Co-op Cincy training African engineer about food cooperatives

Co-op Cincy is hosting an agricultural engineer from Africa over the next month to teach him the ins and outs of operating a food cooperative back home.

Arindo Akweni is in Cincinnati between Aug. 7 and Sept. 1 as part of the Professional Development Experience component of the U.S. Department of State’s Mandela Washington Fellowship. It’s flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, also known as YALI.

The White House and State Department created the fellowship in 2010 as a way to assist young Africans with their work spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance and enhance peace across their native continent. 

Akweni, who’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an agricultural engineer with a doctorate in crop production and food processing from the University of Zululand in South Africa.

Arindo Akweni
Arindo Akweni

During his fellowship, he’ll go through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking and professional opportunities. He’ll also work to connect with the local leaders, professionals and the border Cincinnati community.

Akweni hopes to use the fellowship to further his understanding of agricultural practices, grant writing and the cooperative business model. He’s particularly interested in food-related cooperatives.

“As an agricultural expert, I intend to contribute to changing the sad narrative of my country which is known to possess the largest fertile lands in the world and a lot of business opportunities but is still ranked among the poorest countries in the world with the highest rate of food shortage and poverty,” he said.

This year’s fellowship process began earlier this summer with 28 U.S. educational institutions hosting leadership institutes for roughly 700 Mandela Washington Fellows. The six-week program supported the development of fellows’ leadership skills through academic study and workshops.

The cohort then participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit, where they met with leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors. 

Akweni was one of about 100 competitively selected fellows to participate in four weeks of professional development with business, nonprofits, government agencies and non-governmental organizations such as Co-op Cincy.

Originally named the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, Co-op Cincy is a nonprofit union co-op incubator founded in 2011. The organization works to teach people about cooperatives, which are businesses owned and controlled by its workers on a democratic basis.

Kristen Barker, co-director of Co-op Cincy, pointed out that the cooperative business model is common across the world, and she feels it could Akweni and the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I am really grateful to have someone with Arindo’s background and fresh perspective to help us with some of our food cooperatives, which have the lowest margins,” she added.

Mandela Washington Fellowship

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