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Creating Africa's Next Female Leaders

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U.S. State Department program at UD emphasizes female and economic empowerment

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​U.S. Sen Chris Coons met with students participating in the Madeleine K. Albright Young Women Leaders Program at UD.​

​“Women’s leadership is my thing and inequality drives me bananas,” said Amanda Bullough, an associate professor of management and global leadership at the University of Delaware. Which is why Bullough willingly gives up five weeks every summer to be professor, mentor, adviser, confidante and mother hen to young women from sub-Saharan Africa.​

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​Amanda Bullough​

This year, 19 women from Kenya, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Somali, Uganda and elsewhere in Africa participated in the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) Madeleine K. Albright Young Women Leaders Program at UD. The U.S. State Department program is designed to give participants a deeper understanding of U.S. society, culture and institutions, with an emphasis on female empowerment and economic empowerment.

Bullough is the academic director of the program and Dan Bottomley, of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, is the administrative director. Between the two of them, and aided by several graduate assistants, they led the young women through an energetic schedule of leadership training and professional development; study trips to New York, Philadelphia, Gettysburg and Washington; community service at local nonprofits; and meetings with high-level leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.

At one of the Friday afternoon reflective sessions, participants shared some of their wins from the week. “I didn’t get up and pass out,” said one young woman to cheers, when talking about a public speaking role she had taken on earlier in the week. “I learned how to compromise,” said another woman, who was dressed in a  traditionally woven shirt and bright head scarf.​

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​U.S. Sen. Chris Coons took time for a selfie with students in the Madeleine K. Albright Young Women Leaders Program at UD.​

Earlier that week, the students had taken part in a roundtable discussion with Tiffany Geyer, president of the League of Women Voters of Delaware, at Legislature Hall in Dover. Reflecting on that session, one participant observed, “we are facing some of the same issues in Africa that you face here. It’s differences of degree, not kind.”

“What we do here is great; what is important is what you do back home,” said Bottomley at the conclusion of the reflective session. Each participant was responsible for creating a project to execute at home, either at their college or university or in their community. Cynthia Mururu, who is from Kenya, plans to launch a menstrual education program to keep girls in school throughout their cycles. Other student projects included sustainable aquaculture as an avenue to advance female entrepreneurship, and programs around gender-based violence.

For all but one young woman, the long flight to the U.S. was the first time they had flown on a plane. Upon arrival, the students had to navigate jet lag, culture shock, and self-imposed pressure to do well and make their local communities proud. The students, who ranged in age from 18 to 22, were selected based on their academic and co-curricular records.​

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​The SUSI program students visited the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, Delaware as part of their leadership program. Herman Jackson, in traditional dress, explains the Nanticoke culture to the students.​

“They are really curious about my life and how I juggle work, home, my kids’ activities, and everything else,” said Bullough, who is affectionately known as “Dr. Mandi” to the participants. Bullough’s two sons were in the midst of baseball playoffs while the students were here and she said life was even more hectic than usual. “But I don’t want them to see some sanitized version of what reality is like for American women. I invite the students into my home and they see our real lives — including sports equipment everywhere and the basket of clothes in the laundry room that needs to be folded and put away.”

Bullough added, “They also see the positive things, like my husband cooking dinner — that usually surprises them.”

Bullough has been academic director of the program since 2017 and since that time she said she has “become mum to some 140 SUSI daughters.” She stays in touch with past participants through both a formal alumni program as well as informally with frequent emails.

“These ladies are the cream of the crop and were all selected based on their track record of success and future potential,” said Bullough. “I feel privileged to work with them and do what I can to move the needle around gender inequality in the developing world.”​

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​The students learn about the Nanticoke Indians from Herman Jackson at the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, Delaware.​

Article by Margo McDonough 

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Hilary Douwes 

September 06, 2023​

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