On Thursday, 25 Mandela Fellows will visit Manning as part of a six-week experience in the United States.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a nationwide program of the U.S. State Department.
“They bring 700 to 1,000 young, already successful, business leaders from nations in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Lance Noe, who is a faculty member and the director of the Center for Professional Studies in the College of Business and Public Administration at Drake University in Des Moines.
The Mandela Fellows are split among 20 to 25 universities across the country where they spend six weeks studying.
The program members visiting Manning this week are studying business and entrepreneurship at Drake.
“There are 700 studying in the U.S. this summer,” Noe said. “We have 25 at Drake and the University of Iowa has 25. There are two or three different areas of emphasis.”
The program has several goals.
“From the U.S. perspective, it’s investing in young people who have already proved they’re successful – lawyers, doctors, businesspeople, engineers, etc. – and offering them a unique experience to come and study and engage with other successful people in the United States,” he said.
“They (State Department staff) see that as a good thing to help to more quickly build capacity in these nations in Africa. This is the kind of investment that the U.S. wants to make with nations that are on the cusp of becoming more and more successful.”
The population of Africa is about to explode, Noe said.
“From a U.S. perspective, this is where the growth in population and the markets in the next 50 years is going to be,” he said.
Researchers at Corteva Agriscience believe that as many as 100 million people will be moving into a working class/middle class lifestyle in sub-Saharan Africa in the near future, Noe said.
“That means their diet is going to change dramatically and they are going to be a fantastic market for ag technology and agricultural products,” he said.
Drake University sets up an elaborate program to engage the Mandela Fellows.
“They have traditional classroom stuff with Drake professors,” Noe said. “They also do a lot of site visits. We meet with different companies and nonprofits in the Des Moines metro and beyond.”
The fellows will spend half a day at a company like Corteva or with a healthcare organization such as Methodist Hospital or at a nonprofit like Habitat for Humanity.
“They learn how we do things in the Midwest,” he said. “These are things they can take back with them and see if they can apply to their own communities.”
Noe said the school made an effort to take the fellows out of the Des Moines metro area.
“We took the group down to Honey Creek (Resort) in southeast Iowa where they could see how government and for-profits and rural communities can develop a destination place for recreation,” Noe said. “Several of the fellows are into eco-tourism, which they think is something that Africa has a chance to offer.”
Drake chose Manning for one of the excursions because a professor at the school previously worked with the town on a project.
“We see Manning as a really fantastic small community that has done some incredible things developing their community,” he said.
The group will spend the whole day in Manning.
“We’ll learn how Manning redid their downtown strip, what some of their strategies were for that and while we’re there we will do some community service with their park,” he said.
Other activities will include lunch at a downtown restaurant and visits to several local farms.
“They’ll get to see what a large row crop farming operation is, which is something they are very anxious to learn about,” Noe said.
They will also see a farmstead with hobby animals for a look at the rural Iowa lifestyle.
“It’s important to see how rural Iowa works because a lot of these nations in Africa have rural areas and they are trying to figure out how to make that transition as the populations move from rural areas to urban areas, just like is happening in the U.S.,” Noe said.
Showing how a rural area can adapt to new technologies is another goal of the Manning visit, he said.
“Here we have a small population and they have done all these fantastic things to build capacity and make it a really wonderful living environment that is attractive to a lot of people,” Noe said. “Our fellows really need to see how that works.”