From Mizzou to Malawi

David J. Young, University of Missouri alumnus and current U.S. ambassador to Malawi, talks about his time on campus and how it prepared him for success.

David J. Young headshot

David J. Young

Sept. 13, 2022
Contact: Deidra Ashley,

When 18-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, native David Young arrived on campus in the fall of 1980, he thought he was going to be a sports reporter. After spending time abroad and exploring his interest in international affairs, Young found his true calling in Washington D.C.

With 33 years of experience in the U.S. Foreign Service, Young has served as interim Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, and Pretoria, South Africa. He recently took on the role of U.S. ambassador to Malawi in Southern Africa — focusing on building strong relations between the U.S. and Malawi and providing support for the people and government of one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world.

Learn more about Young and how Mizzou prepared him for a career with global impact.

Tell us about your responsibilities as ambassador to Malawi.

I work to help promote U.S. interests and values in the country of Malawi. We focus on the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance and fighting against corruption. We also promote trade and investment promotion and economic development. There’s a true focus on reducing poverty and investing in people through health and education, including peacekeeper training and exchanges, and public diplomacy.

How did you come to work in politics and in Africa?

I have a strong interest in international affairs. When I was at Mizzou as a journalism student and after I graduated, I did some freelance journalism in the Philippines, South Korea and Latin America covering transnational issues and human rights. After that, I joined the Foreign Service at the U.S. State Department, which was 33 years ago now.

For the past 10 years, I’ve worked in leadership roles in embassies in Africa. That's taken me and my family to Sudan, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and now Malawi.

How has your Mizzou degree prepared you for your career?

Mizzou gave me a very broad liberal arts education through my studies in political science, international relations, economics and the humanities. Through my journalism training, I gained strong writing and editing skills that have been really helpful for me as a diplomat. As I rose up in the ranks, I found myself editing papers to send to the Secretary of State or the White House.

What do you want people to know about your work?

I think the American people should be proud of the efforts that we do to help countries like Malawi. For example, about one of every 20 Malawians depends on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV. There are nearly one million Malawians who are alive because of the work that we do to fund the medicine through PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Global Fund, to which the U.S. contributes about a third of the funding.

Over the past 20 years, the life span of Malawians has risen from about 45 to 65.

four people pose for a group photo

David J. Young, and his wife, Diane, right, at a soccer match with the Malawian President and first lady in 2022.

What advice would you give current and prospective MU students?

Find out what your passion is and go for it. I think something more important than making a lot of money or having a title is to do something that you believe in, that you are passionate about and that you feel expresses your ideals.

What’s your favorite Mizzou memory?

I'm not sure it's my favorite memory, but it's a very strong memory … When I did my first story as a student journalist for the Missourian, I was assigned to report on a case at the county court. I got mixed up on the time and I showed up two hours late. The courthouse was closed and everybody had gone home.

I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh, what have I done? I've ruined my career. I'm not going to graduate. It’s disaster. How am I going to face the editor?” I slipped over to the newsroom and my editor was just so kind to me and helped me find another way to cover the story. He was a great mentor and supporter to me at a time where I felt like I totally screwed it up.

Because of that experience and others like it, I like to mentor young people starting out their careers. I want to be supportive and take the time for them because I’ve personally benefited from people doing that for me in my career.

I’m very proud to be a Tiger.

Story written by Madalyn Murry

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