Liz Fanning


NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
(WAG ’97)

Founder and Executive Director, CorpsAfrica

“There are so many outsiders going to Africa to help. People from Africa deserve the same chance to be part of those efforts,” says Liz Fanning. That conviction—one that envisions talented African youth as agents rather than beneficiaries of positive change in their own countries—became the catalyst for CorpsAfrica. The locally-led, locally-funded nonprofit has emboldened a new generation of Africans to helm development projects that fight rural poverty while building resilience in poor rural communities across the continent. For Fanning, CorpsAfrica’s goal isn’t to create an army of saviors, but “to create an army of listeners.”

Inspired by her Peace Corps service in Morocco, Fanning founded CorpsAfrica to give college-educated African youth a similar transformative experience that “gives them a chance to get their hands dirty, as the Peace Corps does, and helps them learn about themselves—the good and the bad.” Over the last six years, CorpsAfrica has placed nearly 300 volunteers in high-poverty, high-need villages throughout Malawi, Morocco, Rwanda, and Senegal. But it’s not only the volunteers who benefit from this grassroots community development experience. It's also the local people they empower through projects that address unique and complex local needs like agriculture, education, infrastructure, and small business development.

Those projects, while small-scale, are delivering big results. Volunteers have constructed wells, organized literacy classes, renovated schools, and at a Malawi refugee camp, even built an NBA-funded basketball court. In Rwanda, a country where 38 percent of children experience chronic hunger, volunteers have helped plant 760 gardens as part of CorpsAfrica’s Kitchen Garden Initiative. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, CorpsAfrica staff and volunteers in Senegal quickly pivoted to work with the Ministry of Youth to produce 500 face masks, 5,000 liters of bleach, and 5,000 pieces of soap for local communities.

Given just one volunteer’s efforts can impact an average of at least 500 people, it’s no surprise CorpsAfrica draws an increasing number of Africa’s young “superstars.” The tremendous work of volunteers and staff under Fanning’s tireless leadership has also attracted over 10,000 applicants, donors, friends, and partners. And in 2019, the National Peace Corps Association bestowed Fanning with their prestigious Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service. But Fanning knows this is only the beginning. She sees a future where CorpsAfrica hosts 250 volunteers in every African country, a total of 13,500 volunteers, each year. “Then,” she says, “we can start thinking about CorpsAsia.”