Emerging leaders learn about business and social good during central Indiana visit

A poor community in the Nigerian city of Lagos, Makoko is called the “Venice of Africa.” Many residents of the impoverished community live on water: Their homes are on water; they go to school and to church on water. It’s here that Emmanuel Agunze, a social worker and activist for youth, started what he calls the Makoko Dream, a program designed to help increase literacy of children living in slums.

To help more children gain access to school, Agunze started what he calls the first school bus on water in Nigeria. Without this transportation, he says, many can’t get to school.

“We want to create a balance for children in slums who aren’t educated or who aren’t in school to skill up,” explained Agunze. “We want to empower the youth and, in turn, empower community members to make Makoko a better place.”

Emmanuel Agunze, far left, and Blaise Traore, far right, work on a simulation while in a business workshop during their time at IUPUI.

Agunze is just one of two dozen emerging leaders from sub-Saharan Africa visiting central Indiana as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

The program, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, equips leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 through academic coursework, leadership training and networking. They earned spots in the fellowship program through accomplishments and innovation in their respective communities.

Indiana University is an institute partner for the fellowship program and is hosting the Mandela Fellows for a six-week academic and leadership institute throughout central Indiana. These 25 emerging leaders are a smaller cohort from the 700 fellows hosted at universities and colleges across the nation this summer. At the end of their six week academic components, they’ll meet in Washington, DC for a summit featuring networking and panel discussions with U.S. leaders from public, private and non-profit sectors.

Mandela Washington Fellows, emerging leaders from sub-Saharan Africa, work on a computer simulation during a business workshop at IUPUI.  

Todd Roberson, senior lecturer in finance at the Kelley School of Business, is among the faculty working with the fellows during their IUPUI visit.

“It’s important for everyone to have some degree of business acumen,” explained Roberson. “A number of these young leaders are interested in founding their own enterprises, or they have done so already.

“From this workshop, I hope to demonstrate that you can’t have social impact without commercially viable enterprises. Making money and doing good things are not mutually exclusive. If you want to do good things, you do have to create commercial value.”

“I’ve been running the Makoko Dream as a nonprofit, and there’s a big gap right now in funding, which may not be sustainable. I’ve learned from this course that you can do good while making money, which will help me in the long run,” said Agunze.

Blaise Traore is a medical doctor specialized in public health and nutrition in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. He’s been a project manager for the humanitarian aid organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for years.

“The sustainability aspect is something that is challenging for our projects. I want the project I’m leading now to be sustainable not only for the current target population, but also for future generations. That’s why I’m here on this fellowship. I hope to learn more and to bring this knowledge back with me to my daily work,” said Traore.

Traore says he’s also learned much about being a leader.

“As a senior project manager, I used to say that a good leader should be a leader anywhere, anytime and in spite of anyone. But because of the team and trust-building session at Bradford Woods with the fellows, I changed my mind. My slogan is now: A good leader must be aware of what he knows and what he doesn’t. I will keep this in my mind for my entire life.”

I think business impacts peoples’ lives in ways they don’t think about.