Case StudyEvaluation

Case Study: IREX – Evaluation of Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme (YALI)

By September 4, 2020No Comments

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From December 2018 to June 2019, we provided a final impact evaluation for the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). The project was funded by USAID and the geographic scope covered 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The final impact evaluation of the USAID-funded, Africa-based follow-on activities of the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) Program is focused on leadership development.

Project Outline

The Young African Leaders Initiative was launched in 2010 by President Barack Obama. As a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. The Fellowship commenced in 2014 as the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). It is aimed at empowering young leaders from Africa (between the ages of 25 and 35), building their skills to improve accountability and transparency of government, start and grow businesses, and serve their communities. Consisting of academic coursework, leadership training and networking.

The Fellowship is implemented by international non-profit organisation IREX, as a cohort-based program, with six (6) annual cohorts for each calendar year from 2014 to 2019[1]. The program consists of attending a US-based leadership institute and the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit. Some Fellows also have the opportunity to participate in a professional development experience in the U.S.

The United States-based activities are funded by the U.S Department of State. Managed separately from the Africa-based activities, which are funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This evaluation was focused on the Africa-based USAID-funded component only.

Steps in the programme

During the course of their stay in the US, each Fellow is expected to put together a Leadership Development Program  (LDP). They finalise when they complete their Leadership Institute and share online for comment and peer review. The LDPs form part of the USAID-funded component of the program. Over time, it was voluntarily adopted by US-based institutes. LDPs are distributed at pre-departure orientations to connect the US-based and Africa based parts of the programme. And to guide with the implementation of their US-based learning when they return to their home countries.

ghana drone shot

Upon returning to their home countries, Fellows continue to build the skills they have developed during their time in the United States through support from US embassies, the YALI Network, USAID, the Department of State, and affiliated partners[2]. Through these experiences, Mandela Washington Fellows are able to access ongoing professional development and networking opportunities. As well as support for their ideas, businesses, and organizations. Fellows may also apply for their American partners to travel to Africa to continue project-based collaboration through the Reciprocal Exchange Component.

The Africa-based activities are designed to support Fellows as they develop the leadership skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to become active and constructive members of society. They may also choose to participate in a number of USAID-supported follow-on activities, including professional practicums, mentorships, Regional and Continental Conferences and conventions, Regional Advisory Boards (RABs), Speaker Travel Grants (STGs), Continued Networking and Learning (CNL) events, and Collaboration Fund Grants (CFGs).

To assist with the implementation of these Africa-based follow-on activities, IREX has collaborated with three regional partners in Southern Africa (The Trust), East Africa (VSO Kenya), and West Africa (WACSI).

Project Deliverables

The purpose of this final impact evaluation of the USAID-funded, Africa-based follow-on activities of the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program was to determine and portray the emerging results of the program and to inform current and future youth leadership programming.

The deliverable was an impact evaluation report that answered the following main evaluation questions:

  1. What is the impact of follow-on activities on male and female Fellows’ skills; knowledge; and attitudes necessary to become active and constructive members of society; compared to those men and women who did not participate in the follow-on activities?
  2. How has the program impacted practices of male and female Fellows in supporting democratic governance through improving the accountability and transparency of government in Africa?
  3. Has the program helped male and female Fellows to start new businesses? To what extent has participation in the program helped Fellow-led businesses expand and become more productive?
  4. How has the program impacted on male/female Fellows’ identification with, and participation in community challenges/social responsibility?
  5. To what extent is the network for Mandela Washington Fellowship male and female alumni who collaborate on issues of democratic governance, economic productivity and civic engagement a self-sustaining network? How have USAID-funded follow-on activities contributed to this?

In addition, cross-cutting themes that had to be considered included: empowerment of women and other marginalised youth, including the disabled and LGBTQI, to address inequalities and development challenges; increase of youth participation overall, with an emphasis on how these empowered youth can contribute to their countries’ development; and the establishment of significant partnerships with the private sector to leverage resources, increase impact, and enhance sustainability of planned activities.

kenya nightscape

Our Approach

The evaluation adopted a mixed-method approach. Gathering both quantitative and qualitative data from a large sample of Fellows who had participated in and those who had not participated in Africa-based follow-on activities. Quantitative data was gathered through an online survey from 1292 Fellows, 35 percent of the total Fellow population. Qualitative data was gathered through one-on-one interviews. Conducted either face-to-face or via Skype, with Fellows and program staff and partners, or through focus group discussions with Fellows, during country visits to six African countries.

In this way, a wide range of stakeholders was included in the evaluation. Quantitative and qualitative data were cleaned, transcribed, analysed and incorporated into the findings of the evaluation. Both quantitative and qualitative data was also gathered from secondary sources, including literature on leadership in Africa, and a range of sources provided by IREX on the Africa-based follow-on activities. In addition to the main report, five case studies were produced, highlighting specific programme outcomes.


The value of this evaluation was two-fold. It showed that the aims and methods of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, including the Africa-based follow-on activities, are highly relevant and in line with literature and best practice on youth leadership development in Africa. It also contributed to the body of knowledge of (youth) leadership development programmes. Specifically those based on the ethos of a values-based servant and transformational leadership.

The evaluation showed that the MWF is highly relevant in fostering individual, group and community values within young people. So that they can become true leaders in their own sectors and communities. In addition, the evaluation showed how these young people solidify their leadership roles within their own careers and sectors at a crucial time when they are progressing. Thereby becoming more respected and influential in their workplaces and communities. And more active in society.

The Africa-based follow-on activities enabled Fellows to solidify the knowledge and skills gained in the US, to ground and root the US-based learning, and helped Fellows put their new knowledge into practice.  The program has strengthened significantly many of the values that the Social Change Model (SCM) of leadership focuses on. Especially the consciousness of self, congruence commitment, collaboration, and also, common purpose and citizenship. Not only of home countries but also of Africa in general.

The evaluation showed that amongst other gains, experiential learning through participation in follow-on activities promoted innovative thinking, facilitated shifts in attitudes towards gender roles, rights and sexuality, and motivated Fellows to engage in social entrepreneurship.

Client testimonial

“Development Works Changemakers was selected from a competitive pool of applicants. One of the aspects of their proposal which stood out was their focus on applying an inclusivity lens to their approach. As well as their demonstrated understanding of the leadership field. And, more specifically, their knowledge and experience with leadership in the African context, in addition to the participatory methodology proposed. Once the evaluation got underway, the timeline proposed was adhered to, despite some difficulties with timely responses from key informants.

Development Works Changemakers sifted through an enormous amount of program document data. They collected and analyzed information from program participants and stakeholders. And worked collaboratively with us to surface the most useful data points and findings to highlight program impact and challenges. Their research was insightful and grounded. Where possible with relevant outside data sources that triangulated findings or demonstrated the nuances they found were unique to our circumstances.

The finished report highlighted the most important findings for our research questions. It provided as much detail as could be extrapolated from the data available. Particularly blending the quantitative and qualitative data findings into a cohesive narrative. Development Works Changemakers were professional, insightful, thorough, and responsive to feedback.  I would highly recommend them for a range of evaluation and assessment work.”

– Cheryl Schoenberg Deputy Director, Leadership Practice IREX, and Former Chief of Party for the Mandela Washington Fellowship

Development Works Changemakers Evaluation

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[1] This evaluation excludes the 2019 cohort.

[2] YALI has also established four Regional Leadership Centres (Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Kenya), and a number of satellite centres, to offer leadership training programs to young leaders between the ages of 18 and 35. The four RLCs are based at higher-education institutions in their host countries.