Yale Young African Scholars (YYAS) was conceived in 2013 by a group of African undergraduate and graduate students at Yale University. Their goal was to share their knowledge and experience of studying in the U.S. with some of the continent’s most talented secondary school students, and to help them prepare for the demanding university application process. Dr. Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Director of the Yale MacMillan Center, as co-director of the Yale Africa Initiative, immediately embraced the project. The support of the MacMillan Center, the University’s focal point for promoting teaching and research on all aspects of international affairs, societies, and cultures around the world, was instrumental in bringing YYAS to fruition. 

The Center continued to provide generous guidance and support for YYAS in the first few years, enabling Yale faculty and students to participate in this unique opportunity to work with Africa’s next generation of leaders.

In 2014, YYAS held its pilot program in Ghana and Ethiopia. Over 1,200 students from 23 countries applied and 110 students were selected, representing 18 African countries and 79 secondary schools across Africa.

Building upon that early success, the following year YYAS held subsequent programs in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, bringing together 100 participants from 17 countries. Later in 2015, thanks to a generous gift from Higherlife Foundation (HLF), YYAS received funding for three years of subsequent programming to be held in Ghana, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe, serving 300 students per year from 2016 to 2018.

Higherlife Foundation is a philanthropic organization that empowers African children through education. HLF invests in holistic community development in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Burundi and South Africa, by providing a mix of programs that are aimed at making beneficiaries and communities more resilient and converting them into vibrant ecosystems. Emphasis is placed on fully understanding local community needs and developing strong relationships with different stakeholders through lobby and advocacy to offer the best inclusive development assistance which yields optimum impact and social change.

In 2016, thanks to the gift from HLF, YYAS welcomed its first cohort of 300 with students from 25 African countries. As the years progressed, country representation increased steadily to reach 39 in 2020. In addition to being the most diverse cohort year yet, the 2020 program set some more records for YYAS. 2020 was the first year YYAS piloted an online version of the program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about the 2020 program here.