Youth across Africa constitute a large portion of the population, yet they lack leadership development and opportunities to positively inform decisions that affect their communities. To address this challenge, Counterpart, in partnership with the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), implemented the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) known as  the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) from 2014-2019, through funding from USAID.

  1. Peer-to-peer learning is not just a buzz phrase; youth actually want opportunities to learn and collaborate with each other. To address this, we matched up youth with mentors who provided technical assistance, life coaching, and access to collaboration grants. As a result, 774 Fellows gained insight in their fields through mentoring opportunities. Establishing Communities of Practice further contributed to youth skills building and knowledge sharing.
  2. Youth need to be in the driving seat. While most youth-serving programs tend to engage youth as key beneficiaries, MWF sought to integrate youth leaders into Regional Advisory Boards that coordinated between youth beneficiaries, USAID, IREX and other program stakeholders. 151 youth represented their peers through professional practicums.
  3. Training is great, but youth crave opportunities to apply their newly acquired skills to demonstrate their leadership in action and give back to their communities. To address this, youth designed Leadership Development Plans, applied for grants, and carried out activities in their communities that demonstrated their value alongside traditional gatekeepers in their social networks. 104 Fellows received Collaboration Grants and 669 Fellows built skills and grew their networks through professional practicums.
  4. Youth look at problems from multiple angles. 76% of fellows who participated in USAID-funded follow-on activities contributed to a cross-sector network.
  5. There is growing interest in the private sector to invest in youth. Through MWF, we leveraged $7.6 million from the private sector to support professional development.
  6. Youth-led learning should inform adaptive management. Youth engaged in annual surveys, regional summits, and quarterly meetings to share their observations and recommendations on how to improve the program design at every stage. Networking conferences also established bonds between Fellows, increased their confidence and enabled knowledge sharing.
  7. Peer-driven communication works. Fellow-driven communication tools, such as WhatsApp and e-newsletters, acted as more effective ways to engage the Fellowship community than general outreach. To further enhance communication, Regional Advisory Board members were offered a communication stipend to fully participate in planned calls and connect one-off with Fellows as needed.
  8. Alumni associations are powerful ways to sustain youth engagement, but they require additional organizational capacity strengthening. This is a process that needs to be supported and linked up with other youth leader networks on the continent. Twinning programs should be encouraged, where strong alumni associations are linked with a country that has a less developed association.
  9. International or regional exchanges are valuable opportunities to generate greater impact. In total, over 169 Speaker Travel Grants were awarded, affording youth valuable opportunities to establish connections which they leveraged to strengthen their work in the public and private sectors. A majority of the Fellows cited that the U.S.-based learnings were an invaluable component of the program as they gained useful knowledge, especially on leadership values which they were able to apply when they returned to their communities.
  10. Inclusion matters. Youth are interested in continuing to learn how to address gender, sexual orientation, and disability marginalization issues in their communities.
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