(STILLWATER, Oklahoma / June 17, 2019) – What began as a class assignment will result in the beginning of an international relationship and a wonderful opportunity for 25 African community leaders.

Richie Roberts, doctoral student in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership, sat in his grant seeking class and began putting together a proposal for submission. Under the direction of Craig Edwards, AECL professor and advisor, Roberts’ proposal was approved to bring 25 Fellows from sub-Saharan Africa to the OSU campus through a U.S. Department of State, International Research Exchange grant.

“I felt like we had a really good chance of getting approved,” Roberts said. “The curriculum is great for the students coming over and partnering with the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship in the Spears School of Business really put us over the top.”

As a flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which began is 2014, is designed to empower young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa through academic coursework, leadership training and networking opportunities.

“It’s really about building relationships,” said Edwards. “We’ve been involved with several programs from this part of the world and each one of them has been extremely beneficial in their own right. The African students learn a great deal about how things are done over here, but we learn just as much from them during their visits.”

This program will bring the African Fellows to Stillwater this summer over a 6-week period. While OSU is just one of 40 institutes selected to host this international program, the 25 coming to Oklahoma will get uniquely agriculture-focused programming.

“They will attended classes and workshops geared toward creating sustainable agriculture in their parts of the world and hopefully have a better understanding of American agriculture,” Edwards said. “But, it’s not just that. These students will gain a lot from this program’s partnership will the Spears School of Business at OSU.”

Edwards will serve as the program administrator, while Craig Watters, executive director of the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship in the Spears School of Business, is the academic administrator for the program.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship puts an emphasis on being able to integrate the Fellows into local businesses in the Stillwater and Payne County area to give them real-life professional experiences. Any business owners or entrepreneurs in the area interested in participating can contact Edwards by phone at 405-744-8141 or via email at craig.edwards@okstate.edu.

The African leaders will participate in site visits to participating local businesses, be active in service learning projects like food pantries and compete with each other in pitching their business plans.

“We are excited to be able to host this event at OSU and are confident our curriculum will allow for them to understand how their businesses can be sustainable back home,” Watters said. “They will be coming with business plans, which we will critique and provide feedback with they idea of improving their lives and the lives of those in their communities.”

The sub-Saharan entrepreneurs are slated to get to Stillwater in early June and stay through most of July before heading to Washington, D.C. for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit. There, the Fellows will take part in networking and panel discussions with each other and U.S. leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.