How One Mandela Washington Fellow is Lifting Women Up


Hafsat Sahabi Dange is paying it forward from her Mandela Washington Fellowship program.  The manager of the Corporate Affairs Commission in Sokoto and graduate of the Nigerian Law School in Abuja, who is currently studying for a master’s degree in Gender, Environment and Development at the Usman DanFodio University, participated in the business leadership track of the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) Program in 2017 at Dartmouth College. Read on to learn more about Hafsat and how her exchange experience shaped her career and life trajectory. This interview was originally published in the September Exchange Alumni newsletter from Nigeria. 

What was the highlight of your Mandela Washington Fellowship Program?

The Mandela Washington Fellowship experience was a turning point for me. My first reaction to being selected for the program was excitement and uncertainty, but the fellowship turned out to be the most incredible experience I have had in my life. The program equipped me with knowledge and strengthened my expertise in business and leadership. I also experienced a new environment and culture. Most importantly, I now belong to an excellent network of Americans and Africans. Being a Mandela Washington Fellow is a blessing to me and my community. 

What was the most significant change experienced in your life due to participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program?

The program changed my perspective on diversity. It positively changed my perspective on how I view Americans. I experienced Islam in the attitude of the Americans I interacted with because they expressed the values that Islam teaches. They were kind, hospitable and empathetic. As a result of this experience, I became determined to mentor and support others professionally and personally, the same way I was mentored and supported. The Mandela Washington Fellowship equipped me with the right mindset and attitude to excel.Most unexpected experience during the program:I gained loads of fun experiences that I was not able to experience even in my youth. From hiking in the woods, boating for the first time, to remarkable July 4th firecrackers, I had an unforgettable experience in the beautiful city of Hanover. I also made connections with some of the most innovative, design-driven, socially responsible corporations and individuals in the world. The outdoor programs and networking events were my most exciting activities.

How are you paying forward the impact of the Mandela Washington Fellowship?

After completing my Mandela Washington Fellowship, I launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) network in Sokoto to promote volunteerism. The YALI network in Sokoto has since grown to become one of the leading youth networks in the northwest. I train and mentor young people on different aspects of entrepreneurship and civic engagement. My goal is to help young people in Sokoto become the best version of themselves. I also founded a non-profit called the Association of Northern Women Entrepreneurs (ANWE). ANWE brings together experienced women in Northern Nigeria to train and mentor younger women in business. The organization also implements community development projects aimed at improving the welfare of women and bridging the gender inequality gap. To date, ANWE has directly impacted over 3,000 beneficiaries across northern Nigeria.