MAPP Hosts Mandela Fellow for Professional Development Experience

By Brianna Rhodes / Sep 8, 2023

Michel Cabral Mandela Fellow speaking to students outside
Image Caption
Mandela Washington Fellow, Michel Cabral participating in Professor Clara Irazábal's urban studies and planning studio. Photo: Jelena Dakovic.

MAPP takes pride in empowering dynamic leaders in the U.S. and around the world.

Mandela Fellow Michel Cabral
Mandela Washington Fellow, Michel Cabral.

In its latest commitment to this effort, the school hosted Michel Cabral, a citizen of Cabo Verde, Africa, and a recipient of the U.S. Department of State's Mandela Washington Fellowship, between Aug. 7 and Sept. 1 for his Professional Development Experience (PDE) component of the fellowship.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The initiative supports young Africans as they spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance and enhance African peace and security.   

Cabral is a Ph.D. student in Global Studies at the Open University of Portugal and currently works for the mayor of his municipality. He was competitively selected to participate in four weeks of professional development experience and spent his time at MAPP furthering his education and governance skills under Professor Clara Irazábal.

Professor Irazábal served as Cabral's host supervisor and provided guidance for his research project on water management, security, and human rights. She also supported him through academic study, workshops, networking, professional opportunities and community engagement.

You can learn more about his time and experience at the school below: 

The interview has been edited and revised for clarity.

How has your experience at UMD's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation been?

I was here for one month to develop research on "Community Development and Human Security Through Water Management: A Comparative Study between Cabo Verde and Brazil." It was a great privilege to carry out my research at UMD's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. It added a lot of qualitative value to my curriculum and competence as a researcher and helped me as a professional in the field of community development.

My experience was extremely positive, as I had already expected after the initial conversations with my supervisor, Professor Clara Irazábal. I drew up my work plan with Professor Clara, and its implementation has allowed me to combine the useful with the pleasant. The topics I have been researching include the issues of water management, community development and human security. In addition to them being important topics for my professional life in Cabo Verde, they align with my Ph.D. thesis project in Global Studies.

What meetings, academic study, workshops, mentoring or networking sessions have you attended?

During the summer, school holidays and interaction at a university is difficult, especially at a quantitative level. However, the positive side is having the possibility of being in a calmer and quieter environment and having professionals around with more free time to help.

Professor Clara shared a lot of bibliographies with me, and the head of the library, Ms. Cindy [Frank], guided me very well on how to access online resources. I had a very rich set of bibliographies and professionals available.

I participated in the following activities:

  • The Annual Faculty & Staff Retreat.
  • The 2023 URSP/HISP Orientation Day and MAPP+D Incoming Graduate Student Welcome Charrette.
  • Professor Clara's Community Planning Studio Master's classes.


How has this visit impacted your professional development experience?  

Competence is a continuous process. Over time, with dedication, being in appropriate places and being close to competent and experienced people, you can develop many skills.

This visit will greatly impact my preparation for my Ph.D. thesis. It will also allow me to have a deeper understanding of community development, water management and human security issues in Cape Verde, given that I work as a public servant, in this case, a local government actor.

This visit is another step in my professional and academic development process. I believe it will take me to another level.

What have you learned from your host, Clara Irazábal?

I am very lucky to have Professor Clara Irazábal as a supervisor for several reasons.

Firstly, she has a very rich and inspiring academic and professional career. She has inspired me with her dedication, professionalism, scientific knowledge, willingness to share and help with humility and humanist values. 

Professor Clara made a set of bibliographies available to me as well and has introduced me to other people and spaces for networking, knowledge and visits-in addition to tasks and other guidelines. I am glad to have her as a mentor.


What knowledge will you take back with you?

In general, I will take with me:

  • The notion of a highly-developed country, academic knowledge about public leadership and deep knowledge of the potential of human resources existing in Africa.
  • An even greater awareness of universal issues such as climate change, equity, cultural diversity, freedom of thought and expression, gender and identity and responsibilities, among others.
  • An extensive bibliography on public leadership, community development, human security and other topics, which will contribute well to my doctoral thesis project and my professional performance.
  • A vast network of institutions, professionals and academics from the USA and Africa I can use for my academic and professional path.
  • New experiences and new knowledge of the U.S. labor environment, and an even more open mind about the world and life in society.


How has this experience impacted your leadership skills, and how did it foster connections and collaboration with U.S. professionals?

Like most young Africans, we dream and desire to see our continent develop to its full potential and achieve better socio-economic development. But for that, each one must work locally and be a good leader in our institution and community.

Throughout my journey, I have had the opportunity to work and visit leading institutions at regional and continental levels, but this experience in the U.S. is unique. I had the chance to visit great universities worldwide, learn from high-quality professors and professionals and see how things are done in practice in a very different, simple and effective way than the work habits in my continent.

It is a world of great professionals and great institutions open to networks that, in the future, may result in cooperation agreements and partnerships at various levels. The impact is immeasurable, but as I said, the mission now is to fulfill what everyone expects from me and us: the implementation of new ideas, projects and visions in our institutions and communities.


What does being a Young African Leader under the Mandela Washington Fellowship mean to you?

The meaning of being a Young African Leader under the Mandela Washington Fellowship is very clear to me. The program helped me identify my potential; it has prepared a very intense and rich agenda to develop my potential as a young African leader, but the most important thing is what we all expect from now on. That is, returning to my country and continent, settling down there and implementing my ideas and projects, helping my institution, colleagues and superiors with a medium and long-term vision that together we can improve the development of our country and continent.

Everyone agrees that Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources and has the youngest population, so the biggest obstacle to the continent's development has been the issue of leadership. With this program, I feel even more responsible for being a better community leader. I place a responsibility on myself, but that people also expect from me.

Professor Irazábal spoke highly of Cabral and his visit to MAPP. She believes this opportunity will open new doors for future collaborations to empower worldwide leaders. 

"Michel was a delight to host," Professor Irazábal said. "He is a courteous gentleman who taught me about the challenges his beautiful Cabo Verde nation shares with small island states around the world in this era of climate change, water scarcity, security and human rights. By supporting the Young Leaders of Africa through this Mandela Fellowship Program, as we did with Michel, we are enriching our community with global education and friendships."

For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit and join the conversation at #YALI2023.  

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