I have always believed that young people have the power to change the narrative about meaningful youth engagement because I have experienced it first-hand and witnessed transformative change.
As a volunteer with Restless Development, I have had the privilege to engage young people as partners to solve critical challenges such as lack of good education, access to sexual health services and unemployment just to mention a few.
I am a part of the Mastercard Foundation Africa Youth Think Tank (YTT), a project implemented by Restless Development. . The YTT brings together 28 young people from East, West and Southern Africa to conduct research. Engaging young people as researchers is a valuable process because we can best understand the aspirations and challenges our peers face in acquiring key skills, securing employment, starting and growing businesses and transitioning into the labour market.
As a young Zambian researcher with YTT, I was given the grand opportunity to visit New York and represent Restless Development and the YTT as a youth judge at this year’s RTI International’s two day “Ideathon” organized by their Global Center for Youth Employment (GCYE) in partnership with The Ford Foundation and 1776. This was the 3rd Ideathon since they started and their mandate has been to connect stakeholders in workforce development to identify and pursue innovative solutions to a worldwide shortage of job opportunities for young people worldwide.
Travelling to New York for the first time to participate as a youth judge and roving mentor was a dream come true. It felt so surreal to be given a chance to share my insights on youth employment and use my voice to represent the YTT, fellow young people in my country, Africa and all over the world.
Prior to my trip, I was part of the team that created the shortlist of 16 from over 200 plus submissions. Although this was not viewed as a competition, day one involved the top 16 participants pitching their ideas to a general audience of about 50 people from different NGOS, the private, and corporate sector.
By the end of the day, the top five had ideas had been selected and advanced to the final stage. Even though only five made it to the final, the organizers reminded everyone all 16 ideas were winners because of the exposure their efforts had received from multiple funders and a broad network of youth employment organizations. During day one and half of day two, the Atlas Corp Fellows and I mentored the five finalists. We tried to impress on them the importance of having a strong problem and solution statement. My priority was to make them think about how their idea could help and solve youth problems, especially those young people who are marginalized. During the 30 minute sessions with each team, we discussed how young people must be partners rather than beneficiaries if we are going to reduce youth unemployment. Each of the five teams prepared questions that they could ask a group of other YTT members, who were supporting remotely from East Africa. Their feedback helped them refine their ideas.
After sharing my experiences as a roving mentor and presenting feedback from the remote YTT members, I had the privilege of introducing Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, that inspiring man I have only read about and seen YouTube videos. I couldn’t believe I was introducing him to the audience and presenting remarks.. I had to pinch myself to remember this was really happening. I remember saying in my speech that “…it’s not every day you’re in the same room with Forbes top 100 influential people and experts in different fields so this is a grand moment!” The audience laughed.
Finally, at the end of day two, the top give ideas gave their presentations. I was happy to hear each idea leader point out areas I had asked them to consider. I felt so proud to be a young person whose voice had been heard. This gave me the confidence to ask questions about how they would like the GCYE to help them scale up their efforts and see this idea succeed. I have never experienced a more empowering moment.
The Ideathon ended with Lynk winning best idea followed by Harambee. Read more here about the other winners of the Ideathon.
Thanks to Restless Development and RTI for believing in my capabilities. Participating in the Ideathon has helped me truly believe in myself. I am passionate about young people and the opportunity to speak about issues that greatly affect a them in the world today, such as unemployment, is not one to be forgotten. This experience has made me treasure the true meaning of meaningfully engaging young people in development.
The moment the world realizes that young people have the solutions to their problems and need support and partnerships to implement change, then will we be able to achieve global development.
Since my return from the Ideathon, I have continued with my part time work at Copper Rose managing all the administrative work. Also, I’ve continued my role with the YTT. I have been validating the data the team has been collecting and our research report will be published in the next couple of months.