In the spring of 2014, Meridian International Center will begin the implementation of the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program for Zambia and Zimbabwe. Beginning in May 2014, the program aims to bring 24 professionals to the U.S. from Zambia and Zimbabwe in two cohorts to introduce them to American business, entrepreneurial, and marketing practices that they can later implement in their home countries. The program incorporates a 3-week fellowship with an American business or NGO based in Denver, CO, or Charlotte, NC, as well as skills-based workshops, and culminates with a Professional Fellows Conference in Washington, DC. The participants will also benefit from a reciprocal two-week visit from eight American counterparts to Zambia and Zimbabwe in 2015.
The Professional Fellow’s Program was generated from a Department of State grant that includes several program initiatives and goals, and was supported by the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) for Africa based in Lusaka, WorldDenver, and the International House of Metrolina, Inc.,. By bringing 24 emerging business leaders from Zambia and Zimbabwe, the program aims to strengthen the participants’ knowledge of American business practices, giving them expertise they can utilize in their respective countries. The program aspires to build professional networks in the U.S. for participants, as well as fortify their project development skills. To ensure program participants reap the most benefits from their five-week stay, business partners will be chosen based on excellence in their field and ability and willingness to act as mentors. Businesses must also provide concrete end goals for participants, such as a project which must be accomplished by the end of the fellowship or a mission that relates closely to the participant’s professional and personal goals. Program partners who demonstrate the most enthusiasm and receive nominations from their African counterparts will be chosen to participate in a reciprocal visit to Zimbabwe and Zambia – a tour that will include speaking opportunities at universities, community centers, and local businesses.
The main objective of the multi-faceted Economic Empowerment Program is to encourage African participants to implement skills and practices they obtain in the U.S. once they return to their home countries. Many of the chosen participants already have goals in mind for both their U.S. fellowship and their subsequent return to Africa. Mbozi Tatila, for example, plans on bettering her accounting skills in the U.S., as well as familiarizing herself with American accounting standards in order to elevate her business’s international standing. Upon her return, Mbozi hopes to develop a small-scale pig farm and circulate her newly cultivated business knowledge to her town where unemployment rates continue to rest at high levels. Other participants, like Kayula Mulenga, plan on creating small businesses to help the unemployment rate in their towns. Kayula owns a beekeeping and honey production plant in town, and hopes his experiences in the U.S. will allow him to expand this business to offer more opportunities to local farmers.
Nonto Masuku is another participant who is planning on impacting her town through local business by inspiring women in her community to expand or create enterprises of their own. Upon her return, Nonto intends to develop job and business trainings exclusively for females. She also plans on creating a mentorship program and women’s business network to build the support system she believes the town is lacking and is consequently keeping many of her female counterparts from joining the business community. Moreblessing Sigauke likewise aims to empower the women in her community. By learning more about the microfinance model whilst in the U.S., she will be able to expand her already existing rural women’s savings plan and enable more women to enter into business.
By enabling business-owners in the U.S. to impact small towns in Africa, the Economic Empowerment Professional Fellows Program will show the global reach of business, as well as the power of sharing best-practices within sectors. The core idea behind this project—as well as all other programs implemented by Meridian—is that the benefits from cultural and leadership exchange often surpass the original goals of any program. The partnerships and alliances created as a result of the Economic Empowerment Professional Fellows Program will not only work to strengthen small businesses and enterprises in Africa, but in the U.S. as well. The sharing of different cultures and business best practices is an eye-opening and opportunity-building experience for all involved, and speaks to the value of Meridian’s programming.