Mandela Washington Fellows continue to succeed after Penn State experience

Kelly Jedrzejewski
January 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2017 and 2018, Penn State hosted three young innovators as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The fellowship empowers young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and network opportunities.

The fellowship is the top program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, and past fellows have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries. These young leaders represent the diversity of Africa, including equal numbers of women and men, individuals with disabilities, and people from both urban and rural areas.

In 2017, Aïssata Abdou Gado spent six weeks of professional development at Penn State's University Park campus. She worked with faculty and staff from across the College of Agricultural Sciences on issues related to food security, livestock and women's empowerment.

Abdou Gado has continued her career as an agricultural economist from Niger specializing in social and economic development, working for the Office of the Prime Minister in the capital city of Niamey. In her role at the Public Policies Analysis and Government Action Assessment division, she assesses governmental policies and leads prospective research in agriculture and livestock production.

In addition, Abdou Gado is involved in women's empowerment issues in Niger. She is a volunteer with ANNOURI, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on empowering women in rural areas by providing them with training, materials, startup capital and ongoing support to help them gain income and independence.

One of her primary efforts at Penn State was a collaboration with Sjoerd Duiker, associate professor of soil management and applied soil physics, and Janelle Larson, associate professor of agricultural economics. Abdou Gado helped Duiker and Larson to adapt a project they pioneered, focusing on livestock feed and women's empowerment in Kenya, to the culture and conditions of Niger.

At Penn State, Abdou Gado also interacted with Education Program Associate Patricia Neiner, who coordinates the Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network, to get a glimpse of similar programs in the U.S.

In 2018, Penn State welcomed two more Mandela Fellows, Boubou Sangho and Gladys Freeman. Sangho and Freeman worked with faculty and staff from across the college on issues related to food security, dairy farm processes and honey production.

The college's Ag2Africa initiative, housed in the Office of International Programs, coordinated the program, and the fellows also worked with the college's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, under the mentorship of Mark Gagnon, Harbaugh Entrepreneurship and Innovation Faculty Scholar.

Sangho is a Malian entrepreneur who founded a local fresh milk processing operation. His dairy addresses conservation issues and creates jobs, giving hope to people while supporting innovation in Mali. During his time at Penn State, he studied dairy processing and product development with the college's food science and animal science departments, worked in the Penn State Meats Lab, and visited local dairy farms to see how producers handle their herds and operations.

Today, Sangho maintains an active leadership role among young entrepreneurship networks in Mali and took part in the 2018 UNDP Sahel Youth Entrepreneurship Program. He also is the hub lead of the Tony Elumelu Foundation alumni community in Mali and a project manager of the Mali Startup Association.

Boubou milk

Boubou Sangho’s company, Boubou Lait, now is selling product commercially in grocery stores.

IMAGE: Boubou Sangho

“My participation in the Ag2Africa program has given me more credibility with the government, NGOs and international institutions, as well as with company and local partners in the country,” Sangho said. “This has allowed my business to grow and has given me the chance to work with other young entrepreneurs.” The knowledge and skills he gained at Penn State, he added, helped him to be selected for other entrepreneurial programs in Africa and Europe.

Sangho’s company, Boubou Lait, is selling product commercially in grocery stores. The business has increased its production capacity from 200 to 500 liters per day and developed new types of products as well as a new sales strategy.

The company employs more than 10 people directly and more than 200 people indirectly through farmer cooperatives. Boubou Lait has acquired support from international partners such as the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme Regional Office in Mali.

Freeman, who hails from Liberia, is an accountant by trade but became involved in social entrepreneurship in 2013. As a co-owner of Liberia Pure Honey, a small business that specializes in honey production, she was interested in expanding her knowledge about beekeeping and honey as part of her fellowship.

With that focus, Freeman’s Penn State stay involved study with researchers affiliated with Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, as well as visiting bee farms. One of the highlights for her was a tour of Penn State's Ag Progress Days exposition, which she described as an "amazing agriculture showcase."

In 2018, Freeman’s Liberia Pure Honey won first place at the National Honey Show in England, where honeys from various African enterprises competed. Freeman also recently returned from China where she traveled as an ambassador for Liberian made products.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021