Search form

Newsletters

The Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders Alumni Portraits Series will trace back the stories of impactful young leaders of the ADEL alumni community. More than a biography, this journalistic approach will capture these success stories, helping us understand the roots of their leadership and pursuit of positive impact. From Morocco to South Africa, Germany to Canada, Brazil and the United Statesl, these young leaders from diverse backgrounds came together in Marrakech for the common goal of rebalancing Atlantic relations to include Southern Atlantic states. As the ADEL Alumni community keeps on growing, we will highlight some of their singular stories here in the spirit of intergenerational dialogue that lies at the heart of the Policy Center for the New South.

Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr

This young woman comes across as a striking beauty, body and soul. Born and raised in Enugu, Nigeria, she shines. She’s not only a voice for others, but first and foremost her own person.

More

She founded She ROARs in 2016, a platform dedicated to unleash the potential of young female leaders in Africa and the diaspora. It really took off after an important gathering of more than 300 African women in August 2017 in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. The “Women Advancing Africa” conference was organized by the Graça Machel Trust, named after the former First Lady of Mozambique and widow of Nelson Mandela.

I was invited as one of the core moderators to anchor the event, Chidiogo Akunyili remembers. I thought it was a shame to come all this way and not take advantage of the capacity of so many women gathered in the same place, besides the regular talks. I thought : what if we did something different, something bolder ? We had a moment of 300 women sobbing after sharing some very personal stories, opening up to different types of violence they had endured. The need to connect, take time to breathe and realize that you are not alone was overwhelming.”

She was so inspired by the gap between that need and what a few organizations can do to support entrepreneurial women that she decided to take further her action. “There is no organization promoting wellness and the acknowledgement of pain – from sexual atrocities to pressures at work, from sexual abuses to struggling with a husband, or to have a husband.

The association works through coaching, workshops, seminars and conferences. With a light team of 5, three women in different areas in the world and two technicians in Casablanca, Morocco, helping with the online side of the activity, it has already reached 2000 women, mostly young professionnals aged 27-37. The seminars and one-to-one coaching sessions address the impact one can have, the relation between personal and professional life, vision and goal setting methods and work on leadership qualities.

Her dream is to reach out to millions of women in Africa, North America and the Caribbean. The mission is not focused on therapy, but self development. « You can’t give what you don’t have, she says : your own strength, peace of mind, trust to your intuition and discernment. Young women are constantly shutting themselves down because they are told they’re not good enough ».

After all, Chidiogo knows her subject inside out. Her late mother, the multi-awarded pharmacist Dora Akuniyli (1954-2014), is an icon in Nigeria. She was the uncompromising head of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control  (NAFDAC) between 2001 and 2008. As the Director-General of this regulatory agency, « she wouldn’t take bribes and did what no man could ever do : she changed the rules of the game for operators in the food and drugs industry in Nigeria ». Recipient of the Integrity Award of Transparency International in 2003 and named “One of the 18 heroes of our times” by Time Magazine in 2006, she was the Minister of Information and Communications from 2008 to 2010 in Nigeria. Chidiogo, who has five siblings, is currently writing a book about her, to inspire others.

As for her own trajectory, it is already telling. She decided to study International Relations & Economics at SAIS, John Hopkins, and French. These two subjects were “broad enouth to figure out later” what her options could be. She was eager to understand the world and human interactions, and get the skills she felt insecure about not having. That’s why she chose International Relations instead of Law, recommended by her parents. But why French ? A big revenge on life: she had a negative experience with a French teacher who slapped her in class when she was 11. “I internalized the story I was not smart enough for French and put up a wall, thinking this is not for me. When I was 17, my sister had this crazy idea for me:  spend the summer learning French in Vichy. I was excited, and two months later I came back speaking French, because the teacher focused on me when I was crying in class, and I was living in a family whose children didn’t speak English.” She  spent a year in Germany and learned the language, and then moved to China, where she worked on her undergraduate piece on China and Africa. She came back speaking Chinese, which she believes is an “important language to understand, so that colonization doesn’t happen again”. Now aware of her gift at learning languages, she went for a year to Bologna, Italy, for her Masters, and then to Mexico for six weeks, adding Italian and Spanish to her skills.

She has already been named among the “100 most inspiring women in Nigeria” by The Guardian, an aknowledgment of her commitment towards the African woman’s cause. She is also World Economic Forum Global Leadership Fellow, and an Associate Fellow of the Nigerian Leadership Initiative.

Now based in Canada, she travels a lot and keeps going to Nigeria. When asked about her home town, Enugu, located in a region formerly known as Biafra, she immediately answers: “We never talk about the impact of the Biafra war, that killed 2 millions people between 1967 and 1970. A lot of the challenges in Nigeria have their roots in this unadressed aftermath of the civil war”. One more good reason to work on the rise of strong women “not allowing anyone to tell them who they are”. Chidiogo Akunyili is convinced that female leaders have the ability to change the world.

Ana Paula Barreto

« Passionate, Black, visionary »

Ana Paula Barreto talks about serious matters with great calm, taking time to reflect before answering questions, from New York. Born in Jardim Angela, a poor area of São Paulo, considered as the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world by the United Nations in 1996, she remembers the violence of the favelas. She doesn’t want to reduce her childhood « in a joyful family » to « the ugly », but one of her strongest memories is seeing the bodies of people murdered during the week-end, on her way to school on Monday mornings. At a young age, Ana Paula Barreto realized that her « community was lacking the conditions and opportunities to have a dignified life ». She decided that she would be an « agent of change,  promoting social and racial justice ». In one of the most unequal societies in the world, she reminds that « 54 % of the population is of African descent, but we are very invisible in decision-making circles, universities and politics ».

More

Promoting equality and equity, « meaning that the people with less access to education, health and resources will achieve the same », soon became her raison d’être. After school, she was able to attend University. A « historical accident », as she calls it. It was still impossible for Black students coming from a poor background to study in the early 2000’s, because of a historical systemic racist and elitist selection process. « Some of the best universities in Brazil are public, thus free, but the middle-class and rich people send their children to private schools. For people like me who went to public schools, the exam to enter University was impossible to pass. Its level was too high for the quality of my education ».

« Racial and Social quotas » at University

Fortunately, the Lula administration, with the historical support of Black movements, created affirmative action programs in the mid-2000’s, at the time she was finishing High school. Thanks to a Law of Racial and Social Quotas passed in 2012, no less than half of the admission spots benefit pupils who attended public schools, most of them being indigenous and Black. « If I was born 20 years before, my possibilities would have been very low. President Lula showed how public policies can change a country. Today, there is a whole generation of Black Brazilian professionals and this is changing Brazilian society ». A system of scholarships was also introduced to give more access to private universities. That is how Ana Barreto could study International Affairs with a full bursary at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of São Paulo. « We were 30 in my class, and two of us were coming from a black and poor background ». 

After college, she applied to the United Nations and went to Brasilia, a 90 minutes flight from São Paulo, for a six month internship. This was the last « critical investment » she asked her family to make for her, as her internship would be unpaid and she would have no time to work alongside her office hours. Her parents took a loan, to cover all her expenses for six months. When she moved back to São Paulo, she worked for UNICEF, while participating in human rights projects in her community with local organizations, and volunteering as a popular educator.

New York, Addis Abeba, Marrakesh

She then was selected by the Atlas Corps for a one-year fellowship in New York in 2015 with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global NGO launched in Mumbai (India) in 1952 and headquartered in London. « They bring professionals from the global South to get experience contributing in U.S. organizations », she explains. In New York, she assisted staff by managing the portfolio of sexual and reproductive health programs related to youth, gender-based violence, and HIV/STIs. It went so well that she stayed for six more months, before moving back to Brazil and prepare her next step : a Master’s degree in International Affairs, which she started in 2017 at the New School University of New York, with a focus on racial justice and global health.

With a group of students, she went to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, for a research project on Women Economic Empowerment through loans. There, she worked with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on internally displaced communities, doing advocacy with the African Union. Also in touch with the Brazilian Embassy, she organized a Film Festival in 2018 in Addis Abeba, on Black Brazilians in cinema. Her experience in Ethiopia was “powerful”, she says, as she was able to “see the similarities with people of African descent, not only physically but with food and dances that have not been lost throughout the centuries, the transatlantic slave trade and colonization”.

The same year, she was selected as a Fellow of the OHCHR in Geneva for the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), and by the Policy Center for the New South, for the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program in Morocco. “The Atlantic Dialogues were an amazing experience in that very special year for me. I was on the last panel of the conference representing my cohort and talking about youth, transformation and creating a more just society. It was an honor, and I was able to connect to so many people doing great work !"

Racial justice and global health

She has now completed her masters about health outcomes of Black Brazilian women, « in the only country in the world having a public health policy focused on the African descent community ». Currently working as the Director of Programs with Afro Resistance, a small NGO launched in 2010 in New York, she deals with racial justice, human rights and democracy in the Americas, with a focus on Black women, notably from the Caribbean and Latin America. The NGO provides online conversations, research projects and conversations bringing local community voices to international decison-making spaces.

Her dream is “to make a difference in the Americas by uniting global health, racial justice and ancestral knowledge of our people”. She hopes to make innovative and impactful work, as well as becoming a reference in this unique approach. “I also hope to work in government, a critical strategic space if we want to really promote systematic change through public policies”. Her role models are an exact reflection of the way she describes herself : “Passionate, Black, visionary”… Among them, the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, 38, born in Somalia, and Vilma Reis, 51, sociologist and activist from Salvador de Bahia, whom she describes as a “historical figure that did a lot on the intersection of civil society, government and human rights for the most marginalized people”. One of her favorite readings is Lelia Gonzalez (1935-1994), a Brazilian anthropologist, professor, politician and activist, “for her complex analysis of the world we live in”.

Fatim Zahra Biaz

She was 31 years old and had just set up the New Work Lab, a coworking and start-up accelerator space, in Morocco in 2013, when she was selected as one of the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders. Fatim Zahra Biaz already had an extensive professional background, which reflected her quest for meaning in work: a graduate of Edec, a business school in Lille, she had worked in Paris in "change management" consulting.

More

"I couldn't sense the impact I was looking for in my work, be it economic, social or educational. I resigned and went around the world for nine months. She traveled throughout Latin America, from Australia to Asia, learning to overcome her fears and meeting "digital nomads", young people who set up their businesses on the Internet.

"When I came back, I wanted to start a business, but I didn't really know what it would be. I trained myself in the digital world of start-ups, which has a different state of mind from what is taught in school". She set up a business selling designer shoes between Paris and Casablanca but changed course quite quickly. She noted that the co-working spaces she used in Paris were sorely lacking in Casablanca - as was all the support dedicated to start-ups, incubators and training programs. "I told myself that I had to provide entrepreneurs in Morocco with everything I couldn't find for myself, and that anyone who wanted to start up a business could come, to train and upgrade their skills, to be put in touch with companies, the press, clients, public authorities, etc."

She keeps a special memory of the 2013 ADEL program: "It was the first time that an organisation in Morocco trusted me with my project. It was a very nice form of support, training and learning". Since then, she has been invited as an Alumni to the Atlantic Dialogues conferences and lists among the most memorable encounters of her life a lunch with a former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who introduced himself as the former "CEO of Nigeria".

The New Work Lab, located on Anfa Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in downtown Casablanca, has since grown and matured, remaining true to its original philosophy. Its founder is adamant: "We need to rethink the world of work, in which employees feel disconnected and often underuse their potential". The Pitch Lab has become a benchmark competition for start-ups in Morocco, which has distinguished 150 entrepreneurs since 2013. Fatim Zahra Biaz has launched another "laboratory" called “Future of Work” to rethink innovation products in large companies, corporate culture, propose events, "bootcamps", trainings, give practical toolboxes to learn how to change and do work that matters. It offers customized services, tailored to demand, as part of a change-driven program.

In seven years, the New Work Labs have welcomed 20,000 people and hosted nearly 400 entrepreneurs for training, events and acceleration programs. Among the success stories she likes to highlight is that of Anou, which allows craftspeople to sell their products directly to consumers in the United States. "This company has developed a solution enabling people who can't read or write to use the Internet... It's great!”

The New Work Lab, supported by the Office chérifien des phosphates (OCP) Foundation, contributes to the creation of an ecosystem conducive to start-ups, "in a market that is not easy to create, by inventing models with the means at hand". She dreams of scaling up and seeing the impact of her work grow, moving from the micro-economic sphere to a more "macro" impact in the world of start-ups, with increasingly ambitious projects.

Fatim Zahra Biaz continues to travel, hike and enjoy the sea, while nurturing a spirit of excellence far from mediocrity - the thing she hates the most in life. Her dream? She takes time to reflect, before explaining, with calm enthusiasm radiating from her words and her person: "That work in Morocco should no longer be seen as an obligation, a livelihood, but as our best way of participating in the development of our country, with a collective and civic impact. For me, work is a way of expressing values, a contribution that we can leave behind, a way of writing a story together. How to make people want to work differently and to see their work as a tool for collective progress, this is the very reason for New Work Lab's existence, whether you are a salaried employee, a student or a civil servant.”

Parcourez l'interview en français

Julian Colombo

Aged 24 in 2011, he was already Chief of staff for Daniel Scioli, the Governor of Buenos Aires - the most populated province of Argentina, counting for 40 % of the total population with 16 million inhabitants. His main challenge then was “to be young in a relevant position”. He had to fight to get recognized and accepted by his elder peers, and succeeded with “the support of the Governor, through hard work and careful analysis”, he recalls.  

More

He also remembers fondly one of his main achievements of his beginnings. He was part of a team that elaborated and implemented a reform, making free the fertility treatments for couples in his province. “Before the law passed in 2010, it was very difficult for couples to have access to these expensive treatments. Some families sold their cars and put a mortgage on their houses. My governor put up a team and we negotiated with the stakeholders in the insurance sector and the health system, to make sure the fertility treatments became free in the province”.

The launch of a new consultancy firm

Born in Buenos Aires in a middle-class family, he was supposed, as the eldest and only son, to take over his parents’ business, a small manufacture of oil and products for cars. He chose another path. After studying Political Science in Argentina and obtaining a Masters Degree in Public Policy at Georgetown University (Washington D.C.), he worked as a civil servant and a political advisor for congressmen in Argentina for 10 years.

Now, his father holds no grudge nor disappointment whatsoever. In December 2019, this 33 year-old young professional launched TANT, his own consultancy firm. “I was working for several people at once, he explains, so I decided to set up my own firm, so that there would be no conflict of interest”.

One of his main areas of expertise is the relationship between Argentina and Brazil, alongside with legislative and political affairs. “Brazil is our main trade partner. Brazil and Argentina are twin countries both in trade and politics, and we need to strengthen the ties in the productive sectors between politicians in both countries. We advise on how to overcome the political differences between the two current presidents”.

Another important side of his specialization is the Fintech sector. His firm is advising government officials in Argentina on how to deal with companies willing to develop digital wallets and online banks, in order to adapt the current regulations to the market trends in that sector.  

A passion for politics

How did he fall in love with politics ? “Both of my parents are not involved, he says, but my geography professor in highschool made us take part in Model United Nations (Model UN or MUN). That’s how I started to get interested in international relations and politics.”

Julian Colombo can get “very upset”, when he sees “how some politicians from all parties manipulate the most disenfranchised people in order to get their votes, providing food and medicine during electoral campaigns”. But his head stays cool when it comes to the crucial topic of the rise of populism in Latin America. He makes his point clear : “I do not agree fully with the way Western professors talk about populism. Being in a country that has had many populist governments, I know the word might have a negative meaning, but some of these administrations have applied some of the most progressive social policies. There is a swing across Latin America between the left and the right : in the years before 2013 the trend was left, and between 2013 and 2018, it was going to the right. The region can swing again to the left, and I am not sure that the populist phenomenon is that simple”.

His fellow ADELs as role models

When asked about his role models, this keen reader of political biographies has only one name in mind : John F. Kennedy, for his approach to politics, youth and fresh ideas. Otherwise, he quotes his peers, “the African guys I’ve met in the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders programme (ADEL), because of their fight to provide basic needs, such as access to water, for instance. They are more prominent in my view than people with an actual seat at the table.”

When he joined the ADEL community in Marrakech in 2018, he was mostly interested in starting a network with Emerging Leaders from a broader horizon than his contacts, with people from Europe, North America and Africa. “I enjoyed the possibility of travelling to Africa and broaden my vision of public policies applied on the continent”.

He came to Marrakech with his two dreams, strongly intertwined. “One is personal and one is national : I would like to achieve being president of Argentina, in order to overcome the inequalities, especially for the youth. The current state of affairs affects educational opportunities, and I hope I will be able, one day, to solve this problem in my country”. In his opinion, and in his own candid words, he notes that what is really missing across Latin America is a “bigger commitment from the political and business elite to solve our issues. We have lots of people working on different matters, the same guys for 30 or 40 years, with no real political will”. Julian Colombo, a strong personality, is a name to remember.

Sabine Cessou

Idia Irele

“Towards a more impactful leadership”

Fluent in English, Yoruba, Portuguese, and Spanish, this US and Nigerian citizen, holding both passports, now lives in Medellin, Colombia. A perfect candidate for the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program, she was selected in 2017 to follow the program

More

Born in the USA 27 years ago, Idia Irele grew up between Nigeria and the U.S. and moved to Boston when she was 10. Her family followed her father, Professor Francis Abiola Irele, a Nigerian academic who taught African and French literature at Harvard University. When asked about her studies, she states very factually that she was an undergraduate in Government and International Relations (Smith College), and has a Masters in International Education Policy (Harvard University). She works with social and emotional learning, and has experience in human rights education in the USA and Africa, with Boston Mobilization and UPLift Liberia. 

 

Training young leaders in Latin America

Since 2017, she has worked as  Director of Curriculum and Manager of Strategic Relations at the Latin American Leadership Academy (LALA). This is the South American version of the African Leadership Academy, she explains. So far, approximately 620 young leaders have taken part in intensive leadership bootcamps in different Latin American cities, with around 30 young leaders in each program at a growing rhythm of eight bootcamps per year and one residential program in Colombia  

We focus on the potential of the continent and help build compassionate leadership to find solutions to persisting problems. The students are amazing young leaders. We support them in coming into their roles as community leaders and leveraging their stories and wisdom to gain  access to wider platforms, both locally and globally. ” For instance, one student from Rio who created a nonprofit organization to work with incarcerated women in Brazil  mastered the art of fundraising through participating in LALA. After raising $3,000 USD to come to LALA,  she harnessed her newfound skill to launch a global campaign for her cause and raised  $7,000 USD in only two weeks during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

2020 has been a tough year, with the toll of Covid-19, a coup in Peru, a massacre in Lagos at the height of the #EndSARS movement against police brutality, as well as the death of Miguel da Silva in Brazil and Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black Americans in the United States. 

A five-year-old,  Black Brazilian was killed shortly after George Floyd. During the pandemic, we have seen interconnectivity between all these events and transnational dialogue like never before. Women everywhere used their social media accounts to raise awareness about violence against women in Mexico and Turkey. Friends from around the world have used the EndSARS hashtag without ever having gone to Nigeria. This new, COVID-era globalization rests on true shared humanity.

Idia is not just an observer. She is focused on action. “I started to explore the parallel between racial narratives across regions. The history of violence and enslavement in the US finds nearly identical parallels in Latin America. Just like in the U.S.,  the same racialized populations that were previously enslaved still lack opportunities to fully participate in society today. This is especially present in Colombia and Brazil, where despite  narratives of  ‘racial paradise,’ regions populated by Afro-descended and Indigenous communities face widespread poverty and barriers to fully representative leadership. I hope to continue advancing cross-continental dialogue through  teaching history from the vantage point of multiple communities and organizing for social change. I teach young people to become closer to both themselves and the world, situating themselves in the issues around them and developing creative solutions to solve them.”

 

Africa on her mind 

Idia’s vision is very clear: she plans to eventually become a U.S. diplomat in order  to achieve “a more direct, impactful leadership in the future, working in international development, human rights, and responsible governance more broadly.” 

Africa is on her mind. She hopes that the continent will play a more “prominent role globally, not only exporting raw materials, but also more products and services. As a producer of cocoa, coffee, rubber and coltan in addition to music, art, and other cultural influences, African countries play an important role in the global market, but this essential role is not widely recognized in the international community.” She believes in South-South relations and the collective development of the Global South. “There are more Afro-descended individuals  in Brazil than anywhere else in the diaspora, this legacy provides an enormous opportunity for stronger connections between the two regions.” 

Among her role models, she mentions her mother, who grew up through decades-long political strife  in Calabar, a coastal town that played a pivotal role in the conflict between Nigeria and what was once the secessionist Republic of Biafra. She also admires Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “a woman who has paved her way in literature, writing stories about everyday Nigerian people not to explain, but to seamlessly immerse people in her characters’ worlds, whose universally human struggles and considerations are ones that everybody can identify with.” The Nigerian writer is the author of one of Idia’s favorite books, Half of a Yellow Sun, a story that enabled her to discover more about her own family’s history.

 

 

Seleman Kitenge

As a Project Assistant responsible for Speech Writing in the Office of Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD, Seleman Kitenge, born in 1989 in Tanzania, is now based in Johannesburg. He was first a volunteer for the African Union (AU) in the same role for one year, before being hired in August 2020 by the AU Development Agency.

More

I’m enjoying it, he says, some of my mentors are really good”. Among them, Togolani Mavura,  Private Secretary and Speech Writer for the former President of Tanzania H.E Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, and Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki himself, who has been taking time to mentor him personally. “Since I joined AUDA-NEPAD, my mentors have been like my guardian angels and makes it a growing journey for me”, he says. 

Born in Dar es Salaam, raised by a father who is still a prominent tailor, Seleman Kitenge’s family comes from the Kigoma region, close to the Tanganyika Lake in the western part of Tanzania. His love for his country and Africa is intertwined with his personal longings. “My dreams have never changed, he says, I’ve always wanted to be a leader in either politics or diplomacy, in order to foster the development of our continent”.

Where does it come from? “This is part of my personality, and my father kept on encouraging me to read newspapers, books, and follow Tanzanian politics”. He wanted his son to understand the vision of one of the most admired African leader, Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), the father of Tanzania’s Independence. Called “Mwalimu” – “school teacher” in Kiswahili - Nyerere had a socialist vision for his country’s development and left a strong legacy.

The first trip to Russia

Seleman Kitenge could have been a singer, as he was into rap and singing in his teenage years, or a soccer player – soccer being one of his hobbies. But his parents kept pushing him into politics and diplomacy. So much so that they decided to sell a piece of land to finance his first trip abroad in July 2013. He went to Russia to follow a training program in Tver Oblast known as International Youth Forum Seliger. “This trip will help you to get more trips for free and make many friends from different parts of the world”, his father told him, foreseeing exactly what would happen next.

The young man studied Public Sector Financial Management at Tanzania Public Service College, and is a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the Open University of Tanzania. He holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management for Foreign Relations from the Center for Foreign Relations, and has also made his way through many international programs, in Azerbaijan, Japan, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Morocco, France, Crimea, and Australia to name a few.

Three were outstanding in his view. He was awarded in June 2016 an Honorary Diploma of New Leaders for Tomorrow by the Crans Montana Forum in Vienna, Austria. “One of my best experiences, as I was one of the 3 African citizens in a group of 11 young leaders selected and the first Tanzanian to receive the honor”, he recalls.

In 2018, he became one of the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders (ADEL) and came to Marrakech for a tailor-made networking and empowerment program before attending the high level international conference Atlantic Dialogues, organized by the Policy Center for the New South. There, he enjoyed the “unique blend” of the conference, “African with a taste of Europe and the Americas”, and the specific touch of the ADEL program: “We were trained as young leaders and also allowed to interact with senior leaders from AU, NATO, the UN, former Presidents and Prime ministers from all over the world”. One of the things he liked most: “Interacting with Havard and Cambridge students confidently, to engage and contribute as an equal expert on geopolitics, although my academic journey is just from local institutions”.

His third favorite program is the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), launched in 2010 by the State Department under the presidency of Barack Obama. A member of the first cohort of YALI’s East Africa Chapter in 2015, Seleman has listened to President Barack Obama in Nairobi (Kenya). He met “prestigious trainers coming from US Universities, former officials at the White House, the Department of State and even NASA”.

Dedicated to Africa’s future 

Among many other things, he has been certified by the Commonwealth Secretariat as a Trainer of Trainers on issues around Hate Speech, Human Rights, and Countering Violent Extremism as well as being named by the European Union Commission as a One Young World Peace Ambassador. As much as he may have traveled abroad, he never thought of leaving Tanzania or Africa. “There were tempting opportunities out there, but I always came back to serve my country and continent”.

His vision is the one of a whole generation : “To see Africa prosper and have an equal share at the table of global affairs. Most importantly, see Africa become fully integrated economically to create more opportunities for the youth who are the most marginalized by economic systems across the continent”.

Moreover, he hopes to see extreme poverty eradicated, in order to facilitate the continent's economic transformation. He envisions seeing youth given more opportunities at the front leadership row on social, political, and economic issues. “I believe the energy, vibrancy, and innovative nature of youth will significantly help to fast-track Africa’s development if properly utilized at the national and continental levels.”

Before AUDA-NEPAD, he worked as an Administrator and Spokesperson at the Honorary Consulate of Sierra Leone in Dar es Salaam, and as a Program Officer with the United Nations Association of Tanzania. This non-profit umbrella organization is working closely with the UN in Tanzania but is not a part of the UN system.

There, Seleman Kitenge took part in a project to accelerate youth political and economic participation across the country. “We reached over 20 000 young people in the mainland and Zanzibar, to encourage them to participate in local governments and get to know and use the grants our government is allocating to the youth, to start businesses”.

A keen reader of political essays and biographies, he mentions “The world as it is” among his favorite books, written by Ben Rhodes, the former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting under President Barack Obama (2009-2017). A man he met twice, in Kenya and France, and who gave him his book as a present. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, is one of his role models. Seleman Kitenge, an ambitious young man, would certainly like to walk in this path of greatness, “whether at the front stage or behind the scenes”.    

Jordan Kronen

Bright and open-minded, this young American has already achieved a lot at just 28 years of old. Since February 2019, he has been serving as Legislative Assistant to Democratic Senator Liz Lovelett in Olympia, Washington. “Working for a senator whose values I share is really a dream come true,” he says. He sees Liz Lovelett as a role model, since “she leads with her heart and great values, always thinking on how we can infuse equity into everything we do.

 

More

Jordan Kronen calls Washington home, as he moved there from a suburb outside Miami, Florida when he was 12. His father is a small business owner, recruiting for technology companies, and his mother a paralegal working in a law firm. But his main influence comes from his grandfather, “Poppie.” “He served in World War II in Germany and in the Pacific theater and even has a patent from his work as a member of a military commission that designed a suit to withstand both high and low temperatures for combat pilots and space travel,” explains Jordan Kronen, with beaming pride.

A Democrat grandfather

“Poppie” was also the founder of the Democratic Party chapter in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. He conveyed to his grandson a strong sense of public service: “Vocation in government means serving the people; it is both honorable work and gives meaning and a sense of purpose that is much bigger than any one person.” Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jordan also co-founded the College Democrats of Oregon, while studying Politics and Government at Pacific University.

His absolute idol, however, is no other than the late John Lewis, the famous African American civil rights activist and congressman from the state of Georgia who passed away last July. Lewis was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington against legalized segregation, voting disenfranchisement, and racial discrimination. Jordan met the non-violent freedom rider twice in 2012, when he was an intern with the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C, and later that year while working at the DNC National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’ll never forget his demeanor and grace. There are no words to express just how instrumental John Lewis was in changing the country in the face of overwhelming hatred, violence, and bigotry.

Asian experiences, interest for Africa

A thirst for exploring and learning more about the world was also mostly inspired by his grandfather’s travels throughout East Asia after World War II. Jordan made bold moves after graduating from college to gain experiences abroad. First, in 2015, he spent three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand interning for Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative. Working for this “non-profit with a long title,” Jordan aided their mission of advocating for legal ethics, strengthening the rule of law, and increasing access to justice and pro bono legal services. As a Fulbright Scholar, the following year in 2016, he taught English to schoolchildren in Bachok, a rural town in the state of Kelantan in Malaysia’s northwest peninsula. “It was the best experience of my life. Despite being forced to conceal my Jewish identity in a very conservative Islamic town, it felt most rewarding to start integrating myself in another culture and engaging in mutual understanding between our two countries.

Then, he decided to pursue an accelerated mater’s course in 2017-18 to get an M.A. in Global Affairs as a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. “It’s a very new program as I was a part of the second cohort, but it is modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. The mission of the program is to strengthen U.S-China relations, and to ensure greater collaboration and prosperity for the world as China becomes a more prominent player on the international stage”.

After discussing the opportunity with a Schwarzman Scholar from Nigeria, he applied for the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders (ADEL) Program, and came to Marrakech, Morocco in December 2019. “I applied because I became increasingly interested in the Global South and Africa, where various external actors are applying pressure on this mostly developing continent. I wrote my thesis on the China Belt and Road Initiative and how China flexes its muscles on countries in Africa, South-East Asia, and other regions within its orbit, often leading to ‘debt diplomacy’ and other undesirable outcomes. I was curious to see how African countries are responding to these pressures, and how best we can work with leaders on the African continent to be independent rather than relying on China or the U.S. With its growing young population and innovative, nascent industries, it’s really an exciting time for Africa. I met young African leaders in Marrakech, learned a great deal from them, and felt truly inspired by their example and drive.

Focusing on climate change

His current battle, now, is climate change, and how to mitigate its effects in an equitable way. He’s working on a proposal authored by Senator Liz Lovelett that is making the headlines in the United States. The Washington Sustainable, Transformative Recovery Opportunities for the Next Generation (STRONG) Act establishes an economy-wide price on carbon pollution to generate the bondable revenue needed to finance a resilient recovery and clean economy transition. The revenue generated would be invested in projects that deliver positive returns in the form of economic activity, greenhouse gas reduction, community resilience, and healthy, productive natural resource lands. The beneficiaries would be the communities most affected in Washington State, on the basis of a health disparities mapping tool created by the state’s Environmental Justice Task Force. This map shows, based on science and data, where these investments are needed the most to alleviate the burden on these frontline communities already experiencing the harmful effects of a changing climate. “This is a bold proposal that would provide a blueprint for other states and the Federal government to potentially implement,” he says.

Some of his favorite books are The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones, and the philosophical tale Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, which also embeds thematic threads of sustainability and climate change. An indelible memory of the book for Jordan is the describing of the world as a plane having run off a cliff and going downward toward its demise. Even though the vessel has all the inherent capabilities to fly and avert disaster, it continues descending on a rapidly expedient trajectory. Jordan hopes to wake up the pilot (humankind), start the engine (ingenuity and our problem-solving spirit) and begin to change course. “The sky, after all, is our only limit.”

His next step? Pursuing a concurrent degree (a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy) to better equip himself with both a solid legal foundation and policy chops to continue pursuing his climate agenda. “My goal is to play a prominent role in fighting climate change in an equitable way. People representing diverse voices from various backgrounds, industries, and perspectives must be at an inclusive table when these decisions are being made to put forth the best solutions so we can ultimately succeed together.”

Emmanuel Lubanzadio

This young German man with Congolese origins, educated in Germany, the United States and the Netherlands, has roots on three continents. He’s not only the epitomy of an Atlantic young leader – the way the Policy Center for the New South defines them – but now also a member of the 2019 ADEL cohort Alumni.

More

In January 2020 he transitioned as Head of Public Policy for Sub-Saharan Africa at Twitter. At this strategic position, he works for one of the most influential social media networks globally, but keeps a cool head and stays low key.

When asked about his personal impressions of Africa, he reminds quietly : « Every country is different, although sometimes people outside of the continent perceive Africa as one country simply because the majority of its citizens happen to be black. Africa is so rich in its beauty and diversity, in its culture, languages, ethnicities and religions ». He describes his personality as a « mixture of realism and optimism ». So when it comes to Africa as the world’s last growth frontier, he states simply : «Some parts of Africa may see deficiencies in infrastructure or healthcare, for example. While it may seem discouraging, things are absolutely progressing in that region because of the creative, strong, resilient people who reside on the continent.

The people who make Africa great are its youth and civil society in general ».

Dreams fulfilled

Emmanuel grew up in Germany in a modest Congolese family of five children. During his childhoold, his trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were few and far between, but he heard a lot about African politics, a recurrent topic at home. His first acquaintance with an African country other then the DRC happened in 2014 in Ghana, where he lived and worked for the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) on a project with the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center.

Emmanual Lubanzadio has already fulfilled many of his wishes. When he graduated from high school in Germany, he longed for a life abroad. First dream : check ! He moved to the USA in 2007, where he spent 6 years. In the U.S., he obtained a B.A. in International Relations from the Oral Roberts University (Oklahoma, USA) and a Graduate Certificate in Applied Politics from The George Washington University (USA). Then, he started to think of working in politics and applied for the Emerging Leaders Program of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and was selected to spend ten months in Washington D.C. to work in the United States Congress and the Center for International Private Enteprise (CIPE). Second dream: check ! He then moved back to Europe, obtained a M.A. in Development Studies from Maastricht University (Netherlands) and sought to learn about government relations in the private sector. This led him to join a multinational pharmaceutical company back in Germany.

African youth at heart

His last position was in the healthcare industry for the last two and a half years, working in the field of government relations. He wanted to get more insights on how to engage with policy makers, after his experiences in the US Congress and GIZ. The topics that move him most are freedom of expression, digital rights, youth unemployment and lack of perspectives for many young people. “The African continent has 200 million young people, the largest youth population in the world, he explains. This is where my heart lies, in terms of their implication in the decision making process within the realm of politics and access to ways of making a living”.

That’s partly why he applied to the ADEL program, believing that Atlantic relations do not confine to the USA and Europe alone. “There are many more countries, and the Policy Center does an amazing job in capturing that as well. The participants coming from Africa and South America gave a different perspective… ADEL does not only focus on the global self, but moreover on including people who will make decisions and influence their own societies one day. The program also gives a chance to get people who have been historically excluded and marginalized from the decision-making process a seat  at the table and the ability to discuss policy issues. I haven’t seen anything else like this !

A global citizen

Now, he would like to inspire people with his trajectory, showing that for a second generation immigrant who may not have had much, it’s still possible to “make it”. When asked about his own role models, Emmanuel Lubanzadio has to admit he “did not have any” while growing up. He enjoys reading biographies and the last one he read was the Autobiography of Malcom X, written by Alex Haley. When reflecting on role models, he points at his own parents: “I have the ultimate respect for them. They have been in a pursuit of a better life and have laid the ground work, for my siblings and I to get inspired and have opportunities.”

About identity, a hot subject in Europe in a context of rising populism, he has clear thoughts: “I am a German with roots in Africa who was educated in the United States and Europe. People like myself will often wrestle with the question of identity. I’ve known many clashes of cultures, but I am proud of my roots. I have a passion for Africa and I’m also European, combined with the optimism I took from the USA, thanks to this idea that you can be whomever you want. I find it beautiful. I’ve had this privilege that certainly defines who I am, a global citizen with roots in regions where I take the best of everything.” This young man of his time is a name to remember.

Sabine Cessou

Yassine Moustanjidi

“Out of the Eurocentric box”

This young planner and lecturer at the Departement of International Urbanism of the University of Stuttgart (Germany) spontaneously describes himself as a “Marrakchi, ambitious and curious” person. His birthplace and family’s influence matter a lot in his professional journey. Not only because the Red City is “an inspiring place for its history, architecture and culture”, but also because his grandfather was a well-established tile maker, who participated in the edification of many historical palaces in Marrakech.

More

“I was just lucky enough to be able to listen to myself when I had to make a decision”, he recalls. His choice was to study at the only public architectural school in Rabat, l’Ecole nationale d’architecture (ENA). Getting admitted there was like “winning the jackpot”, he remembers, since only 60 students are selected each year among 3,000 applications. “It was the right place, and it turned out to be great”.

On his fourth year of a six years cursus, he got a DAAD scholarship for an exchange program at the University of Technology in Berlin, where he started what was going to be his new life in Germany. There, he took part in the large research project “Future Megacities – Energy- and Climate-Efficient Structures in Urban Growth Centres”, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. The project aimed at developing sustainable urban strategies in nine cities around the world, mainly located in the global South, each having a specific topic, such as water in Lima, mobility in Shanghai or urban agriculture in Casablanca.

Megacities of the Global South

He focused on Casablanca, “a vibrant and dense city of 4 million inhabitants with scarce green spaces, where urban agriculture could be introduced as a productive green infrastructure, offering a new nexus between energy, food security, and sustainable urban development”.

Vacant plots had to be spotted, among which some 20 hectares along train tracks. A discussion was engaged with the authorities and several pilot projects were implemented. The sustainable management of the scarce water resources was at the center of these projects. One of the solutions was to introduce on-site water treatment plants in informal settlements to recycle the used water of Hammams (public baths) for urban farming and the irrigation of green spaces.

After a year in Berlin, he spent 2012 in Shanghai, a megalopolis of 25 million dwellers, where everything takes place at another scale. “I was very excited to go to China, a vibrant place, transforming very fast, with very bold ideas and daring experiments in architecture and urbanism you might not find anywhere else in the world”. There, he learned the “do’s and don’t” of the Chinese model.

Back in Berlin, he became a staff member of the project on megacities, as a coordinator until 2014. He worked on the implementation phase, testing new ideas, such as developing organic food production in a small field in Casablanca, with a corporation of 25 farmers who were trained. “We organized the food baskets to connect the farmers to the inhabitants and markets, which led to a 200% to 300% increase of the farmers’ income”.

Out of the Eurocentric Box

He remembers the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program fondly, being selected in 2015 to what he describes as one of the “less Eurocentric” leadership programmes he has ever attended. “It brings you tremendous energy, space for inspiration, networking and learning. You meet all these brilliant minds and energetic people from the Global South, from all sectors, who take you out of your bubble”. The ADEL program was short in his view, “but the network was way stronger afterwards”.

Among his favorite readings, he mentions Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, “a brief history of human kind with interesting perspectives, on digitalization and how human beings are using their transformative power to change nature”. He reflects on the impact of digitalization on urbanity, a big topic under the Covid-19 pandemic. The latter has uncovered huge spatial inequalities in cities, and calls for the rethinking of urbanity, public space, and above all encourages us to establish a more inclusive and environment-friendly urban model.

Besides these new lines of reflection, his dream is “to  be able to make a difference in terms of highlighting or recontextualizing urban planning in the Global South, putting the spotlight on culture of planning. City planning has unfortunately been a strong vehicle to impose a Eurocentric model and a one-sided understanding of modernity.  However, there is a lot that can be learnt from the flexibility and the resilience of cities in the Global South, and the way they cope with urban issues”.

Dubai, in his view, is the perfect example of how one should deconstruct the impact of the Eurocentric perspective on how a “modern city should look like”. “This view is rooted in New York, Tokyo, Singapour, but we have to redefine what sustainable progress is… It’s a bit superficial to think about the tallest skyscraper or the most transparent facade as sign of progress. The city is a space where culture matters, and I’m not sure that with replicating Dubai in Ghana, for instance, you don’t widen this gap between who we are and the kind of image that is forced on us. Every place has its context, its history and has to develop its own image and imagination. That model is not universal.” Sabine Cessou

Vicky Ngari

“Your environment, an opportunity for skills”

Born in Kenya, Vicky Ngari reluctantly followed her mother in the United Kingdom when she was 10. She didn’t want to leave Nairobi, where she nurtured as a child a fascination for clothes, garments and dancing. As the years passed, she never severed ties with Kenya, nor Africa.

More

In Brighton and London, she studied Film and TV, then creative writing, majoring in sociology and journalism. She realized during her first year at University that she could learn a lot out of experience, besides theorical knowledge in the classroom. « On the ground, I taught myself how to network », she says. At the time, she had two part-time jobs, working as a receptionist and at a gym. There, she discussed so much about styling with a fashion designer who came to exercise, that she got invited on a shoot.

While at University, she became a beauty queen, first as Miss Kenya in 2008 and then as Miss East Africa in 2009, insisting on wearing African inspired dresses she designed herself. She became an assistant stylist with Claire Watson, a freelance in demand, and kept on learning on the ground. « One time, Claire was overbooked and had to throw me to a deep end, a shooting for a tabloïd magazine. I had an idea of a set reminding ancient Greece, but the editor walked in and said : « No, we don’t do Greek gods here, take this out ». I learned that you have to listen to what the editors say and to think about the target audience ».

African style, education, opportunities

She was already convinced that the African style was not seen in fashion the way it should. During a Fashion week in London, she was looked upon as an UFO, because of her flashy African prints. But she wasn’t distracted. « People in Africa wear prints all the time ! I still think we are not penetrating further the industry, in terms of what African fashion means, culturally and socially. It has a lot do to with heritage and spirituality. Our ancestors wore certain colors to communicate their intentions. When I design my bag, for instance, I go back to traditional messages of baskets, hand woven and naturally dyed with tree bark ».

Her beauty queen status got her invited to many talks and platforms, such as the One Goal Campaign before the soccer World Cup in South Africa in 2010, or the Unleash Innovation Lab in Denmark in 2017, initiated by the United Nations to gather 1000 change-makers Milleniums. She fell in love with the concept of social entrepreurship and the topic of education. “I was sitting in rooms full of white men in suits, discussing the future of African youth. And I’m sorry, but Africa doesn’t need just aid or money, but opportunities. The African youth must be included and be part of the solution”.

To work from the ground in rural communities

She took action. In 2016, she launched the educational program Good Ambition, the basis of an App she is working on, named “Skilledit”. “The idea is to tackle opportunity for young people and women in all the areas who lack financial and social advance, to be able to see their own environment as a place to skill themselves”. She went to rural communities in Kenya, gathering them as sustainable manufacturers. The “Rural Retail” platform has gathered 350 young people so far, helping her producing bags for her brand, “Vicky Ngari”. 

As a young leader, she came to Marrakesh in 2017 to attend the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program, and was proud to “fit in an arena where you can actually bring your contribution in terms of creative thinking, and get support. Creative thinking, in my view, comes naturally and serves as lateral thinking to solution, like the little boy who says “deflate the tyres”, when a truck is stuck in a tunnel and experts struggle to get it out.” 

This young lady, who loves nature, herbs and plants, is also a keen reader of mythology. Her dream? “To work in cultural diplomacy to help build more aligned education systems for creative industries with Indigenous sustainable practises.  Growing a successful fashion brand and technology tool as my demonstration, ultimately starting my own schools in nature”. As she defines it, it just looks like the intertwined leads of her personal basket.

Pages