The Mandela Washington Fellowship returns to K-State


Kansas State University announced the return of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for the summer of 2023. The fellowship invites 25 participants between the ages of 25 and 35 from sub-Saharan Africa to engage in learning opportunities at participating universities in the United States, Trisha Gott, a principle investigator for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, said.

“The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative,” Gott said. “YALI, or the Young African Leaders Initiative, is a presidential initiative funded by the U.S. State Department with implementing partners from IRE.”

Gott, an associate dean for the Staley School of Leadership, said the goal of the initiative is to make good on commitments to public diplomacy, cultural exchange, leadership development, engagement globally and invest in partnerships and relationships with sub-Saharan Africa.

“We are the only institute in Kansas and we were one of the first and only ones in the middle of the country,” Gott said.  

Gott said K-State offers fellows unique learning experiences they can use when they visit their home country — an example being the school’s agricultural institution. 

“We typically have a subset of fellows that work specifically in food security or food safety or some sort of access to agriculture for women or for rural populations,” Gott said. “We have been really grateful for partners at the College of Ag and have taken full advantage of their Feed the Future Labs and their faculty, who are really generous.”

Xatyiswa Maqashalala, an alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, came from South Africa to K-State to learn about civic management and is currently receiving her doctorate in leadership communication at K-State.

Maqashalala said 40,000 people apply to the Mandela Washington Fellowship annually and only 700 participants are selected.

“It’s very selective,” Chance Lee, academic director for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, said. “As a result, you get folks from across the continent that have done amazing things.”

Lee said the people selected are incredibly accomplished.

“One way of measuring that is the selection rate,” Lee, assistant professor at the Staley School of Leadership, said. “I mean, they’ve really had to prove excellence in the process. In one way, they just have a lot more life experience.”

Maqashalala said she felt small when she first started the institute, because of how talented the fellows in her cohort were. 

“I remember when I first got here, I walked around the house that we were staying at,” Maqashalala said. “Trisha put our profiles together and pinned us to our countries. I read all the other 24 profiles and I was like, ‘what am I doing here,’ you know.”

Maqashalala said she read one of her fellows was in active war, another rescued girls who were married off too young and a member was helping save girls who were abducted by insurgents.

“The caliber of work they do, the vision that they hold for leading change in their home communities and around the world,” Gott said. “Just the level of thinking, but connected with doing is unmatched.” 

Gott said connecting with fellows is a great learning experience for students and the community.

“I think it’s really an opportunity when you’re at a university to understand what are the realities of people around the world,” Gott said. “What can I share with people? But then also what do I need to learn from other people to also improve myself and my community?”

Gott said the fellows work closely with the Staley School of Leadership where they get a firsthand look at the issues people are battling in Kansas and compare it to the issues in Africa.

“From where I’d been, leadership had been a position it had been — you had to be part of some structure, or engaging in change or influencing change,” Maqashalala said. “However, being here I learned that one can lead from where they are, which then translated to a lot of us going back home and starting programs.”

Maqashalala said studying with fellows was an impactful experience that led to more opportunities and close friendships.

“I got to travel to my fellows’ countries,” said Maqashalala. “I talk to them on WhatsApp all the time when they have babies, when they graduate, when they get married. I’m part of their lives. I think these relationships, they are really long lasting.”