Building upon a productive 10-year partnership, The University of Texas at Austin has been selected as an institute partner for the 2024 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

UT Austin Hosts 10th Year of Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

  • Feb 20, 2024
  • Alex Briseño

Building upon a productive 10-year partnership, The University of Texas at Austin has been selected as an institute partner for the 2024 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Beginning in mid-June, UT Austin will host 25 of Africa’s bright, emerging leaders in business for a six-week Leadership Institute program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.  

The Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF), the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), empowers participants through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities and local community engagement.  

The most prestigious worldwide program for emerging African entrepreneurs celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2024. This decade-long journey is one that UT Austin has served as host for every year of the program’s operation, supporting more than 220 Fellows from across Africa since 2014 on the 40 Acres. 

“Our lasting partnership with the Mandela Washington Fellowship exemplifies the University’s commitment to fostering global connections and empowering future leaders,” said Sonia Feigenbaum, senior vice provost for global engagement and chief international officer. “By investing in young and promising entrepreneurs, we help to create a better world for all.” 

YALI was launched in 2010 to support young Africans as they work to spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance and enhance peace and security across Africa.  

Since the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s inception, nearly 6,500 young leaders from every country in Sub-Saharan Africa have participated. The 220 Fellows hosted to date by UT Austin represent more than 43 countries across the continent. 

For Augustino Agbemavo, a member of the 2018 MWF cohort, his determination to improve literacy in his community in Benin brought him to Austin for the Fellowship. He was just 17 years old when he created a library for his community after realizing the nearest public library was more than 18 miles away. 

“Our region holds the highest number of students in Benin, but there was no public library,” he said. 

After managing the library for a few years, Agbemavo was inspired to start another project: a mobile and virtual library and bookstore. The startup, Reading Power, reached more than 1,500 students in just two years after opening in 2016.  

Knowing he wanted to sharpen his entrepreneurial skills and learn about business management from social businesses in the U.S., Agbemavo was also hoping to explore routes to expand his library’s digital platform during his time in Austin.  

“This program has helped me to improve my business model and find suitable partnerships to scale up,” he said. “It increases my network and gives me a certain credibility to obtain the trust of peers, future investors and educational institutions.” 

After the Fellowship, he implemented new strategies to further build inventory, such as creating a secondhand market for graduate students. This provided students the opportunity to earn more money by selling and buying used books at a discounted price.  Agbemavo also returned to Benin with e-readers and tablets, granting students access to e-books for the first time.  

“We have so many opportunities in Africa, but we are not yet able to use those opportunities to develop our different countries,” he said. “This program opens our eyes and makes us more conscious about our challenges and what to do to overcome them. It also allows us to improve our leadership and entrepreneur skills, learn from the best professors at one of the best universities and extend our network.” 

This year’s cohort of Fellows hosted by UT Austin will be part of a group of 700 Mandela Washington Fellows learning via Leadership Institutes at 28 educational institutions across the United States. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX, these Leadership Institutes offer programs that challenge, motivate and empower these young leaders to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.   

UT Austin’s Leadership in Business Institute seeks to provide Fellows with tools to grow and strengthen their business ventures in their home countries. Fellows will be introduced to business and entrepreneurial approaches in the United States, gaining the opportunity to build technical and leadership capacity in innovation and technology, business plan development, financial management, business ethics, the intersection of business with civil society and government, and the role of public-private partnerships. 

After their Leadership Institutes conclude, Fellows will participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit in Washington D.C., where they will take part in networking and panel discussions with each other and with U.S. leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Following the summit, up to 100 competitively selected Fellows will participate in four more weeks of professional development with U.S. nongovernmental organizations, private companies and government agencies. 

You may connect with the Fellows and get involved with the program by serving as a Hospitality Host or Focus Project Coach, or by hosting a site visit at your organization. Visit for further details about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, and join the conversation at #YALI2024. For information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Institute at UT Austin, please contact Texas Global at