July 18, 2013

Bringing YouthActionNet to Africa

By Jessica Elisberg

I recently returned from my first visit to Kampala, in the “Pearl of Africa,” where I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with five Ugandan YouthActionNet alumni who between them represent the last four fellowship classes. It didn’t take long to see what makes each of these young innovators so exceptional, and it took even less time to feel motivated by their energy and passion for the change they are affecting in their communities.

Our conversations touched on many topics, ranging from Ugandan politics to recent developments and successes the Fellows have achieved, but we landed on YouthActionNet’s expansion to Africa. At the moment, in addition to Laureate Global Fellows, there are 11 other fellowship programs that are members of YouthActionNet at the national or regional level; none of them is based in Africa.

Fellowship alumni gather in Kampala
We’re working on changing that by developing two regional fellowship programs for young social entrepreneurs in Africa: one for French-speaking youth, and one for English-speaking youth. It’s an initiative that we, the YouthActionNet team, are incredibly excited about, and it was inspiring to see that our enthusiasm was shared by the amazing young Ugandans I met.

We discussed the role that African youth can play in society today. “Africans have the resources and skills to improve our own communities,” said Kenneth Odur, 2010 Fellow. “But what’s missing is the engagement and empowerment of young people,” added Muhammed Kisirisa, 2012 Fellow. Gertrude Namuwonge, Class of 2009, agreed. “African youth have been left out of decision-making, and we need to participate and make change.” 

We also talked about the opportunities these fellowship programs would bring to the continent. Benjamin Sunday, Class of 2011, said that he hopes YouthActionNet can “be a tool to make a positive change in Africa.” Jane Nampijja, Class of 2012, added that “these programs can help develop talents that no one is discovering, and motivate youth to be more innovative and creative” in their problem-solving.

What’s even more exciting is how close at hand these new programs are. The Francophone program, Innove4Africa, has already launched and is currently accepting applications for its first class of fellows. To learn more about the program and apply, you can visit the website of host partner Synapse Center. But if you’re living in Africa and don’t speak French, never fear – the Anglophone institute will launch later this year!
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