Nasera Victoria is from South Sudan, but she was born and grew up knowing only the harsh life of a Ugandan refugee camp. She tells how, as a girl, she began to play soccer with the boys in the camp, mainly because she was good at fashioning soccer balls from crumpled bags, strips of plant fiber, and elastic bands.
Her talent for soccer allowed her to step out of the shadows that girls in the camps were often condemned to, continue her education, study economics in college on a soccer scholarship, and ultimately found a girls’ soccer league upon returning to South Sudan. That project—an NGO called the Nasvick Initiative—opens similar opportunities to hundreds of girls across the region. It was this enterprising spirit that brought Victoria to Dartmouth as one of 25 Mandela Washington Fellows in the College’s 2018 session of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) business and entrepreneurship institute.
The U.S. State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowships, launched in 2014 as part of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, provide young business, cultural, and civic leaders from sub-Saharan Africa with an opportunity to study at one of 37 U.S. colleges or universities, and provide continued support for professional development after they return home.
Since the YALI program began five years ago, Dartmouth has hosted 125 young innovators from 38 countries, built a training network of leaders and entrepreneurs across Africa, and enriched the lives of Dartmouth students and the Upper Valley community, says Daniel Benjamin, the Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, which runs the YALI program with support from many other campus partners..
“For the Dickey Center and the many students, faculty, staff, and community members who engaged with the fellows in one way or another, the benefits have been incredible—enduring friendships, a vast range of new insights and understandings of the varied lives of Africans, the creation of a large network of contacts across two continents, joint projects, and numerous visits to different parts of Africa by undergraduates and recent graduates,” Benjamin says.
“Putting the YALI summer together every year has been a lot of work, but the benefits have been incalculable.”
The six-week Dartmouth program involves intensive business and entrepreneurship training, instruction and practical work in design thinking led by Thayer School of Engineering Lecturer Eugene Korsunskiy, and workshops on building a business plan and pitching it to investors, led by entrepreneur Rich Nadworny ’82 in collaboration with Research Professor Lorie Loeb, executive director of Dartmouth’s DALI Lab. The fellows also go on site visits to innovative area businesses, including King Arthur Flour, Timberland, and Ben & Jerry’s, and participate in leadership sessions led by the Tuck School of Business, team-building events led by the Outdoor Programs Office, service programs led by the Center for Social Impact, and many cultural events.
Among the projects the fellows produced at Dartmouth were a series of short video biographies, created with support from Susan Simon of the Jones Media Center. Victoria’s is titled, “The Cry of a Refugee Girl.”
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