International exchange programs and the opportunity for US businesses
Many view international exchange programs primarily as benefiting United States foreign policy objectives. Foreign students brought to the US return to their home countries with a more positive impression of the United States, effectively creating a network of allies around the world more inclined toward the US than our adversaries.
For that reason alone, these programs are worth it. But by layering on “reciprocal exchanges” – which pair American entrepreneurs with former international exchange participants – American businesses can gain greater insight into how to enter new markets around the world.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders added the Reciprocal Exchange Component to build on relationships that alumni cultivated with businesses, industry experts, and organizations as part of their exchange. Building in this Component is one way to not only enhance the long-term impact of short-term exchange programs, but also to merge public- and private-sector interests.
Creating insights on new market entry
Ryan Taylor, a consultant with Navigant Consulting, is one of roughly 50 Americans who will participate in a Reciprocal Exchange by the end of 2017. He will travel to Zambia to assist Paul Nkumbula, 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, in implementing his Mabo Village Energy Exchange project. The project aims to provide 250 houses in Mabo, a rural fishing village, with solar energy and to launch a mobile charging station in the community.
The pair met during Nkumbula’s exchange at the University of California, Davis. Taylor stayed in touch with Nkumbula because he saw an opportunity for his firm.
The Reciprocal Exchange has been instrumental in allowing our organization to scale within the region in an intentional and sustainable way. Alexis Taylor, program manager at 3 Day Startup.
“Navigant Consulting is focused on solving some of the most challenging issues in the energy industry with a special focus on a concept we call the ‘Energy Cloud,’” Taylor said. “In places like Africa, the opportunity for this kind of work is abundant, and completing a project like the Mabo Village Energy Exchange will position us well for additional work across this continent and in this sector.”
According to Taylor, globally opportunities are often only available for larger firms like McKinsey that have established projects and a set of contacts within an emerging market.
“For smaller [businesses and] firms like Navigant Consulting, Reciprocal Exchanges provide the opportunity to strengthen their position within a market, gain insight, build expertise, and add value to an industry, which ultimately increases their ability to compete,” said Taylor.
Forging business relationships
3 Day Startup, an organization in Austin, Texas, leveraged a Reciprocal Exchange Award to initiate an entrepreneurship course in Malawi to help young Africans launch their own companies. The organization credited the Reciprocal Exchange Component for providing them with exposure to the Malawi market, and learning how to “scale purposefully” by building long-term relationships with universities and young African entrepreneurs.
"The Reciprocal Exchange has been instrumental in allowing our organization to scale within the region in an intentional and sustainable way,” said Alexis Taylor, program manager at 3 Day Startup.
After their first Reciprocal Exchange in 2015, 3 Day Startup received another award to help students at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Exploits University, and African Bible Colleges kick start new student-run companies. 3 Day Startup met with young African leaders during the leaders’ six-week exchange with the University of Texas at Austin, a Business and Entrepreneurship Institute, as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
“3 Day Startup would not be in Malawi without the support of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the US Department of State, and IREX, who gave us a platform to cultivate meaningful connections that have led to impact we've built through this partnership."
Training the next generation of entrepreneurs
Because of a relationship that was nurtured with an alumnus of the Fellowship, the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to harness the Reciprocal Exchange Component to develop an internship program with the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) in Uganda.
It is important for the University to build the skills of America’s future workforce by providing their undergraduate students with hands-on-learning opportunities particularly in emerging markets. The Reciprocal Exchange Component provides the University with a platform to test and expand their internship initiative. The University believes that international exchange programs are not only critical for fostering cross-border diplomacy, but also important for providing Americans with insight into the world’s fastest growing economies.
International exchange programs are clearly an investment in fostering greater ties between individuals, institutions, and businesses. Not only do they strengthen America’s national security interests, but they provide our country with greater insight on and access to economic opportunities. Ultimately, international exchange programs provide Americans with a platform to cement productive partnerships – built on the foundation of people-to-people connections.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX. For more information on the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), please visit mandelawashingtonfellowship.state.gov.