Mandela Washington Fellowship application information

Mandela Washington Fellowship application information

Mandela Washington Fellowship application information


Begun in 2014, the Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. In summer 2019, the Fellowship will host up to 700 young African leaders.

Fellows will travel to U.S. university and college campuses for six-week Leadership Institutes in one of three tracks: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management. For more details on the sector tracks, please review the application instructions.

The intensive six-week Institute model uses leadership development as the framework to create links between academic sessions, a strengths-based Common Leadership Curriculum, site visits, community service, and cultural activities. Fellows in all three themes will gain both theoretical knowledge and practical skills, and the Institutes will take place from mid-June to late July 2019. The Institutes will culminate in a Summit in Washington, D.C., featuring networking and panel discussions with U.S. leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Additionally, up to 70 competitively-selected Fellows will remain in the United States to participate in individually tailored four-week professional development experiences (PDE) at an NGO, business, or government agency throughout the United States. The PDE offers Fellows practical training and the opportunity to learn transferable skills, expand their professional networks, and apply concepts learned at the Institutes to real-world situations in the U.S. context. 

Upon returning to their home countries, Fellows will continue to build their leadership skills through support from U.S. embassies, USAID, and affiliated partners through networking opportunities, ongoing professional development, and mentoring.

Application and Selection Process

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is conducted as a merit-based open competition. After the deadline, all eligible applications will be reviewed by independent readers. Following this review, chosen semifinalists will be interviewed by the U.S. embassies or consulates in their home countries. If selected for an interview, applicants must provide a copy of their passport (if available) or other government-issued photo identification to verify eligibility. 


Applicants will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The Mandela Washington Fellowship is open to young African leaders who meet the following criteria:

  • Are between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of application submission, although exceptional applicants ages 21-24 will be considered.
  • Are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
  • Are eligible to receive a United States J-1 visa.
  • Are not employees or immediate family members of employees of the U.S. government (including the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, USAID, and other U.S. government entities).
  • Are proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English. Applicants who are deaf should consult the Application instructions for more information.
  • Are citizens of one of the following countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
  • Are residents of one of the above countries.
  • Are not alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

Please note: Fellows are not allowed to have dependents (including spouses and children) accompany them during the Fellowship.

The U.S. Department of State and IREX reserve the right to verify all of the information included in the application.  In the event that there is a discrepancy, or information is found to be false, the application will immediately be declared invalid and the applicant ineligible.

Applications not meeting the above technical eligibility requirements will not be forwarded to the selection committee.  If you do not meet the technical eligibility requirements for this program, we invite you to visit the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website for information on other U.S. Department of State exchange opportunities.

Application and Selection Timeline

September 12, 2018 | Application opens
October 10, 2018 | Application closes
December 2018 – February 2019 | Semifinalists interviewed by local U.S. embassies and consulates
Late March 2019 | Applicants are notified of their status
May 2019 | Visa processing and Pre-Departure Orientations for finalists
Mid-June 2019 | Fellowship begins in the United States

Application Materials


Please visit to read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and for more information on how to apply. You can also get updates via social media at and For additional questions about the Mandela Washington Fellowship not answered by the FAQs, please email

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX.