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Symbolic Systems, Inc.’s Mandela Washington Fellowship interns return to Africa with lessons learned
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 16:36


Symbolic Systems, Inc.’s Mandela Washington Fellowship interns return to Africa with lessons learned

Press Release


SUMMIT, N.J. ( Oct. 24, 2014) – Leadership, entrepreneurship and new ideas for cultural and economic advancement in Africa were carried along with the suitcases of Symbolic Systems, Inc.’s two Mandela Washington Fellowship Interns as they boarded planes back to their homelands in late September.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is an exchange program supporting President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. Following a six-week academic and leadership program at top U.S. universities and colleges, 100 of the 500 Mandela Washington Fellows are selected to remain in the U.S. to participate in eight-week internships, such as the one provided by Symbolic Systems, with more than 80 American non-governmental organizations, private companies and government offices. Hosts for the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s interns are selected by the United States Department of State.

 “I think it’s the responsibility of all of us to give back when and where we can, to exchange ideas and learn from one another,” said Frank Ponzio, president and chief executive officer (CEO) for Symbolic Systems, Inc. “This was a memorable, highly productive and valuable experience for everyone involved.”

With offices in Tinton Falls, N.J., and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Symbolic Systems, Inc., is an information technology (IT) and data engineering leader for the Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. government and other industries.

The two interns - Christian Eteo Botau from Equatorial Guinea, and Adepeuju Jaiyeoba from Nigeria - returned to Africa with practical knowledge, leadership skills and network connections aimed at facilitating positive change and increased international partnership.

Ponzio designed the internship program for Symbolic’s two fellows. It provided a practical understanding of how various community services in the town of Summit, N.J., operate, and how some aspects of town operations might be creatively adapted to meet social concerns in Africa.  

In addition to the government and administration curriculum, the interns studied the operations of several local businesses, including Sage Eldercare, which provides a wide variety of services for the elderly; the Summit Visual Arts Center and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Both interns had indicated that they had never had exposure to this type of community service.

Frances R. Pierce, chairman, president and CEO for Data Systems Analysts, Inc., an IT company whose clients also include the U.S. federal government and DoD, provided a mentoring session for the interns at Symbolic’s Tinton Falls office.

“No matter what you do in your job, anyone can use lessons learned on leadership and entrepreneurship and the qualities that are required to bring an organization forward, to form teams, to get people cooperating on ideas,” Pierce said. “They are commonly applicable across many professions.”

During the session, Pierce asked Botau which of all the things that he had learned during the fellowship had made the biggest impact and impression. Botau replied that he had gotten to know more about Africa here in the U.S. than in Africa. He was referring to the other Mandela Washington Fellows, with whom he would never have had the chance to interact and exchange ideas with had it not been for this program.

“Africa is a big continent and he had a chance to meet people from all over,” Pierce said. “And now they are all interconnected and have a network. That is pretty impressive.”

During his fellowship, Botau focused on civic leadership at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Ariz. Since 2009 he has volunteered as a cultural coordinator in the first privately conceived and managed cultural center in Equatorial Guinea. The center focuses on youth empowerment and education.

Jaiyeoba, who was acknowledged by President Obama during The Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Town Hall and Summit in Washington D.C., in July, runs a venture that connects woman in rural communities to the lifesaving supplies they need to improve maternal and child health. Her fellowship focused on business and entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Austin.

 Upon their return to Africa, the fellows will have the opportunity for continued networking opportunities, ongoing professional development, access to seed funding and community service activities.

“Exchanging cultural and intellectual ideas, providing lessons learned and opportunities for advancement is purely a win-win for everyone involved and we were very proud to support these impressive young minds,” Ponzio said.


President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship Town Hall speech:


Mandela Washington Fellowship:



Did You Know?
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