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World Leaders Discuss Leveraging Connections Among HBCUs, Africa and its Diaspora

United Nations in NYC Image by Anick-Marie via Flickr.

During the concluding sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders and key officials from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) met and turned their attention to HBCUs’ role in world affairs, education and development in Africa. 

The high-level, hybrid two-day event took place on September 26-27 at the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union in New York City. It was organized by the U.N. Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa, the African Union (AU) and the Office of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Development and International Cooperation (OHBCUD).

The theme of the convening was “Diaspora for Development: Leveraging Africa’s Sixth Region to Realize the Continent’s Promise.” With a virtual audience of approximately 1,500 participants from across the globe, the convening featured Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed, who serves as permanent observer of the AU to the U.N., as well as senior African leaders, prominent international scholars, development practitioners, development partners, and civil society representatives.

Dr. Jo Ann Rolle, the dean of the School of Business at Medgar Evers College, delivered the keynote, and the opening session’s speakers included Dr. Raymond Gilpin, chief economist of the Regional Bureau for Africa at U.N. Development Programme, Ron Price of Texas Southern University Board of Regents, Dr. Fikru Boghossian of Morgan State University, Dr. Farid Muhammad, chair of the OHBCUD, and Dr. Lamin Drammeh, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Evaluation and External Affairs at South Carolina State University.

Rolle also serves as the president of the HBCU Business Deans Roundtable and concluded her remarks evoking the Nelson Mandela quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done,”  while speaking of the potential of HBCUs’ collaborative impact on education and world affairs, saying “HBCUs can learn and engage more for a new and a better normal in a future we make”. ​

The HBCU Business Deans Roundtable provides a forum for deans of business schools at HBCUs to address challenges and opportunities associated with enhancing business programs. The organization seeks to develop strategic partnerships and alliances with corporations, government and national organizations to provide resources for student success.

“Together, there are over 200 HBCUs and other predominantly Black institutions of higher education in the United States. They produce over 85 percent of our medical doctors, 65 percent of African-descendant engineers, 80 percent of African American federal judges, 40 percent of African-descendant members of Congress, 50 percent of our teachers and 50 percent of African-descendant professors teaching at non-HBCU universities,” Dr. Muhammad said.

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The OHBCUD uses an international human rights framework to preserve the legacy of HBCUs and predominantly Black institutions. The group works on policy initiatives and various international educational and socioeconomic cooperation and exchange programs to ensure commitment to the preservation and empowerment of HBCUs.

Dr. Boghossian, dean of the School of Business and Management at Morgan State University continued Dr. Rolle’s call for increased alliances among HBCUs as a group and African states. 

“I’m suggesting HBCUs start collaborating among ourselves and deliver whatever expertise we have to the continent. The approach could be divided into regions or subjects such as agriculture, entrepreneurship or water, but we need to accept we need not compete among ourselves. We need to collaborate on how we can do it more efficiently and effectively and deliver what is required,” Dr. Boghossian said.

Dr. Gilpin moderated the opening session and discussed the potential of HBCUs to impact global affairs and international change.

“We believe that the diaspora and diaspora institutions could be fundamental change agents in terms of the conceptualization of development initiatives across Africa and in terms of the operationalization of these goals. We look forward to working very closely with HBCU colleagues and with the African Union, primarily the permanent mission here in New York, to accomplish these goals. We all know that this is not something any one institution is going to be able to do on its own,” Dr. Gilpin said.

Dr. Alem Hailu is an associate professor in Howard’s African studies department who has experience working with academic, public and non-governmental institutions. Dr. Hailu has been engaged in development, public policy and human security initiatives in Africa and the global south. He believes the event was monumental for HBCUs and young people should pay attention to the U.N. between October and August to ensure the HBCU community stays connected to the international sphere of work and global affairs.

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“Adolescents, students and young people should pay attention to the General Assembly, and U.N. in particular on an ongoing basis, as students play major roles as leaders, problem solvers and as members of the globalized world. Students and young people of African descent have an additional stake in the future as the UN demographic forecast underlines the fact that they will comprise the vast majority of the global population in the coming decades,” Dr. Hailu said.

The session’s conveners believe HBCUs are strategically positioned to work with the U.N. Development Programme, the AU and African countries to improve social and economic conditions and these institutions include centers relevant to Africa’s progress towards U.N. Agenda 2030 and AU Agenda 2063. A recent McKinsey study revealed that graduates of HBCUs and predominantly Black institutions in the U.S. have higher socio-economic mobility than African Americans who attend other institutions. 

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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