Mandela Washington Fellowship Reception

Amb. Thomas with some Fellows
Amb. Thomas with some Fellows

Good Evening, Maswera sei (Ma-sway-rah-say), Litshone njani (Leet-sho-neh na-janee).

Welcome.  It is an honor to fill our home with so many extraordinarily talented guests.  I’d like to offer my congratulations to the sixty 2016 fellows who were chosen from this year’s pool of over 1,600 applicants from Zimbabwe.  This marks the largest number of applications we have yet to receive for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, and I am so very pleased to see participants joining us from across the country.

Our staff worked hard to get the word out about this program.  And we discovered some pretty incredible young leaders in the process.  The alumni of this program also played an important role in that outreach campaign, encouraging their colleagues, friends, and mentees to apply.  Thank you.

We have devoted so much energy to this program because, even as Zimbabwe continues to confront many challenges, it is a dynamic country with a bright future ahead of it.  Young people like you are the drivers of progress in this country.  This program offers an opportunity for us to help you access the resources, the training, and the networks that you need to become the next generation of leaders.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a President Obama initiative that honors its namesake, Nelson Madiba Mandela, by forging bonds between the U.S. and the self-identified future of Africa. The last two years of the fellowship – and I think you alumni will agree with me – were an overwhelming success.

I’d like to also welcome the phenomenal alumni.  It is because of your stand-out participation over the last two years that this program has grown to what it is today.  Zimbabwe was invited to send the same number of fellows as Kenya and South Africa.  That’s because of the superior participation of the 2014 and 2015 fellows.  The alumni are here to share with this year’s participants their stories and what they gained from the experience.

But you should also know how much the participating American universities, academics, and business professionals who host fellows are forever changed for the better as a result of this exchange.  Together with your American hosts and partners, you will generate innovation and entrepreneurship and fuel a respect for diversity and mutual understanding. The 2014 and 2015 fellows left their mark and now it’s your turn.

To be here tonight, with all of you – in a room with this much potential – is a true pleasure.  None of you were chosen to be a Mandela Washington fellow by chance.  You are here today because you have the drive and determination to catalyze change and stimulate progress.  You are the energy that will power the future of Zimbabwe.

Today I am here as the U.S. Ambassador and President Obama’s personal representative to Zimbabwe.  Everyone in the room wants to hear what I have to say because I’m here representing my country.  Guess what?  In a few weeks, the tables will turn and you will be in the spotlight.  The things you say will represent not just you, but your country, and even your continent.

Think about that.  Think about your actions and your words.  Think about the image you portray.  What most Americans know about Zimbabwe is not that it is one of most highly-educated countries in Africa.  Most Americans don’t know about Zimbabwe’s growing population of young, ambitious, entrepreneurial, smart professionals.  It’s your job to teach them.

There’s something else I’d like to ask of you.  In this room there is a wide range of talent and a great deal of passion.  You are the largest cohort of fellows and your biggest challenge will be coming together as a group.  So, please, take the time to get to know one another.  Share your dreams and your stories with one another.  You are surrounded by some incredible people and I urge you to work together, to support one another’s ideas, and to build a community of leaders.

On behalf of my president, whose initiative this is, I thank you for letting us be a part of your journey, and look forward to seeing what you come up with. You are the living legacy of a network of independent-thinking, creative, young leaders.  You are the future of Zimbabwe.

Twalumba (tuh-wa-loom-ba), Siyabonga (see-a-bon-gah), Tatenda (tah-ten-dah).  Thank you for coming tonight and good luck.  I look forward to hearing about your experience when you come home.