Good evening, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues. On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, it is an honor to welcome you here tonight, especially our 2014 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows and our partners at the International Youth Foundation (IYF) who undertook, in partnership with USAID, a nation-wide youth assessment. This is a night to celebrate the future of our two countries as we gather together to wish our 2014 YALI fellows well on their visit to the United States and look forward to their continued accomplishments here in the DRC after their return.
During his trip to Africa last summer, President Obama called on Africa’s youth to seek opportunity for investment, partnership and influence and suggested that “the world will be watching what decisions you make.” He also expressed his strong support for YALI which this summer will bring 500 young African leaders—12 from the Congo–to the United States for leadership training and mentoring, and will create unique opportunities in Africa to put those new skills to practical use in propelling economic growth and prosperity, as well as in strengthening democratic institutions. YALI isn’t just about select leaders having an opportunity to go to the United States. It is about recognizing the power of young people to make a positive difference in their communities.
I want to take a brief moment to discuss the YALI process that took place here in the DRC. While the Embassy was conducting YALI outreach we had little sense of how popular this program would be. We were expecting, if we were lucky, 400 applications. When the numbers came back we were stunned: 1,011 applicants from all corners of the DRC. This number demonstrates just how many determined youth there are throughout the DRC who crave the opportunity to lead and work with likeminded people for change.
The twelve finalists that stand here with us tonight include, among others, an entrepreneur who founded the first waste management company in Goma, an artist who uses rap music to spread awareness about violence against women and two members of the Prime Minister’s office who represent the new generation of public management in the Congo. These twelve represent a diversity of ambitions and experiences but they all have one thing in common: they all possess genuine skills of leadership and potential, as well as a true dedication to give back to their communities. I thank you all for your extraordinary sense of service and congratulate you on your selection in this highly rigorous competition.
This year’s YALI selection is particularly significant, because it coincides with the U.S.-African Leaders Summit to be held in Washington, D.C. August 5-6. In the last few weeks, I have had an opportunity to discuss both YALI and the Summit with Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield. Let me assure you that both initiatives are top priorities for the U.S. Government’s Africa Policy.
I hope that all of our guests this evening will take the opportunity to meet our broader YALI community in attendance tonight, which includes both finalists and alumni of the YALI programs of the past several years. You can think of this group as an incubator for new, innovative ideas, devoted to taking on the challenges of 21st century Congo.
Again, congratulations to our fellows. Both tonight and in the days ahead, know that the United States is eager to partner with you, to support you, and to engage you as you build the future of this great country. Thank you and good luck!