UW-Madison selected to host Young African Leaders in summer 2017

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Mandela Fellows Apolmida Tsammani and Abigail Nedziwe pose for a photo after receiving their certificates of completion of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. (Photo by Meagan Doll.)

This story appeared first on the UW-Madison International Division website.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will again host 25 of Africa’s emerging leaders in in June for a six-week public management academic and leadership institute, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

UW–Madison is among 38 universities selected to host the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). For the second time, UW-Madison’s African Studies Program will organize the institute, aimed at empowering young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking to promote peace and prosperity on the African continent.

Of over 64,000 applications, the Mandela Washington Fellows at UW–Madison are among 1,000 fellows coming to institutions across the United States. At the end of their program, all of the fellows will gather in Washington, D.C., for a closing summit.

“Hosting a group of fellows last summer was a fantastic experience; it was a pleasure to engage with such a dynamic group of entrepreneurial global leaders,” said Aleia McCord, associate director of the African Studies Program. “We look forward to welcoming another cohort of Africa’s best and brightest to Wisconsin.”

2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship at UW-Madison from African Studies at UW-Madison on Vimeo.

Working closely with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational Affairs and its implementing partner, IREX, UW–Madison has designed a 2017 institute with programming to both challenge and empower the young African leaders. Fellows will not only participate in academic sessions hosted by university faculty experts, but will also volunteer with local nonprofit organizations, meet with federal and state officials, and explore the meaning of public management and local governance in communities around Wisconsin.

The 2016 fellows forged lasting relationships with the Wisconsinites they met, leading to several sustained collaborations, McCord said, pointing specifically to several ongoing initiatives.

Rashida Nakabuga, a 2016 fellow from Uganda, worked with UW-Madison’s International Internship Program (IIP) to cultivate a Uganda-based production and marketing internship for UW undergraduate students. Nakabuga helped establish the internship with National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises Limited (NUCAFE), and the first UW student will participate this summer.

“The Mandela fellows are ambitious, successful and very well-connected in their home countries,” said Carly Stingl, IIP advisor and program coordinator. “Rashida is very interested in continuing the cultural collaboration she began in Madison. We are also very excited about this opportunity and hope to keep working together to potentially develop more.”

2016 Nigerian fellow and medical doctor Obinna Ebirim met Brad Paul, an associate scientist at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, at a community reception during the Mandela Washington Fellowship. Today, they are working to implement a program evaluation approach in Nigeria’s primary health sector. The approach, first implemented by Paul during agriculture research Mozambique, is called “Field Diaries” and features the daily journals as a tool to measure needs and development impact.

Ebirim recommended this type of mutual collaboration as an especially rewarding part of the larger Mandela Washington Fellowship, advising future fellows to “pick a project you’re trying to implement and take advantage of the opportunities around you.”

More recently, Sicily Mburu, a 2016 fellow from Kenya, partnered with UW Hospital nurse clinician Susan Gold to secure a Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Award. The award grants up to $5,000 in funding to support projects between fellows and American professionals they met during the fellowship. In the coming year, Mburu and Gold will together provide training through a developed curriculum on HIV/AIDS to nearly 60 young people in Kenya.

These lasting connections illustrate the value of the Mandela Washington Fellowship by facilitating local-global understanding, McCord said.

“The Mandela Washington Fellowship is really an opportunity to invest in international cooperation,” McCord said. “And we are excited to be a part of that venture a second time.”

The African Studies Program is seeking volunteers to engage with fellows, as well as local organizations interesting in offering tours or other collaborative ventures. To learn more or get involved, contact Meagan Doll at yali@africa.wisc.edu.

The African Studies Program is a Title VI National Resource Center within UW-Madison’s Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). IRIS is a unit of the International Division at UW–Madison.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

IREX/U.S. State Department Press Release: https://www.irex.org/news/top-us-colleges-and-universities-host-young-african-leaders

2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship video:https://vimeo.com/197923235

General 2016 MWF Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uw-madisonafrica/albums/72157672129018973

2016 MWF Columbus, Wis. Visit album:https://www.flickr.com/photos/uw-madisonafrica/albums/72157669966895330

By Steven Barcus, International Division/ February 17, 2017    

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UW students lead comprehensive study on poverty in southern Wisconsin

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This story was posted first on the Morgridge Center for Public Service website.

Swetha Saseedhar spent a large part of the last year talking with dozens of people in southern Wisconsin struggling against poverty. And as she listened intently, her mind also went to her own family’s story half a world away.

The UW-Madison senior is an immigrant from India. Before coming to America, Saseedhar says her parents and grandparents all lived in a one-bedroom home as they worked to make ends meet—which sounded like many stories she was now hearing in southern Wisconsin.

Over the last 18 months, Saseedhar has been part of a team of UW-Madison students assembling a Community Needs Assessment for the Community Action Coalition (CAC) of Southern Wisconsin — a community action agency serving Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha counties. The team met with over 275 people in communities across the three counties to better understand economic struggles and what policy solutions might help.

But despite the many layers of difficulty Saseedhar and her team uncovered, she says just like her own family, she found that people refuse to give up.

“A lot of them talked about their stories of resilience,” said Saseedhar, a Biology, French and Global Health sudent. “That really sticks with me, because I’m an immigrant from India. And my family had been struggling economically until a few years ago, so that was a connection I have with them.”

Community action agencies are organizations established under the Economic Opportunity Act of of 1964 to fight America’s “War on Poverty.” Every three years, these organizations (about 1,000 across the country) are required to complete a community needs assessment.

UW-Madison senior Jarjeh Fang led the student team completing the CAC’s Community Needs Assessment. His junior year, he had sent an email to the CAC’s executive director asking if there were any volunteer opportunities. Fang, who’s studying Neurobiology and Political Science, got a response back that they had a needs assessment that needed to get done.

“And I said, that sounds gruesome and grueling,” said Fang. “I don’t have any background in community-based research, and this is really not something I have expertise in.” But he couldn’t shake the idea.

“A week later I came back and said, no, I’d really like I think to do this.”

Fang, Saseedhar, three other undergraduate students and two graduate students formed the assessment team. They set out to learn more about poverty in Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha counties. But they also knew they wanted the assessment to be more than a document on a shelf.

“We wanted to sort of push that a little bit,” said Fan. “Try to do something with it.”

So Fang and Saseedhar applied for and were awarded a Wisconsin Idea Fellowshipby the Morgridge Center for Public Service to support the development of an action plan based on the assessment’s findings.

“People share their stories with you with the expectation that things will change and that you’ll do something with it,” Fang said. “And when that doesn’t happen, the relationship becomes exploitative, and we wanted to avoid that.”

Before they could develop solutions though, they had to better understand the issues. The team drove across the three counties, holding 20 focus groups and asking people to share deeply personal stories about economic struggles.

“A lot of these people were really willing to help, and they cared a lot about their communities,” said Saseedhar. “And they shared these very personal stories with us and trusted us to use these stories to actually create change.”

Although poverty is down overall in Wisconsin since the end of the Great Recession, the poverty rate in Dane County still stands at 11.4%, in Jefferson County: 9.3% and in Waukesha County: 4.5%. And those numbers all represent thousands of real stories.

“They have a preconceived idea of who I am. They judge me with one glance… it holds you back,” a woman experiencing homelessness in Waukesha County told the group.

Many shared how poverty impacted their children and the time they were able to give to their children.

“All I do is work, but if I don’t work, we don’t make it. And there isn’t enough time for them,” confided one Dane County mother, through tears.

One man had recently found permanent housing, but now said her felt isolated from the community he had when homeless. His isolation, a common thread for many in the focus groups, had led to despair. The man said his dog was his only companion and once his dog died, he didn’t think he would have the will to keep living.

“On the car ride back, all of us sort of sat in silence because we didn’t really know what to do with that information,” said Fang, reflecting.

Findings

When focus group interviews concluded, the team used the qualitative data as well as additional quantitative data to put together a list of seven key findings on poverty in Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha Counties:

  1. Housing system favors landlords and tenants with higher incomes
  2. Participants face difficulty reaching jobs and community resources because of limited transportation options
  3. Those facing hardship are socially isolated and excluded from the broader community
  4. There’s a Lack of awareness or access to programs and services for which they are eligible
  5. Hardship has led to mental illness and substance abuse
  6. Low wages and insufficient work hours prevented people from making ends meet
  7. Children became the focus of nearly every conversation

But gathering information wasn’t enough. Fang says many participants let them know they felt like they only ever saw people asking about their lives once every three years; Many said they never saw solutions to their problems.

The team published a 62-page Community Needs Assessment that included a list of recommendations, a foundation for Fang and Saseedhar’s action plan. Recommended programs and policies include:

  • Peer-navigator groups
  • Establish year-round outreach efforts
  • Strengthen coordination and data-sharing between partners
  • Update CAC’s internal data collection
  • Continue CAC Clothing Center
  • Continue providing housing-related service

Using funding from their Wisconsin Idea Fellowship, Fang and Saseedhar are particularly interested in working with groups of community leaders to develop a model for peer navigator groups.

The cohort-based model supports people who have themselves experienced poverty to act as navigators for others facing similar difficulties. The navigators guide others through the often complicated systems, identify available programs and create a community of support.

Fang and Saseedhar also recently presented the assessment to US Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office.

The pair, who will both graduate this spring, say the assessment was both challenging and rewarding. And their hope is the effort of their team and the hundreds who shared their stories in focus groups can catalyze new solutions and policies.

“It was important for us to show that this wasn’t going to be just a one-time thing,” said Saseedhar. “That this research project was actually going to hopefully turn into a bigger project that would involve these communities.”

By Mark Bennett, Morgridge Center for Public Service/ February 15, 2017

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UniverCity Alliance covers Habitat III

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This week is Habitat III Conference, a global summit on housing and sustainable urban development. UniverCity Alliance will be providing updates on the event, celebrating the work of our #Habitat3 partners from Mexico, Ecuador and Ethiopia, as well as the work of University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Shawn Kelly.

For coverage of and commentary on the event, information about the UniverCity Alliance Project and related projects, and updates on the activities of UW-Madison affiliates who will be in Quito for the conference, follow along at http://univercity.wisc.edu/category/habitatiii/

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