ever to robustly contribute to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security across the continent and beyond.

Program Staff

  • Melissa Paulsen, associate director of education and training programs, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development
  • Jennifer Krauser, training program coordinator, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development
  • Ashley Boccuzzi, training program coordinator, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development
  • John Pinter, community partnerships and outreach coordinator, John Pinter Consulting
  • Luis Ruuska, communications specialist, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development