Unemployment and underemployment are dire challenges facing many developing countries. In West Africa, the youth are worst hit by this menace. Moreso, many youths endowed with valuable potential to contribute to the development of their countries and the region are pushed to engage in illegal migration ventures in search of greener pastures. This is partly because they sometimes do not have the opportunity to express their savoire-faire in society.
Recognising this challenge, and, appreciating the potential in West African youth, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) designed the Next Generation Internship Programme (NGIP) to groom young West Africans to be civic conscious and capable of championing civic action and promote effective leadership and influence within civil society organisations in West Africa.
Through the NGIP, WACSI has groomed more than sixty young people across West Africa into excellent leaders and influential civil society actors.
This holistic professional development programme offers young people practical experience and mentorship which makes them better leaders, improves their civic consciousness, and prepares them for their career. Specifically, it grooms them to be capable of taking leadership roles within the civil society sector and society at large.
In 2014, when Leandre Banon started his internship at WACSI, he had basic project management skills but just a little knowledge about civil society. He had worked as an Assistant Analyst at the Central Bank of West African States (Benin Republic Office) where he supported his department in data collection and compilation for economic trend analysis. Therefore, being selected to intern with the Institute as a Programme Assistant was a groundbreaking opportunity for him to enhance his project management skills and broaden his knowledge base about civil society.
Banon who interned with the Institute from September 2014 to March 2015, was the second Beninese to have benefited from the NGIP.
While working as an intern, Banon put up a sterling performance at work which shaped his career at the Institute. Upon successful completion of his internship, he was recruited to lead one of the Institute’s key projects, the West Africa Drug Policy project. A role he played for more than three years. In 2016, he was subsequently recruited as a Programme Assistant and later promoted to the role of Programme Officer, Capacity Development.
The former employee who worked with the Institute for 9 years was genuinely happy while recounting his experience.
“It was through this internship that I enhanced my inter-personal skills. The people here [at WACSI] are nice people and easy to relate with,” he told WACSI’s communications team on 24 January 2023 at the Institute’s Secretariat in Accra.
Banon beliefs the Institute has a supportive work environment characterised by collaboration and teamwork. This helped him to get any help he needed in his work.
“WACSI has professionals from diverse backgrounds and different countries. This is very helpful for anyone who wants to learn and share ideas,” he said.
As an Officer with the Capacity Development unit, Banon had the opportunity to lead several capacity development initiatives under many projects. This, according to him, significantly contributed to his career growth as he did not only acquire skills but also gained exposure interacting with over 800 civil society organisations across West Africa including international non-governmental organisations.
While at WACSI, his work cut across various thematic areas including, human rights promotion, environment, local fundraising, advocacy for social change, to mention but a few. Banon believed in constant learning by doing, a philosophy which won him great successes in his work.
He noted that the Institute which started work in 2005 has grown significantly, moving from a regional-focus to international-outlook.
“WACSI has grown due to the great leaders we have in the team. I also like how the communication and knowledge management units work collaboratively to amplify the Institute’s impact across the African continent,” Banon added.
He expressed appreciation to the Institute and pledged commitment to making the best out of the knowledge he has acquired.
As he transitions into a new role as the Regional Programme Manager at the International Republican Institute, Banon has urged young people to make the best out of every opportunity that will come their way.
Commenting on Banon’s career progress, Charles Kojo Vandyck, Head of Capacity Development unit, who supervised his work describes him as a young man with good amount of “emotional intelligence.”
“I know he [Leandre Banon] will excel wherever he goes, having passed through WACSI. He always demonstrates resilience and a calm attitude even when the work gets tough.
He is always looking for solutions to problems. He believes every problem has a solution. It was a joy working with him,” he said.
Banon’s story is one of the numerous success stories the Institute has received over the years regarding its flagship internship programme. We are particularly happy the programme is adding value to the lives of young civic actors.
The NGIP is a six-month rigorous skills development initiative which began in 2008. Out of the 69 young Africans from sixteen countries who have graduated from the programme, 38 are females while 31 are males.
Sixteen of the participants came from Ghana, ten came from Nigeria, three came from Burkina Faso while ten were selected from Benin.
Seven of the graduates were from Cameroon, three came from Cote d’Ivoire, two from Gambia, six from Guinea Conakry whereas two were selected from Guinea Bissau.
One Liberian has also benefited from this programme. Two also came from Mali while one was selected from Seirra Leone.
Two Senegalese and one person from Niger have also benefited from this flagship programme with two and one from Togo and Zimbabwe respectively.