Dr. Judy Millesen

From Athens to Africa: Connect Camps provide tools to affect community change

Emily Bamforth
March 17, 2015

For Faith Knutsen and Dr. Judith Millesen, March brought a nearly 8,000-mile journey to East Africa.

Millesen, associate professor for the Voinovich School, and Knutsen, the associate director for TechGROWTH Ohio, traveled to Tanzania to co-facilitate workshops for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). These Connect Camps, which will take place in four different countries over the course of 2015, provide tools for those looking to make a change in their communities.

Millesen said the leaders involved were part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, which is sponsored through the U.S. State Department. The fellows traveled to universities across America to receive education in one of three areas: business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; or public management.

“You sit across from people in unimaginable circumstance who have made a change with no money – just enthusiasm and passion and belief that they can have something more than what they have,” Millesen said.

Millesen and Knutsen shared a wide variety of tools from which the participating East Africans can choose to enhance their own efforts, including workshops on mentoring and leadership; practice in the Art of Hosting (a technique that empowers communities to engage in constructive dialogue around vital issues); and imagining new social ventures using the Venture Model Canvas, a one-page iterative venture planning tool).

“The important thing about these young leaders is that they are the ones who know about their language and their culture,” Knutsen said. “We’re just providing them with a toolkit.”

The training project was made possible by a $485,000 grant from the Department of State to the E.W. Scripps School, and is led by Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, director of the Institute for International Journalism.

The YALI alumni attending the one-week camps in March are asked to bring a mentor to share in the experience, as well as ideas – either for-profit or nonprofit –that will foster growth in their communities.

“If we can be even a little, teensy bit of (their planning), it’s just amazing,” Millesen said.

For Knutsen, the trip will take her back to her past. She lived in Africa for three years when she served in the Peace Corps, and then continued work there when she was part of an international consulting firm based in the U.S.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to East Africa,” Knutsen said. “It’s a very exciting place and a very entrepreneurial place. (The region has) very fast-moving countries and fast-moving economies.”

Millesen said these kinds of experiences broaden facilitators’ perspectives.

“I’m always excited to learn from people and cultures where I know very little,” she said. “It enriches how I think, it enriches how I teach. It brings a lot of new stories to the classroom.”