Four young African professionals who studied business and entrepreneurship at Drake University this summer have received federal grants of up to $25,000 to support social enterprises in their home countries.
The grant recipients are participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Of the 1,000 Fellows nationwide—distributed among 46 host institutes, including Drake University—nearly 300 applied for grant funding through a business plan competition hosted by the US African Development Foundation.
The USADF issued grants to 50 Fellows, four of whom are studying at Drake: Tidiane Ball of Mali, Khady Nakoulima of Senegal, Peter Nyamai of Kenya, Tafangy Sitraka of Madagascar. [Learn more about Drake’s Mandela Washington Fellows.]
Faculty in Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration worked closely alongside the Fellows as they prepared their business plans. Professors Tom Swartwood, Debra Bishop, and Lance Noe mentored the Fellows outside of the busy program itinerary, which included a packed schedule of academic sessions, practical visits to local nonprofits and businesses, cultural enrichment activities, and professional networking events.
The Fellows arrived in Des Moines on June 17, grant applications were due July 1, and the Fellows departed July 31 for a multi-day event in Washington, D.C., which included a town hall meeting with President Barack Obama and the formal announcement of the grant recipients.
“Most of the Fellows had never written a business plan before,” Bishop said. “Professor Swartwood, in particular, put a lot of effort into helping them to describe what their organization’s cost structure would be, who their key partners would be, what services they’d provide, what value they would bring to stakeholders, and other essential elements of an application.”
Three of the four recipients are from primarily French-speaking countries, so the Fellows worked alongside faculty members to minimize the language barrier as they refined the content of their applications.
Grants are poised to have immediate and lasting impact on individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa by empowering Fellows to expand their entrepreneurial projects:
• Ball is a medical doctor and medical IT professional; he founded Melisante, a website that provides patients in Mali with medical information and a directory of health professionals.
• Nakoulima founded Nest for All, a network of clinics providing quality health care services for women and children in Senegal at a reasonable cost.
• Nyamai’s venture collects and stores fresh rainwater for use in rural homes and schools in Kenya, often providing them with potable running water for the first time.
• Sitraka runs Healthcare for All, which provides medication, medical consultations, and screenings at little or no cost to poor people without medical insurance in Madagascar.
Drake University fosters entrepreneurial excellence among students through a range of academic programming, faculty and staff guidance and support, community mentorship, and other resources. This year, a recent Drake alumna was one of three young professionals selected to receive $5,000 as a winner of the John Pappajohn Student Entrepreneurial Venture Competition. Drake’s two entrepreneurship centers, the Lorentzen Student Hatchery, an academic minor in entrepreneurship, and other programs help students develop the skills they need to lead their own businesses or to apply entrepreneurial skills to their current and future careers.
Drake also supports entrepreneurial efforts in central Iowa, having hosted or supported training camps for groups who are underrepresented in the startup community, including women, immigrants, and rural residents.
“These efforts are a real complement to our undergraduate programs, from a curricular and extra-curricular perspective,” said Swartwood. “They also align closely with Drake’s mission of bringing the world into Drake, and bringing students out to the world. Through our local, national—and as in the case of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, international—outreach, we extend the Drake network in a way that makes sense for everyone.”