By Redeit Hailu ’24 and Mayada Hassan ’22
The Global Research Institute’s Africa Research Center (formerly known as the Center for African Development) will present the W&M Africa Network Conference, #WMANC, on April 10, 2021. #WMANC is designed to bring together alumni, students, and faculty who work in Africa or aspire to work on the continent to engage on topics including agriculture, entrepreneurship, public health, security, and diplomacy.
#WMANC was the brainchild of alumna Shanda Cooper ’06. From Liberia, Ms. Cooper is a consultant in international development who has supported local investments in security, agribusiness and economic development. She also remains actively engaged with W&M through the Society of 1918 and a supporter of the Africa Research Center (ARC). In conversations with ARC Director, Philip Roessler, Ms. Cooper observed the large alum network working across countries in Africa in all sorts of sectors—tech, agriculture, sustainable development, entrepreneurship—but which remains largely unconnected. It was out of this discussion that the idea for the Africa Network Conference was born. Why not create a forum to not only bring together alums but also faculty and most importantly students, like ourselves, who could connect with and learn from alums working in this space.
#WMANC2021 will take place from 10 am – 12 pm on Saturday, April 10. Register online.
We were thrilled when Professor Roessler and Ms. Cooper invited us to collaborate on the project—with an eye to offering a student perspective. As co-conveners of the conference, we were tasked with building a database of alumni whose work is connected to countries across the Africa region. By tracking alumni and their experiences, we saw firsthand the different opportunities available to students post-graduation. We are excited to learn from them at the conference—and to provide this opportunity to other students.
While working alongside Professor Roessler and Ms. Cooper, we learned the value of having a community of alumni and the commitment needed to build and maintain a network of students, alumni, and faculty. One of the biggest challenges we faced was tracking down alumni working in, from or otherwise connected to countries in Africa. However, with the help of the Advancement Office, the Global Research Institute, and other faculty members, we were able to compile alumni contact information and finish creating the database. In the future, we hope to grow the database to allow for more networking opportunities and alumni connections.
The most exciting part of assembling this database was discovering our keynote speaker, Saidah Nash Carter. She is a multifaceted alumna with experience in the fields of technology, innovation, business, sustainability, and more. Saidah has received many accolades: 2017 Inspiring 50 Women in Tech, United Nations 2018 Voices of African Mothers Innovation Award, and 2019 League of Intrapreneurs Global Fellow. As students with a desire to work in technology and development, we are looking forward to hearing how Saidah has intertwined these disciplines within her work.
In addition to Ms. Carter, we identified a number of highly impressive alums to serve as panelists in breakout rooms on: Entrepreneurship & Business; Tech & Development/Sustainability; Security & Diplomacy; and Agriculture & Energy. Check out the list of amazing panelists in the registration link below.
As a result of WMANC, we hope to see a stronger network emerge from the William & Mary community. We also hope that current students will collaborate with professionals, learn about opportunities regarding work on the continent, and receive mentorship.
This conference will be a unique opportunity for students with a specific regional and industry focus in mind. We hope that you take advantage of this time to learn about different opportunities, gain valuable industry insights, connect with alumni, and be part of the network yourself.
Register for #WMANC2021.