Credit: UC Davis

Twenty-five young African leaders are leveraging the energy expertise of UC Davis to tackle the energy challenges in their home countries. Representing 19 countries, they are at UC Davis for a six-week institute as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.

Sarah Mulwah of Botswana has been an environmental consultant and a marketing manager for a nature reserve where she helped track white rhinos for a conservation project.

But a six-week energy institute at UC Davis is helping her blaze a trail for a new endeavor — setting up a lending library of solar lanterns for rural school children whose families are too poor to connect to the power grid.

She is among 25 young African leaders who have been leveraging the energy expertise of UC Davis — and beyond — as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship of President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative.

"I have to find a way to make it work — to make it a long-term project," said the 32-year-old.

Beatrice Muthoni Mgugi
Beatrice Muthoni Mgugi of Kenya uses a strobe tachometer to measure the rotational speed of a household fan and the correlated energy used by its motor as Tshegofatso Neeuwfan of South Africa, center, and instructor Ryan Stroupe of the Building Performance Program at the PG&E Pacific Energy Center look on.
Credit: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

The institute is helping empower the fellows to bring energy to sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, two out of three people lack access to electricity.

Mulwah and the other fellows — including entrepreneurs, leaders in non-governmental organizations and government employee — have gained knowledge and skills in academic and leadership sessions, gleaned insights from tours of leading facilities in the energy field and developed support networks.

Adele Boadzo of South Africa at the UC Davis solar farm
Richard Knee of UC Davis Facilities Management steadies a ladder for cameraman Richard Neill as he shoots video for a Voice of America profile on fellow Adele Boadzo of South Africa at the UC Davis solar farm. Producer Beth Mendelson watches.
Credit: Julia Ann Easley/UC Davis photo

She said Kurt Kornbluth, associate director of the Energy Efficiency Center at UC Davis and founding director of the Program for International Energy Technology, has taken apart a solar lantern to show her the technology and help her get the best value for her project.

On a tour of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and its Cyclotron Road, she saw "small projects that have a big impact" like a biomass stove, a solar lantern and a baby incubator made with the heading pad and blanket. "It was interesting to see how they've mastered technology that can quickly change the life of a child or mother," Mulwah said.

Yves Tuyishime of Rwanda talks with Fatima Oyiza Ademoh of Nigeria during an academic session at the energy institute.
Credit: Greg Urquiaga/UC Davis

She's also benefited from the experience and inspiration of the other fellows. "A lot of fellows have taken the risk to pursue something," she said. "They're giving me that strength to not depend on a paycheck but to go forward and fulfill my dreams."

UC Davis is one of 36 universities hosting the summer programs for about 1,000 fellows selected through a competitive process from among 40,000 applicants. Serving as academic director was Professor Kate Scow of the Department of Land Air and Water Resources and director of the Russell Ranch of the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative and is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX, an international nonprofit.

The fellows tour Russell Ranch of the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.
The fellows tour Russell Ranch of the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.
Credit: Jennie Knosella-Norene/UC Davis photo

Thumbnail photo: From left: Beatrice Muthoni Ngugi of Kenya, Fatima Oyiza Ademoh of Nigeria, Miyir Mohamed Abdillahi of Djibouti, Eder Shamir Borges Lopes Semedo of Cabo Verde and Mizan Welderufael Massa of Ethiopia. Credit: Jennie Konsella-Norene/UC Davis photo