Conversations with Sen. Coons
August 12, 2016
Senator empowers young leaders to continue being voices of change in home communities
“I am encouraged by you. I am inspired by you and what you have already done in your lives,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons in an annual talk with the University of Delaware’s Mandela Washington Fellows (UDMWF), Study of the U.S. Institutes Women Leaders (UDSUSI-WLP), and Middle East Partnership Initiative Student Leaders (UDMEPI) in July.
The movers and shakers, selected from amongst thousands of their peers, collectively hail from 31 countries across Africa and the Middle East.
A member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Coons has accumulated a more than 30-year history of work on the continent in issues including trade policy, economic development and security challenges, among others.
“I have been to 24 countries on the continent and have had the opportunity to see the enormous prospects for growth, for change, for improvement across the continent and am convinced that this is an African century,” Coons said.
At the forefront of that revolution, he said, are emerging young leaders like those participating in the MWF, SUSI and MEPI programs.
“I recently went to South Africa, and it was a wonderful opportunity...to be confronted with just how much things have changed, how there are different issues on the forefront today, and a new generation asking much tougher and much differently configured questions than were asked 30 or 50 years ago,” Coons said.
In a recent opinion piece co-authored by Gretchen Bauer, UD Mandela Washington Fellowship academic director, Coons reiterated this sentiment.
The senator continued that the young leaders he has met have not only demanded answers to the questions of today, but have made great personal sacrifice to help see their countries achieve them. He experienced this first-hand during Liberia’s Ebola crisis just last year.
“I had the chance to meet many different people from different backgrounds and groups,” he said. “One of the most inspiring meetings I had was with the YALI Fellows, all of whom were in some way in the middle of their schooling, all of whom had the connections and opportunities to leave Liberia had they chosen to, and all of them had changed what they were doing to join volunteer and nonprofit organizations or launched new organizations themselves…”
He challenged the fellows and SUSI leaders in the room to travel home and consider the United States as a partner in creating the change they wish to see in their communities.
“You have a great legacy,” he said, “and it’s my hope that together over many years we can build a positive and sustained engagement between the United States and the continent of Africa.”
“Sen. Coons’ passion for Africa and his passion to create change in young leaders is remarkable. His eyes glow when he sees young African leaders rising to the challenge of transforming their continent for the better,” said Faith Masupa, a Mandela Washington Fellow.
Coons left the groups with a word of wisdom for their challenging journey ahead. “Know who you are and know why you are serving. Be centered, whether that is your faith, your family, or a very close community of supporters.” he advised. “A career in public service is difficult. Done right, it is very hard. Done right, you will not be rich. Done right, you will make very hard decisions.
“His humility and love for public service was vivid through his words and commitment for exchange programs that foster it,” said Mary Longo Longo, a SUSI Woman Leader from Zambia. “His speech through the session resonated so much on how service should be for the people.”
About the MWF and SUSI-WLP
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. Founded in 2014, the fellowship seeks to empower young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa to spearhead change and design innovative solutions to the continent’s most pressing challenges.
Similarly, SUSI Institutes are five to six-week academic programs designed for undergraduate students from across the globe to gain a deeper understanding of American society, culture and institutions through leadership training, civic engagement, domestic study tours and interaction with the people of the United States. UD participants hail from countries across the African continent.
UD officials said the University is privileged to have hosted the Mandela Washington Fellowship since its inception in 2014 and the SUSI Program for the second year in a row.