Contributed by Uzochukwu Mbamalu, 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow, Nigeria
I made a commitment to share my experiences as a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow after spending six weeks in the United States of America. Hopefully, through this process, I will be able to motivate somebody, as I have always drawn inspiration from other people who tell their stories. In hindsight, I doubt I would have been inspired to apply for the Mandela Fellowship if my friend Chidinma Akaniro had not shared her experiences on Facebook after participating in the YALI RLC programme in Ghana.
My fellowship experience was at the college of business, University of Nevada, Reno, and I had an opportunity to meet, build relationships and learn from the amazing professors and staff who work there. We also had business and leadership sessions with high-profile individuals who shared their knowledge and experiences with us. One of such sessions that was really notable was meeting with the governor of the state of Nevada, the Honorable Brian Sandoval. He shared with us the strategies and principles he used to transform Nevada’s economy, make it an entrepreneurial ecosystem and attract big companies such as Tesla, Blockchain and Apple to the state of Nevada.
While we were able to visit many offices, such as Microsoft, YouTube, Apple, Google and LinkedIn, the most memorable experience to me was visiting the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, the biggest lithium-ion battery manufacturing factory in the world, as I have spent the last six years of my professional career researching and deploying solar energy/storage systems. These are companies I have a lot of respect for and never imagined I would ever get the opportunity to visit these places and interact with people there.
To describe in one word what was achieved by spending two months in America, the best answer would be “justification.” It was six weeks of personal transformation and reaffirmation of everything I believed in: that entrepreneurship is the most sustainable way to solve a problem; that great businesses are not built in a day; that I should trust the process; and that we can achieve the seemingly impossible when we come together for the greater good. With the new tools and confidence boost that have been given to me, I will keep acting local (focus on the energy industry in Nigeria) while thinking global. I will keep forming both local and international partnerships for the purpose of solving the energy poverty problem through entrepreneurship.
It is interesting, however, that one of the highlights of my stay in America was meeting other African fellows and forming strategic alliances with them. I built friendships and relationships that would last a lifetime with people from Ghana, Guinea, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Mauritius, Mauritania, Madagascar, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Gabon. The relationships built with these people are invaluable, and I am excited at the possibilities of what we could achieve going forward.
In conclusion, my opinion is that the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is a toolbox given to young African leaders by the United States government to help us facilitate our efforts at solving our own problems. It has helped bring us together, provided us with knowledge resources and exposed us. It is a new approach, where instead of providing aid to Africa, they empower us to make impact in our society. It is left for us to decide how best to leverage the toolbox that has been given to us.
Uzochukwu Mbamalu is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Nigeria and works as an energy consultant with six years’ plus experience in the electricity industry, where his core interest is researching, developing, designing, implementing and financing sustainable renewable energy systems for the African market.
He studied electronic engineering at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He also studied business and entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada–Reno and is a co-founder of Manamuz Electric and Jugaware Labs, while also playing advisory roles for several Nigerian startups.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.