EDUCATION: Arizona State University, Bio Science
Balanding hails from The Gambia, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences (Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology) at Arizona State University. In 2014, he was one of only two people from his native Gambia that was awarded the prestigious MasterCard Foundation Scholarship to study in the United States, a comprehensive 4-year scholarship that is awarded to academically talented and promising young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to coming to the US, Balanding worked at the Medical Research Council, a British owned medical research center based in The Gambia where he was involved in several malaria research projects, working both in the laboratory and also in the field. Working at the research center granted him the opportunity to travel to some of the remotest villages in The Gambia to deliver malaria treatment and basic medical aid to the villagers in these places. This experience was what also motivated him to study biological sciences, a degree that he hopes to use to improve the healthcare needs of his people.
In Spring 2015, less than a year after starting his undergraduate studies, he was awarded the SOLUR Undergraduate Researcher Award at Arizona State University, a highly competitive undergraduate research program that will enable him to carryout undergraduate research under the supervision of a faculty mentor while pursuing his degree. Balanding’s research will take him to Senegal over the summer of 2015 together with his faculty mentor to study how locust outbreaks affect farming communities and food security in Senegal and Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. They will do this by studying the biology, behavior and host plant preference among others of the Oedaleus senegalensis grasshopper species. The main aim of the research is to better understand the behavior of these grasshoppers, their diet, the nutrient content of the soil in the fields and the land management systems used by farmers in Senegal and how all these factors contribute to locust outbreaks which are always very devastating to farmers because important crops like millet, beans and groundnut are destroyed leading to a decrease in crop production and an increase in food insecurity. They hope that the findings will give us a better understanding of how to reduce the frequency of locust outbreaks.
A highly driven person, he is always looking for ways of not only improving himself but of also impacting the lives of people around him. Balanding is a committed young leader who is passionate about the well fare of the poor and hungry in communities around the world, he is the President & CEO of a non-profit organization called Rural Impact which is a registered non-profit organization that he started in The Gambia. The organization works to empower women and farmers in rural communities to become food self-sufficient, eradicate hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty in a sustainable way. Rural Impact empowers them to engage in income generating activities by providing them with the needed basic necessities, training them on best farming practices, and encouraging community dialogue on issues relating to hunger, malnutrition and poverty and how they can be tackled sustainably. Mr. Manneh believes that one of the best ways of tackling hunger and extreme poverty in Africa and the developing world as a whole is to empower people to be able to engage in sustainable income generating activities rather than relying on short-term approaches like provision of food aid and handouts from donors which does little to solve the actual causes of hunger and poverty.
At Arizona State University, he is currently the Finance Director of a student organization called Collegetown@ASU, which is an organization that works to foster diversity, inclusion and tolerance on campus and in the wider Phoenix community. He joined Collegetown@ASU because of his strong belief in the power of diversity and inclusion as tools that we can use to make our world a better place. Being a part of the executive board members has given him the opportunity to engage others in dialogue to increase awareness and cultivate a sense of tolerance and acceptance in people. Prior to joining Collegetown@ASU, in a bid to nurture a sense of community and contribute to the growth of the community he has found himself, he became a board member of his residence hall called Towers Community Council where he helped to plan activities and represented his residence hall in meetings and other activities.
Balanding is a believer in putting others first before self, being a servant of the people- and he has been able to demonstrate this through some of the projects and initiatives he has carried out in his community. He says, “It’s not and shouldn’t always be about us as individuals but rather about us as humans and as a people”. He is a young man that embodies the spirits of service and leadership. Among his role models are people like the former South African president Nelson Mandela and the US president Barack Obama, leaders whose vision, sense of purpose and direction that he greatly admires.