Our Story

AFRE’s story began in 2015, when the Atlantic Philanthropies started developing the Atlantic Fellows concept. Meeting with grantees and advisors in South Africa and the United States, Atlantic executives explored what final contribution it could make, as a spend-down philanthropy, to accelerate progress towards a more just and inclusive world. From those conversations emerged an urgent imperative: to put Atlantic’s remaining assets in the service of a long-term network of diverse leaders dedicated to building a just and inclusive world free of anti-Black racism and white supremacy. 

This founding imperative guides our work. Over the next decade AFRE will develop and nurture a transnational network of Fellows to support both the personal development of social change leaders and the broader social change activity that is required to achieve racial equity in South Africa and the United States.

AFRE is based at Columbia University in New York City and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. Staff from South Africa and the United States work in close collaboration to design and implement a fellowship programme tailored to the needs of each cohort. Our homes at Columbia and the Nelson Mandela Foundation enable us—and our Fellows—to draw on the wealth of knowledge, experience and capacity of the two institutions. We benefit from faculty and other resources at the university, as well as from the Foundation’s deep experience in promoting dialogue and social justice based on the lessons of Nelson Mandela’s leadership. 

In addition, we work with a rotating set of strategic partners in each country to enhance the curriculum experience and coaching and other supports offered by the programme.

Why we work in South Africa & the United States

South Africa and the United States are connected by a shared history of power structures exploiting people based on their race, gender, class and ability. Over the last two centuries, activists working for Black liberation in these two countries have learned from and inspired each other to build movements that organise people to achieve full equality. 

AFRE builds upon—and reinvigorates—this history of exchange by creating a space for leaders from both countries to come together to explore, imagine, experiment and build long-term solutions for impactful change. Our work also builds on the history of Atlantic Philanthropies’ funding in South Africa and the United States, and its deep commitment to advancing equity in these countries.

Our Mission

Our mission is to build an enduring transnational network of leaders across issues, approaches, and geographies to challenge anti-Black racism and build the institutions, policies and narratives for a more equitable future. To achieve this mission, our programme centres on three interlocking components:

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Our yearlong, nonresidential fellowship programme builds knowledge, skills and a sense of community among Fellows to work collaboratively to address the causes of racial inequity.

COMMUNITY BUILDING: We cultivate sustained collaboration among Fellows and Senior Fellows through our networking and programmatic events.

NARRATIVE SHIFTING: We amplify new ideas and solutions developed by our Fellows to advance racial equity and change public narratives around race.

Our Vision

We hold a vision of a just, equitable and inclusive world where people from the most oppressed communities have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to flourish to their fullest potential.

Our Values

Our values are rooted in the belief that justice, transformation, imagination, integrity and ubuntu are vital for social change.

  • Justice: We aspire to create a fair society that affords all people equal opportunities to thrive

  • Ubuntu: We embrace a praxis of shared humanity, openness and dignity

  • Imagination: We engage in critical, innovative and reflective thinking to envision and realise liberation for Black people

  • Integrity: We are committed to being ethical, professional, reliable and authentic in all our words and actions

  • Transformation: We believe that renewal, creativity and learning are essential to the process of structural change and achieving racial equity

The Atlantic Fellows Global Community

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is one of seven interconnected Atlantic Fellows programmes:


Together these programmes create a global community to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies. Within and across programmes, disciplines and borders, Fellows collaborate to understand and address the root causes of inequality.

Each of the programmes is distinct and grounded in its local context, but all share a deep commitment to advancing equity. All programmes start with a core fellowship experience like the one our Fellows are about to embark on and continue with Fellows joining the lifelong global community.

Our Racial Equity Fellows work, our programme and the shared mission of all the Atlantic Fellows programmes are amplified through the Atlantic Institute.

Based in Oxford, U.K., the Atlantic Institute convenes and supports all Atlantic Fellows: our current 2019 Fellows, as well as programmes, graduates who have become Senior Fellows.