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Young African Business Leaders Share Entrepreneurial Talents with Evanston Youth

Published: July 12, 2017 Samantha Nissen, Northwestern University

Each Thursday this summer, 25 emerging and established business leaders embark on a journey — by foot, train, and bus — to engage in a mentorship program at Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.). However, this cohort of individuals, hailing from 16 countries across the African continent, traveled a much greater distance just to reach Evanston, where they are living for six weeks while completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Developed through a partnership between the Program of African Studies (PAS) and the Kellogg School of Management, the Northwestern program is focused on business and entrepreneurship. While in Evanston, the YALI fellows take academic courses at Kellogg focusing on new venture formation, engage in site visits to businesses and nonprofits, and tour the Chicagoland area through cultural excursions. Equally important as these activities is community service, which is why the group visits Y.O.U. each week as a part of the YES (Youth Entrepreneurship Summer) Camp, an ideal site for sharing their expertise.

“The fellows are business people and entrepreneurs so they understand the importance of mentorship and creating networks,” says Tiffany Williams-Cobleigh, program assistant at PAS. “For them, this opportunity is about being able to pay it forward. Whether they had a great mentor or wish they had one, they can understand where the students are coming from.”

Kebati Calvin is one of the fellows working with a group of students whose project is centered on providing healthy food options, particularly soul food adapted from family recipes, to the Evanston community. Utilizing strategies learned during a course led by Kellogg Professor Stephanie Farsht, Kebati was able to guide the students in discerning potential pain points during the first session with YES in an effort to strengthen the group’s various proposals into a stronger and more cohesive business plan.

“Today’s presentation was incredible and shows that indeed there was knowledge transfer,” says Kebati, who is from Kenya. “The students went away, polished the idea, and came back with a new one — I am very happy with that.”

Mentorship from the YALI fellows feels like a “really big opportunity” for Jaden Leverette, a junior at Evanston Township High School and participant in the YES program. In addition to acquiring business skills, Jaden is particularly interested in building special bonds with each of the fellows, who she feels, provide a relaxing space in which student participants can be themselves. An advocate for access to mental health services, particularly for people of color, Jaden envisions spending time after college to create a community-based mental health organization designed to be an open and safe space for individuals and their families.

“So far, working with the YALI fellows has been really, really informative,” says Jaden. “I have always kind of had this little idea, but I never thought about bringing it to light — but now, maybe one day in the future I will.”

The Northwestern-based fellows represent a small fraction of the 1,000 African participants who were placed at various education and leadership institutions around the U.S. While YALI was created under the Obama administration to empower the next generation of African leaders, the fellows are already empowering others by sharing lessons learned within Evanston. For Kebati, who is the Deputy Director of the Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park, there is also a huge potential for how his experience at Northwestern could positively affect those living in his home country.

“Kellogg is one of the top business schools in the world. You are getting the best. These are the guys you don’t just meet in the streets,” says Kebati. “When I go back home, I will be able to share back my knowledge, which I hope will be able to have an impact.”