Since its founding in 1953, The Africa-America Institute was providing full and partial scholarship assistance and support to African students and visitors in the United States, and organizing forums and programs about Africa in the U.S.
With the onset of African independence, AAI began pioneering new programs to offer advanced education opportunities and specialized training to a greater number of Africans to equip them with the skills to take leadership positions and contribute to the development progress of newly-independent countries. By 1963, AAI was interviewing hundreds of students in Africa for USAID-funded scholarships in the United States. The organization’s portfolio was also broadened to administer training programs for African students in African nations. The Africa Scholarship Program of America Universities (ASPAU) was established in 1960, the African Graduate Fellowships Program (AFGRAD) in 1963, and the African Universities Scholarship Program (INTERAF) in 1967.
Developing the mass media in newly independent African countries was a key priority for AAI. The Institute awarded fellowships to African journalism students and practicing journalists for on-the-job training in the United States and Europe. A series of journalism workshops led by American journalists were conducted throughout Africa. For African press attaches based in Washington, D.C., AAI developed a four-month weekly seminar to assist in honing their journalism skills.
Many of AAI’s early programs were funded by U.S. government funds, yet some members of AAI’s staff and board were increasingly uncomfortable with such a heavy dependence on government funding. The Institute sought to diversify its funding and enlarge its base of support and programming by seeking funding from private sources. On its 10 anniversary in 1963, AAI received funding of more than $1 million from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Carnegie Corporation to bolster the institute’s program planning and evaluation, extend its facilities, and develop a sustainable fundraising plan.
Despite rapid decolonization, U.S. interest and international assistance to Africa was on a downward slope by the mid-1960s. In response, AAI organized in 1968, African-American Dialogues, a series of annual conferences with leading African and American leaders of government and the private sector, to fuel greater U.S. interest in Africa through discussions on top issues of concern to Africa and the United States.