YALI Alumni Grant Signing: Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs , Evan Ryan: Kampala, Uganda


(As prepared for delivery)

Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs , Evan Ryan: YALI Alumni Grant Signing Kampala, Uganda February 3, 2014
Good morning.  It is an honor to be here today with all of you to show the United States’ steadfast support for Uganda youth and the economic future of this nation.  The three young people you see here in from of you today symbolize the entrepreneurial spirit, values, and courage needed to create real change and ensure a healthy, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for Uganda.  The American people share that vision, and I am proud to be here today to our support for them and their innovative project.

Entitled Empowering Youth Entrepreneurship through Hands-On Innovation, Creativity, and Skills Training, this project will not only teach young Ugandans the skills they will need to begin a life as entrepreneurs, it will help them create a vision for themselves and their country as a nation of job-creators.  By the time they finish this program it is our hope that they will be infused with the entrepreneurial mindset that has done so much to make the United States what it is today.  I believe this sprit is crucial to the future of Uganda.

As you already know, Uganda is the youngest country in the world, and it is growing fast.  By some estimates Uganda’s population will more than double by 2040.  Although the Government of Uganda and the donor community are working hard to address these issues, no government – no matter how rich or strong – can build enough roads, grow enough food, or generate enough power to accommodate all the needs of so many people in such a short time.

Only a vibrant, dynamic, and expanding private sector can achieve the vision you have for your future.  America knows this because it has done it.  Less than 100 years ago we ourselves were what some today would call a “developing nation.”  We struggled with some of the same challenges you do today.  And, while blessed with abundant resources, it was the entrepreneurial spirit, the willingness to take risks – to try and fail and try again – that made the United States what it is today.

That spirit is alive and well in Uganda right now.  It beats in the hearts of the three people here next to me: Rusia Orikiriza of Oribags Innovations, Ltd., Grace Nanyonga of Grana Fish Supplies, Ltd., and Arthur Asiimwe of Makerere University. I hope that some of that spirit came from the United States, since Rusia, Grace, and Arthur are all alumni of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or “YALI,” the Obama administration’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of Africans.

YALI seeks to give the African leaders of tomorrow the tools they will need to create a secure, healthy, democratic, and prosperous future.  This year, the program is being greatly expanded to send 500 African Youth to the United States for six-week courses in business, civic leadership, or public management at some of America’s top educational institutions.  After that, participants will head to Washington D.C. for a summit with President Obama where they can share their experiences and hopes for the future.

But it doesn’t end there.  When YALI alumni return to their countries we will continue to support them with leadership and training opportunities, and, in some cases, small grants such as this one to help them realize their dreams while the share what they have learned as widely as possible.

The United States is committed to the future of Africa and African youth.  YALI is just one example of that commitment.  We do not see youth as a problem to be solved, but rather a resource to be tapped.  But this must be a partnership.  The youth must do their part.  They must work, take risks, try, fail, and try again.  As President Obama said in his announcement of the expansion of YALI in South Africa last year “Just like previous generations, you’ve got choices to make.

You get to decide where the future lies.  You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene. And I can promise you this:  The world will be watching what decisions you make.  The world will be watching what you do… .  [M]y bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story.  I’m betting on all of you.”

Thank you.