Africa is experiencing dramatic demographic changes; not only does it have the world’s fastest growing population, it also has the world’s youngest population. This month, President Obama is in Africa reaching out to the approximately 200 million people on the continent between the ages of 15 and 24. The United States is strengthening ties with this dynamic and fast-growing region, embracing what the President has described as “a new era of engagement, based on mutual interests and mutual respect…to advance the common security and prosperity of all people.”
Between 2008 and 2015, the U.S. Government invested approximately $300 million in support of African youth development and higher education. Since 2010, the U.S. Department of State has sponsored more than 2,000 sub-Saharan students, scholars, and young professionals through its educational and cultural affairs programs. Providing career development opportunities and pathways to study in the United States are only some of the ways in which the United States supports the youth of the region.
Encouraging Study in the U.S.
The State Department’s EducationUSA network offers hundreds of advising centers around the world. It is a powerful tool for reaching a growing youth demographic and planting the seeds for higher education opportunities. EducationUSA provides prospective international students with accurate, current, and comprehensive information about U.S. higher education while supporting U.S. colleges’ and universities’ international student recruitment efforts.
In 2014, EducationUSA advising centers in U.S. embassies and consulates reached just short of 840,000 youth throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, there are more than 31,000 sub-Saharan African students studying in the United States. Students who used EducationUSA services in 2014 received more than $31 million in scholarships and financial aid from U.S. higher education institutions.
In 2010, President Obama launched the signature Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to support young African leaders working to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent. YALI programs such as the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the YALI Network, and YALI Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) are creating opportunities for young Africans to enhance their leadership skills and build meaningful ties with American citizens, businesses, organizations, and each other. Already, YALI programs have reached tens of thousands of young Africans.
In August, the Class of 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows representing all 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will participate in a Summit in Washington, DC and take part in networking and panel discussions with U.S. leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. This follows six weeks spent at academic and leadership institutes at 20 universities across the United States. A total of 100 selected Fellows will remain in the United States for an additional six weeks to participate in professional development opportunities with U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies, and governmental agencies.
Impacting Local Communities
Upon returning to their home countries, exchange program participants often engage in follow-on projects or continue the work they began abroad. The Mandela Washington Fellows return home with access to ongoing professional development support, mentoring, networking and training, and seed funding to support their ideas, businesses, and organizations.
Participants of other exchange programs, like the Fulbright Program, similarly continue to build on the skills they developed during their time in the United States. For example, U.S. Fulbright alumnus and University of Texas medical student Samy Benjemil implemented a community-driven public health program focused on safe sanitation and hygiene practices in Dierma, Burkina Faso. Partnerships with U.S. and Burkinabé institutions have allowed the program to continue, and local communities have benefited from ongoing education efforts to support good hygiene practices.
The growing youth demographic in Africa will be a major driver of political, economic, and social progress in years to come. U.S. embassies have awarded 80 small grants totaling $1,250,000 to exchange program alumni groups supporting youth development in Africa, and we look forward to continuing our collaborations.
About the Author: Evan Ryan is the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
– See more at: http://blogs.state.gov/stories/2015/07/30/empowering-african-youth-through-people-people-exchanges#.dpuf