The University of New Mexico is among 40 universities selected by the U.S. Department of State to host elite young African leaders as part of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowships. The $250,000 project will showcase local expertise in business and entrepreneurship innovation, clean energy, smart grid, rural health care and local food system development.

“Fellows will cultivate business and cultural relationships with New Mexicans that continue into the future,” said Professor Bruce Milne, project leader and director of UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program.  UNM is eager to fold more local leaders into the project. The Fellows will take what they learn and apply it as they wish in Africa.

Africa faces major sustainability challenges of governance, energy, water and health. Yet, the diverse cultures of sub-Saharan countries are particularly interdependent and creative. Africa recently secured billions of dollars of investment by China for infrastructure, such as electric trains. The countries leap-frogged landline communications directly to cellular communications that amplify everyone’s access to markets.

As Dayo Olopade explains in “Bright Continent,” this is a pivotal moment in Africa’s development. Africans are coupled to immigrant populations living here and across the world, which makes mobile communications central to development, education and finance, especially since 85 percent of Africans are without bank services.

“We live in a time where our economy is global. Creating relationships with leaders across continents can only be beneficial to the economic develop of all,” said Rob DelCampo, director of UNM’s Innovation Academy.

The six-week summer institute is devoted to leadership development and cultural exchange.

“Ideally this project will go viral in New Mexico to connect the Fellows with business leaders, investors, cultural leaders, artists, agrarians and others who are curious about the tremendous opportunities in Africa,” said Milne. “We can diversify the New Mexico economy by trans-Atlantic collaboration with amazing people.”

The award recognizes that both New Mexico and Africa experienced waves of colonization that reverberate today. Mutual strength comes from rich histories, cultures, languages, local food and ties to land and place.

UNM’s highly interdisciplinary institute brings together faculty from the Anderson School, College of Arts and Sciences, Architecture and Planning, Engineering and the School of Medicine. The program is eager to identify off-campus partners willing to mentor the Fellows as part of the institute’s long-term success.