Mandela Washington Fellowship: Learning to Become a Better Leader with Daniel Adama

Feb 01, 2024
Daniel Adama with his Mandela Washington Fellowship cohort. The group of people are wearing a red shirt with the fellowship's logo, and two people hold a white and blue banner that reads, "Mandela Washington Fellowship."
Daniel, sitting in the middle with the rest of the 2022 Mandela Washington Fellowship cohort during the July 4th Independence parade in Bloomington, Indiana.

Since its establishment in 2014, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders has brought almost 6,500 young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States to undergo its rigorous academic and leadership training program. It is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), founded by former President Obama in 2010. It aspires to train young Africans (between the ages of 25 and 35) to make innovative and positive changes to their communities back home. The program, organized by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, symbolizes the mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and the African continent.

We recently spoke with Daniel Adama, a Mandela Washington Fellow, to learn more about his experience with the program, how it benefited his personal and professional development, and advice he would give to those who would like to follow in his footsteps.

Can you tell us about your background prior to the Mandela Washington Fellowship?

Before my application and subsequent acceptance into the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship, I have been immersed in the field of education, working tirelessly to improve educational outcomes in rural communities in Ghana for the past 12 years. My educational journey started with a Bachelor of Education degree, which instilled in me the core principles of effective pedagogy and a deep understanding of the transformative power of education. My passion for education continued to grow, and I saw several career opportunities within the sector, so I decided to pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in Curriculum Studies. This postgraduate journey was marked by rigorous research and the pursuit of innovative solutions to educational problems.

Because the role I played in my organization at the time required project management skills, I subsequently embarked on a journey to improve my skills in project management, and after a period of intensive training and coursework, I graduated with a Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Project Management from the Institute of Project Management Professionals Ghana. This program provided me with a comprehensive understanding of project management principles, methodologies, and best practices. It has enabled me to approach educational initiatives with a structured and results-oriented mindset, ensuring that projects are executed efficiently and effectively.

How did being a project manager or other factors influence you to apply for the Fellowship?

Indeed, my decision to apply for the fellowship was not primarily driven by project management; rather, it stemmed from a deep-rooted belief in the significant impact I could make on education in rural communities through my organization. I was convinced the fellowship would provide invaluable skills to enhance and propel my ongoing efforts. Witnessing the positive effects of the fellowship on some of my friends who had become alumni further strengthened my decision to apply. I knew at the time that the fellowship would offer me the ideal platform to elevate my career and propel my organization to new heights.

Daniel, in a light blue shirt, standing on the bottom right of the staircase, taking a group photo with his Mandela Fellowship cohort. Fellows are all standing on the staircase with some holding their hands up with peace signs.
Daniel, in a light blue shirt, standing on the bottom right of the staircase, posing with the rest of the Mandela Fellowship cohort at the Lily School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis.

How was your experience as a Mandela Fellow? What were some key takeaways?

My experience during the fellowship at Indiana University Bloomington was truly remarkable. I had the rare privilege of being mentored by some of the university’s most respected faculty members and gaining access to a wealth of resources that significantly enhanced my project management skills. Among the program’s highlights, one stands out prominently – my introduction to the Gallup Strengths approach. This experience reshaped my perspective, emphasizing leveraging our strengths as a cornerstone for effective organizational leadership. In the past, I invested substantial effort in addressing my weaknesses, but this new approach highlighted the power of capitalizing on our strengths. It dawned on me that leading with our strengths could drive outstanding success within an organization.

Moreover, the fellowship provided me with unique networking opportunities. I had the privilege of connecting with distinguished individuals, including university professors, the mayor and his dedicated team at the city council, and a host of other accomplished individuals. Yet, what proved most invaluable was the opportunity to build connections with my fellow African colleagues while developing relationships that transcended the confines of the professional and geographical spaces.

Daniel holding his graduation certificate in Leadership in Civic Engagement. He wears a blue suite, dark lens glasses, and a stole around his neck. To his right is a large banner that reads Mandela Washington Fellowship.
Daniel posing with his Certificate in Leadership in Civic Engagement upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program at Indiana University Bloomington.

Since completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship, what do you hope to pursue next?

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Sciences with a specialization in Leadership Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). I embarked on this path with a clear sense of purpose and a vision for my future career. I joined the program because it perfectly aligns with my long-term professional aspirations. I harbor an ambition to contribute to academia by becoming a university professor while playing a pivotal role in shaping education and leadership policies. The program’s emphasis on leadership studies strongly matches my goals. I recognized that it would equip me with the knowledge and expertise needed to make a meaningful impact in these areas.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship played an influential role in shaping my interest in leadership and leadership development. However, discovering this specific Ph.D. program at UNL required extensive research and exploration. The fellowship, being a prestigious program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, undoubtedly enhanced my profile and positioned me as a standout candidate during the application process.

The next step for me is to develop myself for the future. After working continuously for 12 years, I felt it was time to move to the next level of my professional journey. My ambition is to rise to the esteemed role of a university professor and to play a significant role in policymaking in education and leadership development. In this capacity, I aim to play a crucial role in advancing the quality of education and nurturing and shaping the next generation of leaders, not only within my country but across Africa.

Daniel, in a red t-shirt standing back row center right, with the Mandela Washington Fellowship cohort and administrators at Cook Medical in Indianapolis.

And finally, are there any parting words you can share?

To individuals aspiring to follow a similar career path or sharing the same interests, I would offer four pieces of advice based on my experiences.

First, begin by gaining a deep understanding of your long-term career goals. Clearly define where you see yourself in the future and what impact you want to make. This clarity will guide your educational and professional choices.

Second, actively seek opportunities that align with your career aspirations. Whether pursuing advanced degrees, gaining practical experience, or participating in leadership programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship, be proactive in your quest for personal and professional growth.

Third, prestigious programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship and other fellowships can be transformative, and you must leverage them. They provide valuable experiences, networking opportunities, and recognition. Consider applying to such programs, as they can give you a competitive edge in your career. 

Last but not least, consider networking an essential component of any career. Build meaningful relationships with mentors, peers, and professionals who can offer guidance and support. These connections can open doors and provide valuable insights.

I have come to know that a successful career path requires a combination of clarity, determination, research, experience, and a commitment to continuous growth. The Mandela Washington Fellowship, along with other prestigious programs, can be instrumental in shaping your journey. Still, ultimately, it is your passion, dedication, and proactive approach that will drive your success. Be wise!

Interested in applying to this fellowship? Bookmark the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders to your ProFellow account.

Head shot image of Daniel Adama wearing glasses with darkened lenses, a navy blue suite, tie, and light blue shirt. The background has blurred trees and buildings.Daniel Tinyogtaa Adama is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Sciences, specializing in Leadership Studies at the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He holds a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) in Curriculum Studies and a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed. Hons.) in English, both earned from the Catholic University of Ghana. He is also a Project Management Consultant with the Institute of Project Management Professionals Ghana. Before his academic pursuits at UNL, he served as the Executive Director of Rural Education Support Trust and worked as Project Coordinator of Don Musso Educational Village in Ghana. Daniel is a proud Mandela Washington Fellow, completing this prestigious program at Indiana University Bloomington.

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