“If I can do it, you can do it.”
That was the message philanthropist and nationally recognized entrepreneur John Pappajohn shared with the 2017 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows in Des Moines last week.
The fellows are among 1,000 individuals from sub-Saharan African countries (chosen from a pool of more than 40,000 applicants) who were selected to visit numerous colleges and universities across the United States. Members of the group visiting the University of Iowa come from 18 countries and various backgrounds.
The Iowa group arrived in Iowa City June 16 and will leave July 31 for a four-day summit in Washington, D.C. During their six weeks in Iowa, the fellows are learning how the American economy works, as well as the basics of starting and operating their own business.
The 25 fellows participating in the UI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) 2017 program, along with this year’s Drake University fellows, traveled to Des Moines last week to hear John Pappajohn’s story of overcoming adversity, the power of positivity, and the importance of having a mindset of success.
“I think having Mr. Pappajohn sharing his entrepreneurial journey with the fellows is always the highlight of the YALI program because he started exactly like them: with nothing,” says Dimy Doresca, director of the UI Institute for International Business. “We have strong faith that our fellows will take what they’ve learned at the UI to make their lives and the lives of their people better.”
Pappajohn surprised the YALI fellows with a product from his Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competition: the KinSol Orenda. The Orenda is a food dehydrator each fellow will take back to his or her home country in an effort to reduce food waste.
“The program helps build a relationship that thinks more on a global scale, which helps us to connect and build relationships in Africa,” says JPEC Event Coordinator Kate McKenzie. “The UI being a host university shows the fellows that Iowa is doing big things. We’re entrepreneurs. We’re being innovative. We’re creating jobs.”
The fellows concluded their day in the state’s capital with a tour of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, where they learned about leaders who are advocating for a sustainable and nutritious food supply for all people.
Dr. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, of Nigeria, was recognized as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate.
“It inspires me to know that Mr. Adesina has won the World Food Prize,” says Ucheoma Udoha, a Nigerian YALI fellow. “It’s inspires me knowing that anyone can get anywhere. No matter where you’re from, you can do great things. Knowing a Nigerian is recognized at that level, it’s inspiring.”
Many fellows have started agricultural businesses growing rice, mushrooms, livestock, and fish. Some have founded schools or other educational organizations to provide better futures for their country’s children. They work in the food and beverage industry, consulting, marketing, journalism, and information technology. One is a beekeeper. One is a veterinarian. One owns a beauty parlor and spa. Twelve work in health care.
Lucy Amaniyo is a doctor in Mukono, Uganda, where her private medical clinic serves a population of 120,000 and focuses on pediatric care.
“This program is very diverse,” says Amaniyo. “We come from different backgrounds. We come from different countries. We come from different cultures. We work in different fields, and we’ve been given different opportunities to explore our passions.”
The YALI fellows have traveled across the state, visiting the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, an organic farm near Davenport, and an Amish farm near Kalona. They visited large Iowa businesses, such as Rockwell Collins and ACT, as well as small enterprises, touring the Bereskin art gallery in Davenport.
They’ve learned about finance, accounting, negotiations, global supply-chain logistics, and organizational structure.
“I have learned a lot and will take what I have learned back to my country,” says Seesio Koetlisi of Berea, Lesotho. “We are one of the least developed countries in Africa, and I hope to take what I’ve learned here in Iowa back to help my home.”