From August 3-5, President Barack Obama hosted a Young African Leaders Forum in Washington, D.C., with roughly 120 young men and women from more than 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The goal was to inspire business partnerships between the U.S. and Africa and signal Washington’s commitment to maintaining the dialogue between the two sides. The first of its kind, the forum coincided with the 50th anniversary of independence for 17 African nations, including Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria. The delegates from Africa were chosen from a cross-section of public and private sector entities to participate in a three-day series of events that included networking sessions and panel discussions on topics such as economic opportunity, global health and youth empowerment. In addition to President Obama, they met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other key state officials and U.S. business leaders. The Africa Society, Constituency for Africa and African-American Unity Caucus were among the organizations that hosted roundtable talks designed to address specific issues affecting the African continent. Below, delegate Brenda Phiri, a financial consultant at Deloitte & Touche in Zambia, shares her forum experience with TNJ Assistant Editor Sergie Willoughby, who attended the forum’s Networking and Partnering Unconference.
Willoughby: Describe your experience in Washington.
Phiri: This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. To be given an opportunity to share the challenges that we African youths are facing at such a forum was a great honor. I met so many young African leaders who are doing remarkable things in their respective countries and I was significantly influenced to make positive change in my community and country. To be honest, my vision for Africa after the forum greatly changed. While Africa is a continent that has been blessed with vast mineral resources, the paradox remains that it is the least developed continents in the world. Several countries on the continent struggle to provide citizens with basic requirements like food, water, shelter, medical aid, etc.
After the town hall meeting with President Barack Obama, my vision for Africa is for it to be able to sustain itself as a continent and provide for its people. I would like Africans to one day be able to provide aid to other nations and continents and not be so reliant on other countries for assistance. I want to see an Africa that will contribute significantly to the overall GDP of the world.
Some really great memories of my week in D.C. include meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the state department; meeting senators at Capitol Hill; meeting White House and state department representatives; meeting various current and potential investors in Africa; and meeting Peace Corps representatives. There are so many people and organizations I interacted with. There are just too many to mention. And, of course, the big moment was shaking the hand of the most powerful man on Earth today, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Wow!!! It took me time to wash my hand!
Willoughby: What are some of the issues that your country is dealing with that you brought up for discussion?
Phiri: I attended the Economic Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability roundtable and also the Advocacy, Transparency, and Human Rights roundtable. At home, we’re dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, poor quality of education and not enough access to capital. A lot needs to be done in my country. The Health and Education sectors need to be improved significantly. We have been brought up to believe that we all need to be employed by someone and not to be employers ourselves. So I think we need training in entrepreneurial skills so that we can be employers of tomorrow.
Willoughby: Were you able to share your story with your peers, colleagues and family?
Phiri: Definitely. This is ongoing. (The three Zambians who traveled to the USA for the conference) were invited to share our experiences on our national television network, a private television network and a private radio station. And we are yet to do more appearances. The U.S. Embassy in Zambia is also organizing a screening/footage from the Forum at the American Center so that we can share our experiences with other youths and youth organizations. It’s really exciting and I am currently working on something, which I should be able to share with you and the rest shortly.
Willoughby: How were you selected to come to the conference?
Phiri: Well, I attribute my being selected to the following:
• I am a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants of the UK;
• I am a holder of a masters degree in business administration and currently pursuing a major in finance with particular interest in financial risk management and derivatives from Herriot Watt University of Scotland under the Edinburgh Business School;
• I work for Deloitte and Touche as a financial consultant and previously worked as an auditor;
• My work experience has exposed me to so many issues, such as:
(i) How the high cost of borrowing in our country is affecting individuals and companies;
(ii) How donor funding is being utilized across the country in terms of fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria;
(iii) How corruption is affecting our national development;
(iv) How the lack of education in so many families, especially in the rural areas, is hindering our nation from being more innovative;
(v) How high levels of poverty are affecting our nation and contributing to the rise in unwanted behavior such as substance or drug and alcohol abuse, early marriages, etc;
(vi) How business ethics are cardinal.
• I am an individual who is affected by the HIV/AIDS virus;
• I am a mother with two lovely daughters and deeply concerned about the future in terms of global warming, quality of education, rape, etc;
• I am currently assisting a few vulnerable children to pay for their education so that they too can have a brighter future and be the leaders of tomorrow. In addition, I am assisting an old woman within my community, who has almost lost her sight, to pay for her medical bills;
• My husband and I are young entrepreneurs who are into fish-farming, using a system called recirculating aquaculture fishing, hence providing employment to youths and families and contributing to slowing the depletion of fish stocks in our rivers and lakes due to poor fishing methods in our country;
• And finally, I am a youth [who is] able to articulate issues and [who wants] to have a positive impact within my community, country and Africa at large. And I am the next generation of the African leader!