The value of youth participation at all levels of development is now universally recognized. However, recognition and progress in their engagement in the area of practical mentorship of leadership are not in tandem.
It is evident that there are piecemeal, insufficient and inadequate integrated approaches for youth engagement in leadership at all levels. In reference to the numbers of young people, their mobility, resourcefulness, creativity, flexibility in learning, responsiveness to change and abilities to adapt, youth are the best resource as agents of change and propagators of transformational leadership.
Ahmad Alhendawi, the former United Nations youth envoy, told Africa Renewal Forum that, “a dividend is the result of your investments. If you invest well, you get results. But that doesn’t happen by itself.”
He further expounded: “People talk about a demographic dividend for Africa. What we have now in Africa is not the ‘dividend,’ it is just a youth population bulge,”
When I look at UN data, Africa is a continent where countries have more people under 18 than on any other continent in the world. Further, the youth population in Africa is projected to double by 2050, which will place more and more stress on already strained resources for the region.
Depending on how governments respond to this reality, an exponentially expanding population of youth can turn into a ticking time bomb or a demographic dividend, defined by UN experts as the economic growth that ensues when there are more working-age people (15 to 64) than the non-working people (14 and younger, and 65 and older).
The alternative to a youth dividend is a youth bulge, which is characterized by high youth unemployment and widespread protests — a recipe for political instability. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, many of Africa’s young people are risking their lives on perilous journeys in search of a better life in Europe. Pools of idle youth are a magnet for recruiters from rebel or extremist groups.
Ticking Time Bomb
A so-called “ticking time bomb” can be defused when governments invest well and can reap demographic dividends. But how can they achieve the desired results?
I believe that Governments should invest in projects that create jobs or enable youth to start their own businesses. They should also make agriculture more attractive to youth, promote technology, improve young people’s skills and make school curricula relevant to the needs of job markets.
Furthermore, they should pass and implement laws that end cultural practices promoting child marriages or keep girls away from school. Governments need to support gender equality, empower women and girls, crack down on teenage pregnancies and tackle communicable diseases.
I often hear leaders say they are keen to listen to young people, engage them when they design policies and make decisions on matters that affect them. The reality is that these decisions are often made with little or no input from youth. What the leaders end up with are policies that purport to improve the lives of young people when, in fact, they lack the perspective of what youth really want.
Participatory Governance and Democracy
There is need to strengthen efforts to groom the youth, listen to them and significantly involve them in the process of strengthening participatory governance and democracy.
I further envision the promotion of the well-being and development of young leaders to renew and enforce their commitment and understanding of effective leadership and facilitate platforms that encourage dialogues on decision making, group leadership, types of leadership, qualities of good leadership among others.
Growing Our Leaders Programme
I propose a programme I will call “Growing Our Leaders Programme” (GOLP). It is hoped that this programme will reduce the intergenerational gap and conflict through a mentoring program for seniors and youth which is to provide young people with valuable guidance by capitalizing on the knowledge, experience and wisdom of seniors.
Mentors from the community level and elsewhere are to provide young people with academic, technical, experiential assistance, references, enrichment and linkages to guide them in solving their problems, exploring and exposing their talents to become contributing members of the Society.
Code for Youth
GOLP is intended to facilitate the development of a code for youth based on principles and values. The program may also encourage the formation of materials, linkages, partnerships, programs, platforms and infrastructure to undertake Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring of young leaders in communities, schools and other learning institutions.
The GOLP seeks to establish leadership centers with the purpose of equipping young people with leadership capabilities as a phase in preparing exemplary youth for entry to the National School of Government and further on to Public Service.
GOLP is expected to facilitate young people to forge and foster partnerships with relevant stakeholders in order to acquire skills and practice transformational leadership in their aspirations to realize the values, principles, rights, responsibilities, and obligations.
Young people can no longer be termed as leaders of tomorrow but must be seen and act as leaders of today. Transformation in governance, leadership can only be sustainable by meaningfully engaging the youth right from their learning institutions.
I strongly believe that young people need to be prepared to take up their obligations and responsibilities to achieve both individual growth and national development. To date, there has been minimal deliberate efforts to engage youth in leadership participation and its direct impact on young people themselves, the communities they live in and the countries as a whole.
Engagement of young people
In reference to youth-adult partnerships, little work has been done to design, develop, implement, leadership toolkits, indicators, and platforms against which young people’s participation, leadership programs, agenda-based processes, and practices can be assessed and evaluated in their efficacy.
Engagement of young people in decision making, leadership training, service leadership and enrolment of youth into leadership structures has been at most ad-hoc, unsystematic and institutionalized.
While there are significant benefits for adults to provide mentorship opportunities to enable young people to contribute in nation-building, many a time young people are viewed as threats to positions being held by their seniors.
Many factors contribute to the failure or refusal by adults or seniors to recognize their role to mentor and the value of imparting leadership capabilities to youth thus the need for deliberate, systematic, strategic and institutionalization of leadership mentoring and practice
Although there is an increasing number of organizations and development initiatives promoting youth participation, it is relatively rare for those organizations to modify their structures and programming to mentor young leaders.
I recognize that involving young people in dialogue has increased, but the engagement of such youth as apprentices or interns and allowing them to participate in management boards, inviting them to advisory forums, decision making meetings in organizations as mechanisms to expose them to practical decision-making world needs to be encouraged and supported.
These are some of my suggestions
- Develop a Leadership Code for Youth;
- Encourage transformational leadership skills, values and ethics;
- Facilitate the establishment of support infrastructure such as leadership centers, materials and tools;
- Develop and promote counselling, coaching and mentoring programs that prepare youth to take up leadership roles and positions more systematically and effectively;
- Encourage intergenerational youth and adult partnerships in the imparting of transformational leadership skills and the provision of mentoring opportunities to young people;
- Support youth to engage in peer-to-peer dialogues and debates on decision – making economic, political and social issues;