Six months ago, Sonni Torres marked Sept. 20 on her calendar. It wasn’t a birthday, or an anniversary. Instead, that’s when Ndaba Mandela, grandson of the late South African president Nelson Mandela, was scheduled to visit her school.
Torres, a graduate student in Manhattan College’s online MBA program, learned a lot about the older Mandela during an ethics and leadership class earlier this year. And now she was excited to hear what his grandson, Ndaba, had to say.
“I’m hoping that he transfers his grandfather’s energy and the charisma,” Torres said ahead of last week’s speech. “His grandfather was just so charismatic. What a wonderful man.”
Torres was joined by more than 50 students and faculty at the college, listening to Ndaba share stories about his grandfather, learn more about his Africa Rising Foundation, and how people — like those in that very room — could help Africa.
“He clearly must be a great man if he wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps,” said Hunter Brea, a junior in the engineering school, who typically skips school events at Manhattan, but didn’t want to miss this one. “I’m just here to absorb all that I can.”
Daouda Kone, also a junior in Manhattan’s engineering school, said his takeaway from the younger Mandela’s message is that giving back is not just about money, it’s talking to people and making a personal connection.
“I’m more inspired than ever to do something, me being African myself,” the Guinea native said.
“There is much more to Africa than what you see in the media,” Mandela said of the 54 countries that make up the continent, in a voice that sounded similar to his grandfather’s. “People outside the continent of Africa don’t have much information. The only information they have is the information that they see in the media: Africa is a place of war, poverty, disease and dictators.”
Mandela encouraged people to invest in the area, teach, or mentor a student. Also, he implored the audience to visit and learn about the Africa that exists beyond the media reports — and tell their friends.
“Through technology, education and entrepreneurship, we will empower young people to become the leaders we want and they also want to be,” Mandela said.
There are nine million students who graduate from high school each year with no jobs waiting for them in Africa, Mandela said. This has led high youth unemployment across the continent, and means the current generation will have to become entrepreneurs to create those jobs. But first they need to learn the skills necessary to lead in the business community.
Overall employment this year in South Africa is near 28 percent, compared to less than 5 percent in New York. Even more younger people are without work, with just above half of the country’s youth collecting paychecks, according to analysis at Trading Economics.
Mandela founded the Africa Rising Foundation with his cousin Kweku Mandela in 2009. Their mission is to build economic development while pushing positive images of the continent.
Within Africa, the nonprofit encourages those living in rural areas to farm to help better feed the rest of the content. It not only alleviates food insecurity, Mandela said, it serves a basis for entrepreneurship. Africa Rising works with various countries’ agriculture departments to distribute planting seeds and gardening tools.
Mandela wants to help realize “African dreams,” and is using that as a touchstone to help publicize the continent. But what’s Mandela’s?
“My dream is to make sure we eradicate all the bad leaders and create a new generation of amazing leaders who are not only smart, but are dedicated and care about their people and give back to the people as the cornerstone of leadership,” he said.
Nelson Mandela spent nearly 30 years in prison for protesting South Africa’s former government rule of apartheid, which separated people by race and discriminated against black South Africans and other groups of color. Mandela later became the country’s first black president, serving in the late 1990s.
For Torres, she got to hear how Ndaba Mandela is forging his own life’s path, making his own impact on the world.
“He’s very passionate about AIDS and awareness, and educating the children and helping them start their own businesses,” Torres said. “It’s good to hear his passion.”