For almost 70 years, The Africa-America Institute (AAI) has worked to improve the global understanding of Africa and its diaspora and increase educational opportunities for young Africans.
Founded in Washington, D.C. by Dr. Horace Mann Bond, the first Black president of Lincoln University, and William Leo Hansberry, a professor at Howard University, AAI promotes engagement between Africa and America through education, training and dialogue.
Some of the organization’s programs include a STEM scholarship program, partnerships with the NAACP, a school service program providing a robust K-12 curriculum on Africa and its global diaspora and an annual awards gala celebrating the vast contributions of Africa and its global diaspora.
This year, AAI’s 38th annual awards gala made its in-person return during United Nations General Assembly week in New York City. The gala brings together many notable guests, including heads of state, diplomats, government officials, business and civil society leaders and scholars.
“When the world gathers at the UNGA, sometimes the only news that breaks through about Africa and its worldwide diaspora is negative,” AAI President and CEO Kofi Appenteng told ESSENCE in a statement. “We established the gala so the world might recognize and celebrate the achievements of Africa and its worldwide diaspora as a way of balancing the picture and encouraging the leaders who are accomplishing so much to serve as examples for others,” he said.
Hosted by New York Times bestselling author, speaker and podcast host Luvvie Ajayi Jones and marketing executive, entrepreneur and author Bozoma Saint John, this year’s awards program was held on September 20 under the theme “Africa in the World.”
Learn more about this year’s honorees and why you should know more about them and their groundbreaking work.
Mahen Bonetti – Founder and Executive Director of the African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF)
For over 30 years, Mahen Bonetti has created platforms that have given African filmmakers and their work a voice. She has dedicated her life to providing opportunities for Black storytellers to tell their stories through film. Under her leadership, NYAFF has taken African cinema out of the art houses and into communities. In contrast, AFF has introduced countless filmmakers to U.S. audiences for the first time and created the world’s largest digital archive of African films. Her role as a master curator of African films and champion of African Diaspora filmmakers was celebrated with the Ambassador for African Cinema Award.
Dr. Solomon Assefa- Vice President of IBM Research
Dr. Assefa leads IBM Research’s global effort to develop core technologies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, healthcare and life sciences and technology, among other initiatives. He is also in charge of IBM’s Africa Labs, developing new collaboration models with government, industry, academia, non-profits, and start-ups. The Africa Labs are critical in addressing Africa’s grand challenges and serving as a model for the rest of the world. According to AAI, Dr. Assefa received the Science and Technology Leadership Award for his efforts “in advancing purpose-driven global innovation to enable sustainable futures.”
Betty Wambui Kibaara – Director of the Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation
Betty Wambui Kibaara oversees the Rockefeller Foundation’s investments in food systems and its efforts to improve access to nutritious foods and nutrition. She is the Rockefeller Foundation’s regional champion for initiatives to strengthen food security, agribusiness and resilience to the devastating effects of climate change to enable sustainable and equitable economic growth. Kibraara received the Distinguished Alumna Award, which honors an AAI alumna who has made outstanding contributions to their country or field of work. Kibaara earned a Master of Science in Agricultural and Resource Economics from Colorado State University after participating in AAI’s Strategic Technical Assistance for Results with Training (START) program.
Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana – On Behalf Of The People of Botswana
AAI honored the Republic of Botswana with its National Achievement Award in recognition of the country’s commitment to democracy and stability in the region and its focus on addressing the importance of education, healthcare and youth development. The Award was accepted by Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana. President Masisi – the 5th President of the Republic of Botswana, previously worked as an Education Project Officer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Throughout his career, the Florida State University graduate has worked to promote global partnerships on education and support Botswana’s youth.