Traveling halfway across the world for a fellowship program is a step toward a better community for Lawal Lukman and several others participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. Mr. Lukman is one of 25 business people from sub-Saharan Africa participating in the fellowship at the University of Iowa. The program is focused on teaching skills for business and entrepreneurship.
Mr. Lukman, a poultry and fish farmer from Nigeria, volunteers with the Federation of Muslim Women Association to increase adult literacy. The program teaches Hausa, a native language, and English. As CEO of Zamfarms, he also has founded the Mareri Fish Farmers Fadame II User Group to provide free training to women and youth how to farm fish.
He said it is a privilege for him to be learning in the United States and to have the opportunity to transfer his new knowledge back home. “The program is not about me. It’s about what I can do for my community,” he said.
Another fellow, Wilford Mwanza, from Zimbabwe, founded the Takford Foundation, an organization whose goal is “to serve the skills and capital challenges which are faced by start-up engineers in Zimbabwe,” according to Mr. Mwanza said. The foundation focuses on teaching and promoting engineering to high school students, creating entrepreneurial perspective for engineers and improving communication skills.
For Ruramiso Mashumba, from Zimbabwe, one of the main things she wants to take back to her business is the idea of seeing customers as the most important person. “That was something very new to me,” she said.
Ms. Mashumba is a horticultural farmer, growing crops for exports and local consumption. She also farms a plantation of trees, to help the environment, and indigenous rice, which is almost extinct in her country. She said the Venture School, a two-week shortened version of an entrepreneurial program at the University of Iowa, taught her to look at the customers’ needs, rather than only focusing on profit during business planning.
Stephennette Taylor, the manager of New World Finance, a micro-finance company in Liberia, was impressed by the Venture School. She said the most valuable thing it taught her was what her customer segments are. “I’m hoping to acquire more knowledge that I can carry back home to expand and improve my business,” she said.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship began in 2014 as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which President Barack Obama began. Nationwide, the program is host to 1,000 fellows, representing 49 sub-Saharan countries. Programs in civic leadership, business and entrepreneurship, public management and an Institute for Energy are being led at 37 universities and colleges. At the end of the program, the 25 fellows at the University of Iowa will join the others at a presidential summit in Washington, D.C.
“All of them want to be servant leaders,” said Dimy Doresca, sponsor of the Mandela Fellows visit and director of the University of Iowa’s Institute for International Business.