ASA Invited to Yale African Innovation Symposium

The Oberlin African Student Association was recently invited to participate in the Yale Africa Innovation Symposium held Nov. 11–12. This two-day conference aimed to deconstruct traditional views of issues affecting Africa and produce actionable resolutions pertaining to various African industries.

This was ASA’s first time being invited to the symposium. The symposium aligns with ASA’s mission statement, which describes one of its goals as enhancing “education by providing a network for prospective African students abroad and in the United States.” It was also the first time since the begining of the pandemic that the Yale symposium was held in person.

“A student who knew another Yale student that was organizing the event told us about it, cause the student was trying to get other schools involved other than just the usual Ivy Leagues,” Nyakwea Ndegwa, College second-year and treasurer of ASA, said. “They told us about the conference and then got us in touch with Yale, and so we emailed them and found out what it is about.” 

ASA sent out a form to its members urging them to apply and attend the conference over the weekend. The conference was open to both international students from Africa and students born in the U.S. After going through a selection process, five students were chosen to participate. At the symposium, they had the opportunity to attend different seminars and conferences on topics that interested them, ranging from economics to  fashion. 

“Yale’s symposium is talking about innovation, particularly in Africa,” Omukoko Okoth, a second-year College student who attended the symposium, said. “It seeks to encourage Africans, the diaspora, and people of African descent to go and invest back in Africa.” 

Attendees came from colleges across the U.S. One of the goals of the event was to unite the entire African diaspora, including anyone who is of African descent. 

“I felt the need to build important connections and get to know how I can not only give back to my community, Africa, but also critically analyze and strategize innovative channels that can be put in place to bring this into fruition,” College third-year Norman Mwangi said. “The experience was fantastic. It veered my attention to things that never crossed my mind. They influenced me to invest in Africa.”

The symposium invited speakers who had contributed to addressing African challenges in different ways. These speakers have contributed to overall culture in different parts of Africa; for example, Mphethi Morojele shed light on the architecture innovation. Morojele is the owner and founder of MMA design studios, which is involved in multiple architectural and urban projects in various African countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, and Burundi. 

“It was bringing to light the numerous opportunities that we have in Africa that many people have not taken advantage of yet,” Okoth said. “That is part of the reason why we had the symposium — to just talk about how we could connect people in the USA with people back home in Africa and invest.”

One of the main highlights of the event was innovation labs that targeted a specific topic and had experts come in to present their studies and research. For example, Wilmot Allen, an entrepreneur and economist based in Nairobi, presented his talk “Making Dashiki Economics Work: Addressing the Challenge of Creating Structured Pathways for Shared Prosperity for Africa and her Diaspora.”

“The end goal is for our experts to take the solutions back to their businesses, organizations, and communities and set them in action,” Abigail Ndikum, YAIS founder and executive director, wrote in a letter to the attendees. “Moreover, we hope that the work in the labs will provide all participants with the foundation to turn their innovative ideas about African development into realities after the conference.”

Overall, students were brought together to form connections and strengthen their knowledge of African development. Through this process, presenters at the symposium and African students from Oberlin and other colleges got to learn about deconstructing African challenges and proposing solutions. 

“It was a pleasure to be involved and invited to the Yale Conference Symposium,” Ndegwa said. “We look forward to participating in similar events. This is our first time, and we had a fantastic time.”