A personal journey: Three Mandela Scholars share their ongoing pursuit of knowledge

With the program’s third year now at a close, participants look back on their experience with the program and how it will impact their current businesses

The Mandela Washington Fellowship scholars are dressed up for the program's opening dinner.


8/9/2017 | By: Madi Weingardt |

The Mandela Washington Fellowship, a six-week program introduced to the University of Nevada, Reno in 2015, focuses on bringing entrepreneurship experience and opportunity to successful business leaders of South Africa. This year, these business leaders included Diane Audrey Ngako, Irene Sobrinho, and Terry Bogopane who all aspire to make a difference in Africa with their innovative ideas and drive for making an impact.

Diane Audrey Ngako

Diane Audrey Ngako, a 28-year-old from Cameroon with a bachelor's degree in communications, has created Visiterlafrique.com, dedicated to showing the activities and tourism possibilities in Africa, along with developing her own communications agency, Omenkart.

"I was born and raised in Cameroon until I was 12, and then I went to France to stay with my mom," Ngako said. "One year ago, I chose to go home to develop my communications agency and to be a part of what I called African dreams - the telling of African stories - and that is why I created my website."

Diane Audrey Ngako, Mandela Scholar, is posing in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

Diane Audrey Ngako, Mandela scholar from Cameroon,created a website and her own communications agency.

Her website displays destinations to visit, information on African culture, and an agenda with dates of different events that will be taking place throughout the continent. It also offers written articles, photography, and several other artistic aspects.

Ngako's experience with the Mandela Scholars program has introduced her to new mentors, fellow peers and workshop directors.

"It was a really, really good experience," Ngako said. "I learned that sometimes it is really important to get out of your bubble and your own world. Each person has something that you can learn from them, and we tend to forget that."

She has big plans for herself once she returns home. In 10 years, she hopes to have her master's degree in communications, an expanding communications agency, and to create a leadership school for women encouraging other women in Africa to follow their dreams through education.

Irene Sobrinho

Irene Sobrinho is from Angola with a bachelor's degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering, but she decided to pursue another career path. The economic crisis in Africa caused her to lose her job in engineering and she is now pursuing her passion as a co-founder of a digital marketing and graphic design company.

"My mom wanted me to be an engineer," Sobrinho said. "I went and did the engineering bachelor's for her. So when the economic crisis came, there was an opportunity for me to reinvent myself. I was like, ‘Here, take your degree. I am going to go get mine!'"

Irene Sobrinho, Mandela Scholar, posing in the @One in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge Center

Irene Sobrinho, Mandela scholar from Angola, helps operate a digital magazine and is a co-founder for a digital marketing and graphic design company.

Her magazine is known as Entretenimento 360 degrees. It is designed to promote the tourism and culture in Angola with content that promotes Angola's sightseeing, nightlife and more. The website translates to English and Portuguese as well.

She plans on completing her master's degree in the United Kingdom and continuing to make a positive change in Angola.

Terry Bogopane

Terry Bogopane, a 35-year-old from Rustenburg, established his own company known as African Youth Entrepreneurs Network. He was motivated towards helping the youth of Africa because of his own personal experience with the education system.

"It is the environment that I grew up in," Bogopane said. "When I completed my high school there was a lack of financial assistance, and I was forced to get into business."

AYEN is fostering entrepreneurial interests among African youth, by giving those interested an opportunity to prosper. It provides networking opportunities, mentorships, and peer collaboration, and support services for young entrepreneurs.

Terry Bogopane, Mandela scholar, poses in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

Terry Bogopane, a Mandela scholar from Rustenburg, is the founder of a company known as the African Youth Entrepreneurs Network (AYEN).

Terry's experience with the Mandela Scholars program has given him tools to further develop AYEN. The program's workshops are something he would like to emulate. Workshops like "U.S. History of Entrepreneurship" and "Convergence of Business" offered focused topics in the realm of business, something he thinks his constituents could benefit from.

"The situation in South Africa is such if you are an entrepreneur, chances for you to succeed are very minimal because you do not have access to mentors," Bogopane said.

The Program

The Mandela Washington Fellowship, a program of the U.S. Department of State, receives about 30,000 applicants each year. Those who are chosen are granted access to its various resources. Scholars are able to proceed to the next step of their expanding businesses with the applicable knowledge that is given.

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"It's been great to see the many impacts of the Mandela Washington Fellowship at the University and in our community," Carina Black, Executive Director at the Northern Nevada International Center and co-director of the Reno program, said. "The number of presenters, peer collaborators, home hosts, mentors and other supporters of this program increases each year, which is what makes Reno an excellent place for this program."

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