Lekha Tlhotlhalemaje, a junior in Yale College and President of the Yale Association for African Peace and Development (YAAPD), is in the throes of planning YAAPD’s annual Yale African Peace and Development Conference (April 13-14). She chatted with us about this year’s panels, theme and planning process.
Q: Who comes to the conference?
A: We have about 300 participants and most of them are not Yale students – they are African or first generation African.
Q: The theme of this year’s conference is “Intersections.” Can you talk about that?
A: We were hoping to bring together people from all different spheres of life, people of different identities, people from different places, to discuss one issue. For example, for the Business & Technology panel, we’re hoping to talk about the role of entertainment in that, the role of politics in that, the role of sustainability in that.
Q: Tell me about this year’s panels.
A: With the interdisciplinary framework we were hoping to create panels that are quite broad and can incorporate lots of different perspectives. The four panels are Democracy, Identity, Sustainability, and Business & Technology. The Identity panel, for example, could address “What is it like to be a woman in government?” or it could be “What are the issues right now with LGBTQ rights across Africa?”
Q: What are you looking forward to about the Business & Technology panel?
A: I think the Business & Technology one is really cool because there’s a lot of innovation coming out of Africa, and that’s not often appreciated or noticed. For example, there’s a mobile banking organization called M-Pesa in Kenya, which was like Venmo before Venmo, but you don’t need a bank account. All you need is a cell phone number, which more and more people are starting to have. That’s real innovation that’s doing good work on the ground. A lot of people might not have access to internet, but they have a cellphone number, so they can use that. We’re hoping to talk about startups in Africa and technology and innovative things that people are doing.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the panelists?
A: One of them is Oscar Ekponimo. He’s from Nigeria, and he created an app called Chowberry, which monitors expiration dates of food items and lets the producers or stores know so that they can make a plan to give it to people who need food, before it expires. It looks at the difference between the sell by date and the expiration date, so they can give it to a community. Then there’s Olamide Oladipo, a marketing manager in fashion. She’s worked with Stella McCartney, and she went to Harvard Business School. Another is Claude Grunitzky who is editor-in-chief of TRACE, which is an international fashion and music magazine. He runs an online platform with the same label.
Q: How has Tsai CITY been involved in this process?
A: We were really excited to learn about Tsai CITY! I think it has a lot of the same goals for what innovation can be that we’re hoping to address in this panel. We got in touch about funding, and that’s been really helpful because a lot of our speakers are coming from the continent. We’re really excited to work with CITY now and in the future.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s conference? How will it be different from years past?
A: We’re going to have panels and then breakout sessions or workshops where participants will have an opportunity to talk to the panelists in a smaller setting and discuss a specific issue. The panels will be like lecture, and the workshops will be like section. Because of the nature of the panel names, the panels will be pretty broad, but then we’ve reached out to the panelists asking them what specific issues they’re interested in talking about. The workshops will be an opportunity for panelists and participants to talk to each other and collaborate and brainstorm. It’ll be a nice opportunity for there to be more engagement between the participants and the speakers.
Q: How did you get to YAAPD?
A: I started YAAPD in my first year as a coordinator. The next year I became the speaker relations person. The conference was a huge success, so I was really invested in being involved with YAAPD. I think it’s an awesome organization because compared to YASA [Yale African Students Association], which is more culture focused and Yale focused, it brings together the broader African community that’s in the US, and just people interested in the continent and working on issues on the continent, to talk about more political issues, development issues, issues of peace and health. That’s something I’m interested in doing. I’m hopefully going to work in human rights and I think it’s really awesome to meet people who are doing that in their lives and to see where they came from, and to be inspired by them.
Emma Chanen is a Digital Media Intern at Tsai CITY.