NK Staff Connects with Mandela Fellows

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. Supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the program has been established to enhance leadership skills, bolster entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders with one another, the United States, and innovative leaders in the private, civic, and public sectors. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of this effort.

NK Architects recently welcomed a group of Mandela Fellows, who are currently studying at Rutgers University, for an open dialogue on architecture and design.

President & CEO Stephen Aluotto, along with staff members Katie Johnson and Andrew Lewis, led a discussion with four Mandela Fellows from Ethiopia, Sudan, Botswana and Senegal. The conversation began with an overview of NK’s experience and capabilities in healthcare, higher education, corporate and mixed-use projects, and established common ground with the leaders’ passion for sustainable and environmentally-sound design practices. Bezawit Zerayacob, an architect and researcher from Ethiopia, has focused on introducing more environmentally-sustainable building practices in her country. She is currently conducting research on how bamboo can be utilized as construction material for future projects and is working toward architecture practices that are energy efficient and sustainable.

“Talking about our experience at NK gave us time to reflect on what is important to us as a firm and as individuals. Whether in Africa or New Jersey, we all have a common goal to improve lives and communities through the built environment. Discussions like this inspire us to look beyond the status quo and allow us to envision a better future,” noted Katie Johnson, NK staff member/healthcare architect.

Associate Principal Andrew Lewis also led an informative discussion on networking tactics and how to build lasting client relationships. "It was really inspiring to talk about the practice of architecture and how it gives us so much common ground," Andrew stated. "I found it refreshing how, despite all of the differences there may be between practicing as an architect in North America and in Africa, we shared so many commonalities in the challenges we face in finding and maintaining clients, in our desire to do good, meaningful work, and in the joys we manage to take out of our professional lives."

NK was grateful for the opportunity to connect with the Mandela Washington Fellowship Foundation and share values that empower our profession and inspire each other to utilize our craft to make positive change in communities across the globe.