For the next seven days, the City of Williamsburg will be a hub for young international civil leaders.
The College of William & Mary is hosting 25 members of the Mandela Fellowship, the flagship program in President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
YALI seeks to train emerging leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa in civics and leadership to effect positive change in their home countries.
The fellows participate in leadership training, public policy seminars and mentorship programs with William & Mary faculty and Williamsburg government leaders during their 10-day stop in the Historic Triangle, which concludes July 30.
The educational sessions were developed by the Presidential Precinct, a partnership between the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland, William Short’s Morven and William & Mary.
The 25 African leaders staying in Williamsburg are part of a larger cohort of 500 Mandela Washington Fellows being hosted across the U.S. this summer.
The Mandela Washington Fellows come from different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and represent a variety of professions. Some work as independent journalists, some as international relief volunteers and some as human rights advocates.
Their interests also vary. Roselyne Sachiti wants to boost the free press in her home country of Zimbabwe. Fernanda Carla Lobato is creating an internet forum where citizens of Mozambique can express their grievances to the government. Hlayisani Nkhwashu of South Africa organizes art and music shows to unite conflicting groups.
The fellows’ visit officially kicked off Monday night with a reception at the Reves Center for International Studies on the William & Mary campus.
The fellows, who work as independent journalists, aid workers and human rights activists in their home countries, mingled with local leaders, including Mayor Clyde Haulman, Councilwoman Judy Knudson and William & Mary faculty.
Stephen Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center, welcomed the attendees, and emphasized the college’s increasing African presence.
“Africa is quickly building as our primary focus for development,” Hanson said.
This year marks the second time William & Mary has hosted the Mandela Washington Fellows, and it continues a legacy of international connections developed by the Reves Center for more than 20 years.
The Reves Center was created in 1989, made possible by a multi-million dollar gift from Wendy Reves in memory of her late husband, Emery. Emery Reves was a Hungarian-born writer and publisher and wrote anti-Nazi propaganda during World War II.
After the war, Emery Reves wrote a book, The Anatomy of Peace, which made the case for greater government cooperation among countries as the best way to prevent future world wars.
After her husband’s death in 1981, Wendy Reves began looking for a way to continue her husband’s legacy. She donated $3 million to William & Mary in 1989 to support and promote the internationalization of learning, teaching research and community involvement at the college, and initiating the creation of the Reves Center.
Wendy Reves died in 2007 and is interred on the William & Mary campus.
Since the center’s creation in 1989, it has worked to increase William & Mary’s connection to the international community by send its students abroad and brining foreign students to Williamsburg.
Hanson, a Russian specialist who came to William & Mary in 2011, compared the center’s functions to a three-legged stool. The first leg operates the college’s study abroad programs for U.S. students, the second coordinates programs for international students, and the third works with researchers at international institutions.
Some of those programs, like study abroad, have a direct effect on the college, but Hanson said the center’s influence extends to the Williamsburg community.
“We have always trained great global leaders, Thomas Jefferson included, so we’re only building on a 322-year-old legacy,” Hanson said. “Globalization is important to us, but that also matters to Williamsburg.”
Data provided by the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs shows Virginia’s First Congressional District, which encompasses William & Mary, gained 377 jobs and more than $22.8 million in economic impact through the presence of 714 international students in the 2013-2014 academic year.
Hanson said the forces of globalization were transforming William & Mary and connecting it to the international community, and the Reves Center was doing its part in guiding that development.
“We now see our mission as not only involving [the International Relations and Global Studies] programs, but everyone else on campus,” Hanson said.
Hanson added that transformation would have an impact on Williamsburg, as well.
“Williamsburg is a global city, of course it was, historically,” Hanson said. “But it’s still a global city in ways I just think we need to reclaim.”