Grooming Young African Leaders amidst COVID-19: Challenges and Lessons Learned

Grooming Young African Leaders amidst COVID-19: Challenges and Lessons Learned

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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.






About the author

Mabel is a bilingual Cameroonian and holder of a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from the University of Buea. She is currently awaiting defense for her master's degree in Quality Control and Management. She has gained experience over the years as a volunteer and has worked in some local Non-Governmental Organisations in the domain of community development. She is passionate about empowering young girls.

At WACSI, she works with the Capacity Development unit as the Programme Assistant where she provides support in the facilitation of training sessions.


Shu Mabel Lum

Mabel is a bilingual Cameroonian and holder of a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from the University of Buea. She is currently awaiting defense for her master's degree in Quality Control and Management. She has gained experience over the years as a volunteer and has worked in some local Non-Governmental Organisations in the domain of community development. She is passionate about empowering young girls. At WACSI, she works with the Capacity Development unit as the Programme Assistant where she provides support in the facilitation of training sessions.

1 Comment

  1. Nadjeu delmas

    Says April 13, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    I did not know about such programmes. Thanks for the share and am waiting to learn more

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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.