By Adepoju Jaiyeoba

Congratulations again to all those who made it into the 2017 cohort of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

I know you are super excited at this opportunity and I absolutely feel your excitement. However, understand that, as with every opportunity, the MWF is what you make of it…

Without the right strategies, the MWF, despite your best intentions may end up being just a trip to the US with little or nothing to show except the nice pictures you took and change of cloth in your wardrobe.

Today, I’ve taken a look back at my experience as a 2014 Fellow and itemised the key points from that experience which you may hopefully find useful…

1. Draw up a plan and a goal- On the second day we arrived the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, my goal was very clear in my mind. I wanted business knowledge, background experience in global health as well as funding to fully kick off Mothers Delivery Kit. I paid attention to opportunities in this regard and was able to acquire business knowledge at the University of Texas at Austin, background experience in global health at the United Nations Foundation, and seed funding from the United States African Development Foundation (USADF).

Without a goal in mind, any destination will be satisfactory to you and not having a goal makes you susceptible to being tossed around by anything and everything.

As you leave the fellowship at the end of your program, you need to be able to benchmark yourself against something. Often times, that benchmark is the goal we have previously set for ourselves.

On the second day we arrived the University of Texas, I remember sitting at a table with Florence Kamaitha from Kenya where she discussed her goals for the fellowship. She wanted to acquire knowledge on fundraising and successfully raise funds for her business at the end of the fellowship. Needless to say, she achieved both.

So ask yourself sincerely, what do you really want from this fellowship? It is only when you know what you are looking for that you can identify it when you see it.

This is your own reality show, live it well…

2. Perfect your pitch – During the fellowship, you will meet countless people who will be interested in learning more about your work. It wouldn’t matter that you have just finished telling one person about your work, others will still be super eager to learn about it which is why you need to get your pitch on point.

Get a 30seconds, 1minute version and 5minutes version of your pitch. If you need help with preparing your pitch, here’s a link to the video I did on pitching

I hope you find it useful.

3. Network – Without doubt, you will receive countless business cards from the numerous people you will meet in the course of the fellowship. Don’t just accumulate those cards. Reach out to each one of them.

I recall how my roommate, Chola Lungu-Mutoni, and I will go through the business cards received at the end of the day and group them into categories. We typically consider:

a. Who can help us advance our cause?
b. Who can introduce us to some other people that can help us out?
c. Who to just say hello to because they were just so very nice and kind to us.
d. Who we have some synergy with and we can likely partner.

You can develop your own categories.

If you took a photo with any of the people you have categorised, don’t forget to include it in the email to help them remember you.

4. Share learnings with us all – One truth stands sure, all the youths in Africa cannot be selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship but everyone can attend the fellowship through you and the learnings you share.

Do not keep the learnings you acquire to yourself. Those who didn’t make will be looking to find out what the fellows are up to and the lessons they can glean from them to make their work better. Even old fellows will also be curious to find out what has changed as well as specific advancement and learnings in their field.

Share. Share. Share.

5. Sharpen your interpersonal relationship skills – Over the years, I’ve learnt that an excellent interpersonal relationship skill is necessary to fully utilise opportunities such as the MWF.

A key part of this skill is humility. Humility will help you understand that

a. You are not better than everyone else.
b. Your knowledge, however expanded is limited.
c. Everyone is a work in progress. That person you are looking down on is not at his or her permanent destination yet.

Remember, it takes humility to learn…

6. General Tip- Visits to museums, shopping, hiking, swimming, checking up on old friends and long lost relations are things that will definitely come to mind during your stay in the US. Do everything in moderation. Travel light when going too. Don’t be like Mots Kgomotso Tabane who eventually had to sell off some of her cloths when we were leaving Texas. 
Never even for one moment forget the real reason you are there. Strive not to get carried away. The 200 USD cost for excess or overweight luggage is real! The alternative will be to trash the items at the airport.

Again I’m excited at your selection and I’m certain even those not selected will find these tips helpful.

All the very best fellow fellows.

Enjoy your time in the US.