2014 YALI Washington Fellows Departure Reception Remarks by Ambassador Robert F. Godec

Hamjambo mabibi na mabwana.

Good evening, and thank you for joining me to celebrate and honor the 46 young Kenyan leaders who will participate as Washington Fellows in President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.  The 24 women and 22 men who make up the 2014 Washington Fellowship group possess impressive credentials and diversity.  They include civil servants, small business owners, officers from the YesYouthCan! program, engineers, business directors, teachers, entrepreneurs, and students.  They come from every region of this great country, from rural and urban settings, and from a variety of socio-economic and educational backgrounds.

In addition, we have the opportunity to honor another group of Kenyan leaders tonight.  A little more than fifty years ago now, in 1959, 81 college students from East Africa arrived in the United States, the first wave of the Kennedy airlift, a successful program that helped to shape a generation of African leaders.  The airlift had a big impact on Kenya, and I have to say, a big impact on the United States.  That program was created in recognition of the truth that education is the key to success, to independence, and to progress.  In President Kennedy’s own words, “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”

It is in this spirit of education and of progress that, five decades later, the United States is investing in the next generation of African leaders through YALI.  The flagship of YALI this year is the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  The Fellowship is the new American program that will bring 500 aspiring African leaders to Washington this summer.  46 of those 500 are Kenyans, selected from close to 5,000 applicants from this country, and 50,000 from across sub-Saharan Africa.  That number is a tribute to the quality and talent of Kenya’s youth, and it shows how committed young people are to becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

The Washington Fellowship will gather these young African leaders in the United States for six weeks for academic coursework and leadership training at 20 of America’s great universities, including Notre Dame, Berkeley, and Yale University, where I attended graduate school.  Participants will receive executive leadership training to enhance their existing talent and knowledge, and will develop individual leadership plans tailored to their own ambitions.  In July, they will participate in a Presidential Summit in Washington with President Obama, the capstone of the Fellowship and a chance to network with their peers and build on the training.  On their return to Kenya, the Washington fellows will have polished the skills they need to become the visionary, dynamic, and effective leaders of industry, civil society, and government.

I would like to thank the many people in the audience tonight whose organizations have begun to work with the United States on YALI and the Washington Fellowship, to make it not just a six week training program, but a long-term investment in the Fellows future.  We know that nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced – and what these young people are going to need when they come back to Kenya is to expand their experience.  U.S. and Kenyan organizations are offering to engage them in existing business, civil society, and the public sector.

The U.S. Government has worked with the Government of Kenya, industry trade groups, Kenyan NGOs, Kenyan companies, and U.S. companies to create a menu of professional development activities for the Fellows once they are back in Kenya.   Options being developed include hosting a local or regional networking event, including them in ongoing professional development programs, offering seed funds for their businesses or community development projects, including them in corporate social responsibility projects, or asking them to design a community service project.  Another idea is for one of the Fellows to visit an organization and talk to the young employees about their own success as leaders, to network with those employees, to mentor them, and to encourage them to develop their own talents.  In addition, there are internships, training programs, and interviews for full-time jobs.  If you are interested in possibly working with a Fellow after their return, please be in touch with my colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development about your ideas to engage with this talented group of young people.

Investment in Kenya’s youth is one of the most important contributions we can make to support Kenya’s Vision 2030.  The American people believe in Kenya’s young people and Kenya’s potential.  As Kenya celebrates 50 years of independence, and the United States and Kenya celebrate 50 years of partnership, we have an opportunity to make a real commitment to the next generation of Kenyan leaders.  President Obama launched YALI to support young Africans to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.  In 2030, this class of Washington Fellows will be the leaders, business owners, parents, farmers, doctors, and teachers moving this country forward.  We owe it to the future of both of our countries to support these young leaders’ aspirations.

Thank you again for joining me this evening.  Together, we can support and assist the next generation of Kenyan leaders.  Together, we can make the world better for Kenyans and Americans.

Asanteni Sana.  Thank you.