UT Welcomes African Entrepreneurs to Campus
Austin is no longer simply the Silicon Valley of the Southwest—it’s an international hub of entrepreneurial know-how. At its center: The University of Texas at Austin. And, true to its mission to change the world, the university is playing a key role in sharing that knowledge with Sub-Saharan Africa’s best and brightest young entrepreneurs through the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
Approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population is younger than 35—a statistic that spurred the White House to pilot the Washington Fellowship program, President Obama‘s signature effort to invest in the next generation of global leaders and further the growth, stability and prosperity of Africa. For its inaugural year, the program recruited 20 university campuses to host educational institutes on business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership or public management. More than 50,000 applications were whittled down to just 500, with 25 of Africa’s most talented entrepreneurs from 18 different countries landing at UT Austin this summer for six weeks of classes, community service, networking and more.
From one woman’s desire to curb school absenteeism by providing sanitary pads to African girls, to another fellow’s vision of creating more sustainable furniture out of bamboo, the projects and career paths of the fellows vary widely, but all share a common thread: the goal of fostering a more prosperous Africa. A curriculum on entrepreneurship, spearheaded by UT San Antonio’s Anita Leffel and UT Austin’s Dorie Gilbert, an associate professor of Social Work and African & African Diaspora Studies, helped flesh out the fellows’ business plans in an effort to ultimately instigate global, social change in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
During their time at UT Austin, the fellows did academic coursework, site visits, community service, cultural activities and leadership sessions led by UT’s Global Initiative for Education and Leadership. They met with U.S. Ambassador Penne Peacock, Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson and the director of Africa Start Up and Google employee Christina Pate.
They learned about the Texas legislative process at the State Capitol, explored the colorful history of Juneteenth celebrations at Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum, and rubbed shoulders with leaders of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce. In the classroom, they practiced and refined their elevator pitches, received tips on grant writing, and even (sometimes unsuccessfully!) constructed towers out of marshmallows to learn the importance of teamwork in any entrepreneurial endeavor.
The fellows continued their journey with site visits to Google and Livestrong, volunteer outings to the Capital Area Food Bank, and classroom preparation for the end-of-institute pitch competition. In their free time, the fellows—many of whom have never visited the United States—had the opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of Austin.
Feature image: Twenty-five Washington Fellows pose in front of the UT Tower on their first day on campus.