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Moving from Talk to Action


Emile Uwezowamungu, 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow

As a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow in the Department of State’s Young African Leaders Initiative, I am one among 1,000 Fellows accepted from a pool of more than 49,000 applicants. After six weeks of studies in leadership, entrepreneurship and business at Cambridge College in Massachusetts, I I have been lucky to be placed at El Pomar, a “Foundation for Colorado,” where I learned how conversation in the community can prepare leaders to take action.

My background is what led me to focus on community development and helped prepare me for this experience. I receive a degree in Civil engineering followed by five years directing my own construction firm CASTEC. I have spent three years as Executive Director of PARJE (Young Entrepreneurs Park) and one year in social enterprise Innova Group, as Lead Consultant for Entrepreneurship and social innovation.  My success and varied interests is why I am chosen to be a 2016 Mandela Washington fellow and placed at El Pomar.

The professional development experience at El Pomar Foundation was an opportunity to learn from successful examples for my community and professional goals.  As a private foundation, El Pomar works to make sure the vision of its founders, Julie and Spencer Penrose, is fulfilled. They invested their money in Colorado to improve their community for future generations. In the past six weeks, I had the chance to meet many social innovators in Colorado, take classes in nonprofit management and leadership, and see how El Pomar employees collaborate on everything they are doing to ensure sustainability of this vision and the best grant making outcome. 

My vocation to be an entrepreneur and nonprofit leader is sometimes confused, but like Spencer and Julie, I realized that if the community still is impacted with low incomes, my own businesses and my country will suffer. After realizing the highest need in Burundi is supporting entrepreneurship and social innovation for jobs creation I shift my focus from engineering to community development.   And my hard decision has been secured by understanding that: “Difficult doesn’t mean impossible but it means working hard.”

My opportunity to participate in different events had inspired me how I have to take a role of change by bring some examples saw during my time at that Foundation. The two most highlights are the Forum for Civic engagement Program and Milton E. Proby Induction Ceremony program. The first one is to inform, advance and advise community on what happen in the world to make sure they plan a good role facing to the better future and the second one is for to acknowledge the greatest model leader in the community per year.


Montrose Recreation Center site, the recipient of a capital grant from El Pomar

This year, the Milton E. Proby Induction Ceremony was very inspired to me and Colorado community; I believe what recognized to George Nakayama as a Japanese American, an athlete and coach, a business man, lifelong educator, and community leader in Colorado Springs and Fountain Valley must be a good example for everybody who is involved to contribute changing his community. 

Learning is a first step, but using what you learned is another thing. As Emile Uwezowamungu with US experience in different fields, entrepreneurship, innovation, community development and change-making, I have decided to begin with two specific goals to make a difference in my community:

  1. Implement and develop professionally my social enterprise Innova Group
  2. Raise my nonprofit PARJE, with the focus to fundraise for making a big impact in my community through small businesses of young people.

My six weeks with El Pomar Foundation team will be unforgettable time where I learned to serve, took time serving, built my personality, and developed me as professional. Since today, I am connected to Colorado community and will work hard to ensure the partnership between Colorado and East African continues. The Mandela Washington Fellowship Forum has been an excellent opportunity to connect to this community and I express my thankfulness to all stakeholders, in the Fellowship particularly, and to all kind of leaders I met here in US. Now it is time to achieve our promises of collaboration. I look forward to moving from talk to action.