Strengthening International Diplomacy through the Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship

Mar 09, 2017

Fulbright Clinton Public Policy Fellow Nyokabi

The Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship (formerly known as the Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship) is an opportunity for U.S. citizens who are interested in international diplomacy and strengthening the public sector. Fellows serve in a “special assistant” role in a foreign government ministry, where they gain knowledge and skills, provide support to partner institutions, and strengthen long-term ties between the U.S. and host country. This fellowship seeks candidates with a master’s degree, and at least 2 years of full-time work experience in the field of public policy.

To learn more about this experience, we spoke to current Fellow, Nyokabi Muhu, who is working in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship?

I am a second-generation Kenyan-American and I am very proud of my cultural heritage and connection to Africa and the United States. I received two Master’s degrees in Public Administration (MPA) and International Relations (MAIR) from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, where I concentrated in good governance, diplomacy, international and economic development and the region of sub-Saharan Africa. I also studied advanced levels of Kiswahili at the graduate level to improve my communication skills and to gain a better understanding of the political and cultural history of East Africa.

Immediately after graduating, I was asked to assist my university in running the public management track of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). I learned and gained so much from interacting with the Mandela Washington Fellows. The highlight of my experience was the opportunity to interact with 500 young African leaders during the 2014 Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C. Their creativity and innovative ideas for the future of Africa inspired me to join them on their journey. I saw how much they benefitted from this diplomacy and cultural exchange program so I decided to join a similar program.

African Union Building
African Union Building

I came across the Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship and I instantly knew that this was the perfect opportunity for me to gain public sector experience and work in collaboration with these African leaders and policy-makers. I applied to the fellowship placement at the African Union Commission (AUC) because I wanted to learn different ways of problem solving, especially African-led solutions to African problems, gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day operations of the AUC and understand how policies are formulated and implemented at the continental level. I knew that the fellowship would give me the rare opportunity to gain hands-on public sector experience in a multilateral inter-governmental organization focused on creating a peaceful, prosperous, and integrated Africa.

2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?

The African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of all 55 countries on the African continent, and the Commission is the Secretariat of the Union entrusted with executive functions. I have been placed in the Education Division of the Department of Human Resources, Science and Technology (HRST). I am supporting the Education Division in developing and harmonizing education policies throughout the continent. I assisted in writing and editing a continental study on Teacher Training, Working and Living Conditions in Africa and also helped run an international workshop where experts in the education sector validated the teacher development study.

I am also assisting my Division in preparing for the 2nd Annual African School Feeding Day, aiming to heighten the importance of school feeding, showcase gains attained over the years, and send out strong messages to policy and decision-makers to recognize the significance of funding the initiative at the national level.

Fulbright Clinton Fellow Nyokabi Muhu
Fulbright Clinton Fellow Nyokabi Muhu

For my academic/research project, I am conducting research that will contribute toward the implementation of a Young Professionals Programme (YPP), which aims to establish a pool of skilled young African leaders and development experts working across the African Union. My tentative research topic is to explore the factors that will lead to the effectiveness of the Young Professionals Programme at the AU.

I have always been fascinated with the African Union and its efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, promote peace and stability and support sustainable economic development. My professional placement has given me insider access to understand how polices are formulated and implemented and how the AUC interacts with Member States. Now that I understand the day-to-day operations of the AUC and its role within the continent, I can make more informed decisions and tailor my solutions to fit the African context. The most exciting thing about working at the AUC is my daily interactions with colleagues from different Member States. They give me so much knowledge and insight regarding the political, economic and social issues going on in their countries and their opinions regarding the best solutions to these challenges.

My most unique experience was a recent work trip to Pretoria, South Africa to attend a meeting of the Specialized Technical Group (STG) on Education, Science and Technology (EST) Statistics. At this meeting, I engaged with Ministry representatives from Member States and partners in the fields of education, science, technology and innovation statistics.

Meeting of the Specialized Technical Group (STG) on Education, Science and Technology (EST) Statistics
Meeting of the Specialized Technical Group on Education, Science and Technology Statistics in Pretoria, South Africa

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship?

The Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship is about capacity-building and promoting long-term ties between the U.S. and the partner country. It’s about giving your knowledge, skills and expertise to assist the foreign government ministry or partner institution, learning and gaining new skills that will strengthen the relationship and strategic interests of the U.S. and partner country and positively contributing towards the fellow’s professional development.

The fellowship is looking for global citizens who are committed, flexible, resilient and passionate about public service and have a strong desire to improve lives in the developing world. What made my application stand out was that I highlighted my strengths, including the fact that I love immersing myself into new environments and I can adapt quickly to challenging situations. During my interview, I indicated my open-mindedness and flexibility regarding the overall fellowship experience, but I was still very concise about how I planned to make an impact at the African Union Commission and specific about what I wanted to gain from the professional placement. I recommend this approach to all future applications. Additionally, candidates should highlight their fluency in the local/regional working languages and a deep understanding of the history and culture of the host country/region.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

Nyokabi Muhu is a current Fulbright-Clinton Fellow at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Prior to her fellowship, Nyokabi worked as a Micro-Enterprise Program Coordinator for a micro-finance and public health NGO in rural Kenya. She received a B.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Riverside and two Master’s degrees in Public Administration (MPA) and International Relations (MAIR) from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Nyokabi enjoys cooking, traveling, salsa dancing and listening to Afro-Cuban jazz.

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved