Thursday, 09 August 2012 11:17

Young African Leaders Initiative

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Meridian collaborated with the U.S. Department of State to bring 65 young African social and business entrepreneurs to the U.S. for a high profile summit and leadership development program this past June 11-July 1. The Young African Leaders Program is part of the President’s Young African Leaders’ Initiative and coincided with the AGOA Summit in Washington. The Innovation Summit built on previous youth engagement, including the President’s Young African Leaders Forum (August 2010), First Lady’s Young African Women Leaders Forum (June 2011), and more than 2,000 subsequent youth programs conducted by the Department of State in Sub-Saharan Africa. This year’s program reinforced the United States’ commitment to support African responses to Africa's challenges, emphasizing young Africans’ ability to generate innovative solutions for their communities.

With an overall goal of emphasizing the importance of creating economic opportunity for young people and strengthening economic ties between the U.S. and Africa, the Summit included high-level speakers from the U.S. Government and private sector, as well as foundations, think tanks and NGOs. In addition to focusing on trends in entrepreneurship and innovation, the two-day conference featured break-out sessions to highlight best practices and challenges in both the business and social sectors.

The 65 young African leaders come from 42 African countries and represent such diverse fields as politics, media, IT, tourism, agribusiness, and social activism.

The Young African Leaders Innovation Summit featured keynote speakers and breakout sessions designed to cover a broad range of topics in entrepreneurship. The program also exposed Americans to the business challenges and economic opportunities in Africa. Topics included utilizing technology, gaining access to capital, promoting foreign investment, messaging and branding, building public-private partnerships, financial management tools for SMEs, and expanding networks and cultivating talent. Meridian hosted a networking reception for the delegation to meet and build contacts with American policymakers and business people.

The Mentoring Partnership will connect leaders in the U.S. with African entrepreneurs to generate innovative solutions that address economic and social development opportunities in Africa and potentially expand markets through U.S. investment. The three-week professional development program brought the African entrepreneurs to several cities which included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Denver, Miami, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Chicago, Seattle, Huntsville, AL, and the final closing of the program in Chicago. This series of events engaged the young African innovators with U.S. business and non-profit professionals in order to build future U.S.-Africa ties and cooperation on investment, social responsibility, and innovation.