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Inspiring Visit

CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation speaks with Mandela fellows

Growing up Black in Tennessee, Travis Adkins acutely felt the impacts of racial inequality. He saw it in the unrepaired potholes on the streets of his neighborhood and, more significantly, how his family was met with disdain everywhere from the grocery store to the classroom.  

Those experiences helped propel him into a multi-decade career of public service working on international development in more than 50 nations across Africa and the Middle East.   

“I didn’t want to accept a society where my mother was less than other people, where my grandmother was less than other people,” an emotional Adkins, the president and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation, recently told Bridgewater State’s Mandela fellows while fighting back tears.

Hailing from 18 African nations, the fellows are spending six weeks at BSU for a public management institute. The institute is part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX.  

“You’re leading in the present moment and that’s what it’s all about,” Adkins said, adding: “I didn’t come here because I’m special. I came here because you are.”  

Adkins spoke at a dinner during a multi-day visit to Massachusetts organized by Vinny deMacedo (special advisor to BSU’s president) and Dr. Wing-kai To (institute director and administrative co-director for the Mandela program at BSU).  

Appointed by President Joseph Biden, Adkins oversees an independent agency established by Congress to invest in grassroots African enterprises and entrepreneurs.   

The agency supports agricultural, renewable energy, and entrepreneurial projects, and employs African nationals who live in the countries it serves. It invests in organizations and people to help build a prosperous future.  

“Many of them are people who don’t have a business just to make money, but they have a business to solve a problem,” Adkins said.  

Fellows Ronard Lubaga, a corporate social responsibility officer from Tanzania, and Floriane Klinklin Acouetey, a social worker from Togo, said they were inspired by the talk to connect their clients with Adkins’ organization.  

“Back home, I have an opportunity to influence young people who are entrepreneurs to seek opportunities like this to help advance and grow their businesses,” Lubaga said.  

Klinklin Acouetey was struck by the raw emotion Adkins displayed when sharing his personal story.  

“When I see what he has managed to accomplish, it gives me hope. It gives me joy,” said Okeoghene Ifiezibe Akusu, a doctor from Nigeria. “It’s like a beam of light telling me if he can get to where he is now, I can also get things done.”   

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