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Harvard’s Office in Johannesburg Thriving in First Year

By Sonia Kim, Crimson Staff Writer

Five months after its ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Center for African Studies’s flagship office in Johannesburg, South Africa is up and running, hosting fellowships, roundtables, and research partnerships for Harvard affiliates in the region.

The Johannesburg office opened on May 31 with the goal of creating opportunities for research, education, and partnerships in South Africa. According to Y. Obenewa Amponsah, the executive director of the office, the Johannesburg outpost works closely with the Center for African Studies in Cambridge to develop outreach activities around Africa.

“We have facilitated a series of public dialogues, making African knowledge and insight more commonplace, and we’ve also partnered with organizations like the Nelson Mandela Foundation to organize different programs,” Amponsah said.

Amponsah added that the office is committed to broadening public knowledge about Africa. Apart from the new center, Harvard also opened an office in the North African country of Tunisia in January, and several of its graduate schools operate programs across the continent.

“Our office’s fundamental mission is to raise awareness about African perspectives and to be a point of connection that can link people in the Harvard community and the communities in Africa,” Amponsah said.

There are currently more than 3,000 Harvard alumni living in Africa, and about a third of them live in Johannesburg, according to Amponsah. In addition, more than 100 Harvard faculty members conduct research and teach on topics related to Africa in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

The Center for African Studies has also played an important role in expanding Harvard’s South Africa Fellowship Program, which provides an opportunity for mid-career South African professionals to study at Harvard.

“[The fellowship program] is a way to help solve the apartheid struggle,” Amponsah said. “We want to create an environment that supports research and exchange.”

Most recently, the office hosted a roundtable event focusing on renewable energy, bringing together professors and stakeholders who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Todd Washburn, senior assistant provost for international affairs, said the Johannesburg office is small, but it is still important for the university to have a physical presence in Africa to further its mission of lowering the barriers for students and faculty to directly engage with the region.

“Having a person on the ground who can help build connections with local universities, NGOs, or businesses is a way of building connections and bonds that you simply can’t do virtually,” Washburn said.

The office has plans to collaborate on new public programs in 2018 with the Africa Research Office in Johannesburg, the regional office of the Harvard Business School, Amponsah said.

—Staff writer Sonia Kim can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @soniakim211.

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