When the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou nominated Joannie Bewa to attend the International Visitor Leadership Program’s (IVLP) “Young African Leaders” with 19 of her colleagues from across Africa, she jumped at the chance to gain a better perspective of U.S. culture and policy. A general practitioner physician, Joannie has always been actively engaged in social issues, particularly in championing for the empowerment of women and girls in her native Benin. “My wish is to make a change at a national and international level, as a physician or as a public-service leader,” says Joannie. So, while in Washington, D.C. on the first segment of her IVLP, Joannie had the chance to hear from U.S. government officials like the Senior Director for African Affairs at the White House and the State Department's Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues. She later discussed U.S. election policy in North Carolina, explored diversity issues in New Mexico, and talked with families and organizations in New Orleans who were making a difference following Hurricane Katrina.
Participating in the IVLP gave Joannie the opportunity to interact and share innovative ideas and best practices with professionals in the United States, but also with other young emerging leaders from the continent.
“I enjoyed making connections with other young African leaders who all have a development vision for Africa by Africans,” says Joannie. I’m in contact with all of the delegates. I think we are a strong network that can positively change Africa in the coming years.”
“I am now more aware of the change that can happen, as either a physician or a public-service leader. This program keeps me inspired. I’m already thinking about many activities I can apply in my community.”
Since her IVLP, Joannie has continued to make inroads in her country. As part of the Beninese State Alumni community, she contributed to the “Empowering Pre-University Women to Choose Scientific Subjects” proposal, which won a State Department’s 2012 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) grant, and through her civic engagement and professional training, she has made an impact upon more than 5,000 girls and young women entrepreneurs in Benin. Joannie is also the first female president of the U.S. Ambassador’s youth council in Benin, where she will advise the U.S. Ambassador on critical youth issues and suggest innovative solutions.
“We don't have to wait for every solution to come from Europe or the U.S.,” says Joannie. “I think we have to become a strong Young African Leaders network that can impact other young leaders in our communities.”