More than 20 South Africans part of Obama Foundation programme for young leaders

14 July 2018 - 15:21 By Zimasa Matiwane
Former US president Barack Obama leaves the stage after speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, November 1, 2017.
Former US president Barack Obama leaves the stage after speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, November 1, 2017.
Image: Jim Young / AFP

Twenty-five South Africans are among the first class of a programme run by the Obama Foundation for young leaders from across Africa aimed at exploring new ways to take on the biggest challenges in their communities.

Dubbed “The Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa programme”‚ the one-year leadership development and civic engagement programme aims to train‚ support and connect emerging African leaders to create positive change in their communities.

Bernadette Meehan‚ chief international officer of the Obama Foundation, said the leaders were selected to represent a diverse group in terms of background‚ gender and age. The inaugural class is made up of 200 emerging leaders from across the continent‚ including 102 males‚ 96 females and two non-binary people‚ the youngest participant is 22.

“The Obama Foundation also reached out to people who don't always have access to opportunities‚ the people who don’t always live in capital cities.

“We wanted people from small villages‚ refugee camps to say they are valuable‚ they are making change and it matters and we want to help them‚” she said.

They are also spread across a range of sectors including government‚ civil society and the private sector.

“The reason we did this is because we believe that in order to create change‚ we have to touch people in every sector and to say the private sector has a responsibility to work with these different sectors as well‚ so everybody has different roles to play‚” she explained.

Meehan said making sure that women were well represented was also important as women play an important role in the future of Africa and every country and continent in the world.

“This is the kind of programme where a young tech entrepreneur from Algeria might have a conversation with a human rights activist from Burundi‚ where a Congolese refugee whose family fled tribal conflict might meet a secretary of state from Cape Verde‚” she added.

Next week‚ former president Barack Obama will interact with the group in a town hall meeting.

“President Obama looks forward to meeting these emerging leaders for the first time‚ hearing about the extraordinary work they are doing across Africa‚ and discussing how the Obama Foundation can support their civic leadership development‚” said Meehan.

The programme will be the first of four that will eventually launch in Latin America‚ Asian Pacific and Europe.

Obama will also deliver the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg to mark 100 years since Madiba’s birth in 1918.