UNM has been chosen to be part of the Young African Leaders Initiative headed by the U.S. State Department.

The program is set to for summer, where fellows will come to UNM to learn leadership, organizational and entrepreneurial skills.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders allows 1,000 “outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return home,” according to the program’s website.

The fellows come from culturally diverse backgrounds, claiming that 66 of last year’s participants identified as having a disability, 30 percent came from rural areas and 50 percent of fellows were women.

“This is a way for us to diversify our economy, and create new relationships with people in Africa that can benefit from our research,” said Bruce Milne, project leader and director of UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program.

When fellows return to Africa, they are equipped with skills that can be applied in their home communities. Professors from business, geography and sustainability studies will participate in the program, he said.

Leaders want to tap into Albuquerque’s entrepreneurial spirit, and invite local business owners to become mentors in the program, Milne said.

Innovation Academy Executive Director Robert DelCampo said they are currently exploring different opportunities for the fellows to connect with local businesses.

They hope to pair them with mentors that have businesses relevant to an African economy, including food, art and cultural institutions.

“It sends the message that we’re a great resource, friendly to diverse cultures and it gives us a direct pipeline into a direct economy,” he said.

The importance of being leaders in global market relies on cultural diversity, DelCampo said, and Albuquerque should set the example of being a place where inclusive business can thrive.

A week and a half of the program’s six weeks is dedicated to business and entrepreneurship.

“This is a high profile, international project (that) puts UNM among top institutions in the country to host the best,” Milne said.

The specifics of the program are still in development, and more information will be released in March.

Although not involved currently in the grant, UNM Global Education Office Administrative Officer Danielle Gilliam said they congratulate Sustainability Studies on receiving this “prestigious grant.”

“What an amazing opportunity this will be for campus to host these leaders,” Gilliam said.

Nikole McKibben is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @nmckibben92.