What if we listened to youth voices and asked them what they wanted? For young people, who make up more than 60% of the continent’s population, listening and building with them to drive systems change is critical for creating a sustainable future in Africa.

In February, we hosted a fireside chat on creating sustainable change by listening to, trusting and elevating youth voices. The event featured four young leaders who shared their personal journeys, the challenges they face, as well as strategies, stories and solutions to inspire and support young people. The speakers also discussed how culture, family, mentors and community influence their development.

Teresa Mbagaya of Imaginable Futures facilitated the discussion featuring Allan Van Der Meulen of Zlto; Beverly Nicole Adhiambo of Educate!; Jim India of Emerging Leaders Foundation and Ashley Jayalo Jahalo of Jasiri Talent Academy, who is also an IF Youth Advisory Board Member.

Jim India, Policy Research and Learning Officer at Emerging Leaders Foundation

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

"I saw how young people are tools for great transformation." - Jim India

Jim shared how growing up in poverty motivated him to make a difference in his community. Walking to school everyday he questioned: “Why do boys like me struggle and have to fend for ourselves?” A visionary, he believed this could be changed: “I saw how young people are also tools of great transformation… and would clean the streets. We would plant trees. We would do community outreaches. I always knew in my heart that if things worked out, if I went to school, worked hard, then I absolutely needed to elevate their stories.”

Beverly Nicole Adhiambo, Program Officer at Educate!

Rising from Adversity and Displacement

"I made a vow to myself to always come back and work with my community." - Beverly Nicole Adhiambo

Beverly told the audience how her entire worldview shifted overnight when she and her family became internally displaced persons in 2008 after Kenya went through a period of post-election violence. Overcoming this adversity and her education have been motivating factors behind her work today: “I made a vow to myself to always come back and work with the community. So I ended up doing social sciences. I went into community development. I came back to work with my community.”

Allan Van Der Meulen, CEO, Zlto

Unwilling to Accept the Status Quo

"For me, every day is a reminder." - Allan Van Der Meulen

From an early age, Allan witnessed the challenges that young people face by just walking out of his front door. He spoke about former classmates and family members who struggle to survive because they faced challenges in finishing school:“ For me, every day is a reminder. Every day I walk to the shop, every day I speak to my family; it's a constant reminder. So that's really what inspires me, and that's why I do the work I do.”

Ashley Jayalo Jahalo, Founder and Director at Jasiri Talent Academy

Inspired by Her Mother

"The one thing it [education] gives you—it gives you power." - Ashley Jayalo Jahalo

Ashley's motivation for becoming a leader came from her mother who herself faced challenges in finishing primary school. She told me: “‘My child, remember, education is the key to success.’ And one thing that it gives you— it gives you power. It gives you a voice to stand up in whatever space and demand to be listened to, and to be heard.”

Advice for Youth On How to Shape Their Future

The speakers also shared actionable advice for youths:

  1. Jump In: If you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity to start, you’ll wait forever. If you want to make an impact, jump in. Identify what you want to change and start small.
  2. Find a Mentor: Mentors and role models play a huge role in instilling confidence in young leaders. Establishing a relationship with a mentor can create a multitude of possibilities, whether it be accepting wisdom passed down from a supportive parent, looking up to an individual making change in the world around you, or opening yourself up to networking opportunities.
  3. Prioritize Mental Health: Maintaining your mental health is a priority, not an afterthought. Establish a daily routine; don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek out mental health care; surround yourself with a great support system; and remember to take a step back once in a while—you can only serve your community to the best of your ability.

Stay Tuned for Future Fireside Events

The event is part of our The Future We Imagine virtual fireside chat series, where we are exploring different themes to realize brighter, healthier, and more equitable futures for learners and their families and communities. Stay tuned for our next chat.