Community development and leadership now rests in the hands of the youths. According to a report on “The Burgeoning Africa Youth population” by Felix Kariba, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. They are the most active and vibrant population and therefore need to be properly groomed to enable them to have the right skills set to contribute to the development of the continent. Therefore, the need for youth empowerment programmes is paramount as they are vital in ensuring a nations’ economic and political stability.
In 2010, the United States Government launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to shape young African leaders in business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership and public management. Regional Leadership Centers in Africa were created to facilitate leadership training in the region. In West Africa, the Accra Regional Leadership Centre (RLC) was established in 2014 and hosted by the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).
Through this programme, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) has trained over 500 young Africans. These youths have benefited from WACSI facilitators’ dynamism in a vast range of empowering modules such as civil society sustainability, policy advocacy and engagement, communicating impact, proposal writing, and civil society governance. The impact created by these training has continued to create a positive change in their lives and their societies at large.
Feedback from YALI fellows indicates how life-transforming the programme has been to them and those around them.
‘YALI gave me the best consecutive 3 weeks of my life in training, teamwork and in network building. I can’t think of a better Emerging Leaders Program than YALI. The logistics of the full training were on point. The trainers were the best in Ghana. 3 tracks were well represented, Civic Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Public Policy and Administration. In my humble opinion, all young leaders should be here for this training, either online or off-site. It would be an experience they would cherish,’
Director, Standing Committee on Capacity Building (SCOCB) of the Nigeria Medical Students’ Association (NiMSA)
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, WACSI facilitated its sessions on-site at the GIMPA campus in Accra. Participants came to Accra after completing a two week online introductory session. These on-site training were ideal as they provided participants with a wide range of experiences and hands-on training. The on-site programme entailed thirty per cent of lectures, thirty per cent of application (group work and guest speakers) and forty per cent practical and hands-on experience.
However, COVID-19 greatly affected the nature of the YALI training as participants lost the opportunity to be physically present for the sessions.
With the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RLC in consultation with its partners like WACSI explored other options of ensuring that these dynamic young African leaders continued to receive the necessary guidance and mentorship.
In February 2021, WACSI began its first YALI virtual training sessions for the 37th cohort, with 180 participants.
YALI’s 37th cohort virtual session saw a change in dimension and delivery methods.
Between 10 – 16 February 2021, WACSI facilitated five modules: Organisational Governance, Project Management, Proposal Writing, Communicating Impact and Introduction to Advocacy. These modules ran for two hours each and were delivered following a participatory approach to ensure full engagement and maximum comprehension.
Participants expressed their desire to acquire communication, proposal writing, and civic society management skills. One of the participants stated:
“My expectations are a bit broader. As an engineer, I’m drawn to Akon’s work and others of a similar nature. I would like to know how to leverage my skills and discipline in bettering society at large and additionally increasing my network circle.”
When asked how they felt before the training and their expectations, the facilitators expressed a high level of enthusiasm.
Jimm Fomunjong, Head of Knowledge Management unit at WACSI and facilitator of the session on Communicating Impact, indicated that the transition from on-site to virtual was slow albeit well embraced since they had to find alternative ways to achieve the organisation’s mission.
He was keen on ensuring that participants understand the prime importance of communicating their efforts to promote development in their communities as that has several benefits to their organisational and individual brands.
After the first virtual YALI training for 2021, the facilitators described their experiences as interesting. They applauded the participants and were very motivated by their keen appetite to learn and their level of engagement during the sessions.
Despite the opportunities presented by the virtual session, such as improving time management, more exposure and mastery of virtual platforms, it is worth noting that it also came with a few setbacks. Of the 180 participants who were selected, only about 100 participated in the sessions constantly. In most instances, the session often ended with just about 90 participants. The low patronage was attributed to poor access to the internet connection, poor energy supply in their different countries and the difficulties to manoeuvre the zoom application.
Amidst these challenges, both participants and facilitators were contented as the facilitators could feel the burning desire for knowledge in these participants through their responses.
In the end, participants described this training as one of their best training sessions. Epic, illuminating, motivating, impactful, thought-provoking and inspirational were some of the words they used to describe their impressions about the training. They commended the facilitators and expressed so much joy in having embarked on this journey.
It is evident that youth leadership is a key concept for community development and must not be overlooked. As Bill Rammell states;
“We know that the challenge of youth employment is one that needs urgent attention. The development of skills relevant to market demands is a crucial way in which we can address this.”
Therefore, it is a priority for systems to be put in place to ensure that these youths receive the best form of guidance towards leadership to become the ideal leaders that the nation needs. Although COVID-19 came with many obstacles and distractions, especially in training and education, WACSI, in partnership with GIMPA, has continued to groom and nurture young African leaders to champion development initiatives in their communities and countries.