African fellows learn new business skills at the University of Iowa

By Thomas Friestad

Though they’ve got only a few weeks left in Iowa, about two dozen business leaders and entrepreneurs from sub-Saharan Africa are making the most of it. Hailing from 19 countries, the 25 visitors were chosen through the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, funded with a $150,000 U.S. State Department grant.

Since June 19, the fellows have lived at the University of Iowa and studied American business and economics, undergoing an accelerated version of its Venture School program through the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

This year marks the university’s fourth as a host school and its first implementing a strengths-based leadership approach in coursework — a federal addition to the curriculum for all 28 universities and colleges participating in the fellowship program.

The fellows, ages 21 to 36, all already are leaders in their own right, with businesses, not-for-profits or government in their home countries, said Dimy Doresca, director of the fellowship program at the UI.

“They are people with experience already, but the training for the most part is new for them,” he said, later adding, “You can see the progress every week. They are like a sponge, really soaking in the knowledge and applying it.”

Atem Ernest Lefu, 34, is co-founder and chief executive officer of AGRO-HUB in Cameroon, which helps farmers access new markets and processes its own starchy cassava plant.

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