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SayXchange and YALI Drive Regional Integration for Youth in Southern Africa

Regional integration in Africa is a topic which has been widely discussed over the years, however, the youth in Africa seem to be excluded from participating in key regional policy processes.

So, in 2010, the Southern Africa Trust (The Trust) implemented the Southern Africa Youth Exchange (SayXchange) programme to serve as a driver of the people-to-people dimensions of regional integration, in so doing incorporating the youth. In 2014 and 2015 the Trust also worked with the SADC Secretariat to support establishment of a SADC Youth Union which includes youth in civil society organisations as well as government-led National Youth Councils.

SayXchange aims to set a path for the development of future leaders with a broader regional perspective; increase understanding of the power of volunteerism as an important building block for strengthening civil society; to promote regional integration and a southern African regional identity; encourage and support youth engagement in civic affairs; and bring about a clearer understanding of diverse cultures and the social issues in the southern African region.

Building on its vast experience garnered through working with young people in the SayXchange programme, The Trust partnered with the University of South Africa (Unisa) – Graduate School of Business Leadership and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) on the Young African Leaders Initiative’s (YALI): Regional Leadership Centres (YALI RLC) and the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) respectively.

YALI – Regional leadership Centre Southern Africa (RLC SA)

The RLC SA aims to create critical thinkers who can solve complex, multidisciplinary problems; foster entrepreneurial and innovative thinking; and encourage cross-border communication and multicultural collaboration. The RLC SA develops the skills of young African leaders by providing core training in contemporary African issues, as well as specialised training in three key areas: Business and Entrepreneurship; Civic Leadership and Public Management.

The online programme is aimed at individuals who have commitments or personal circumstances which make it impossible for them to travel to South Africa to attend the residential programme. The programme is 4 months long and comprises of lectures, online forum discussions and various activities aimed at making the learning acquired in the programme as practical and meaningful as possible. The virtual space provided by the online programme offers the flexibility needed by some individuals. One can participate in the comfort of their home.

The Trust is working in collaboration with the YALI RLC to facilitate and assist in developing a module for Civic Leadership engagement.

Mandela Washington Fellowship

The programme aims to build the skills of young African leaders to improve the accountability and transparency within government, start their own businesses and serve their communities. The Fellowship provides leaders from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to develop their skills through six weeks of intensive executive leadership training at a university in the United States. When the young leaders return to their home countries, they continue to be supported for the remainder of their fellowship year with mentorships, internships (professional practicums), online learning and speaking opportunities.

“The Trust has hosted more than eleven cohorts from the YALI RLC for a site visit where we presented on our strategy, sustainability and grant-making facility to the participants. With the MWF, The Trust is currently working on implementing the follow-on programming with its second cohort of fellows. YALI is seen as integral to our youth work at The Trust and contributes significantly to our overall strategy, which seeks to prioritise youth participation in all our programming.’’ said Tumiso Chepape, Project Manager at the Trust.

Virginia Mwanza, a 28-year-old from Kalumbila in Zambia, and Valerie Kunene, a 29-year-old from Brakpan in South Africa, are SayXchange alumni fellows who went on to be registered for the YALI RLC programme. Their work on SayXchange around volunteerism in community work provided them with a valuable foundation when applying for the YALI RLC programme as applicants are asked to describe their community involvement.

Virginia Mwanza

Virginia Mwanza

Prior to being on the SayXchange programme, Virginia Mwanza served as a Team Leader for the International Citizen Service Entrepreneurship Program (ICSE), funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).  ICSE is focused on small to medium enterprise development at Challenges Worldwide in Lusaka, Zambia. She also ran her own small business as a sales agent of AVON.

“The YALI RLC application was based on individual experiences in active community work, responsible leadership and tolerance for people’s differences. SayXchange provided me with practical knowledge which adequately prepared me to answer questions in the YALI RLC application as well as the interview after being shortlisted,” said Mwanza.

Mwanza believes leaders in southern Africa need a significant change in mind-set so that the region can transform its social, economic and political status. This can be achieved not only through investing in equipping young minds with the leadership skills required to move the continent forward but also with the requisite effort, preparing young leaders with the skills necessary to manage people while in positions of power and to answer their calling to serve in related leadership positions.

She is currently an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and life skills educator at Sentinel Kalumbila School. Mwanza teaches ICT skills to 140 pupils who are aged between 5-25 years. She teaches life skills to 50 pupils and 30 community members, particularly youths between the ages of 14-28 who are not in school. Mwanza is also initiating the development of a youth entrepreneurship academy to train talented youth in the arts, specifically attuned to honing their talents into a profitable business and sustainable source of livelihood. Furthermore, she is working with other Zambian SayXchange alumni to establish the National Youth Alliance, a platform for youth participation and civic engagement.

Valerie Kunene

Valerie Kunene

Valerie Kunene believes Africa is a continent filled with opportunities on which the youth should capitalise.

She volunteered as a care-giver at Thari Ya Sechaba Home Based Care and was an active participant in the Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation training programme before being selected for the SayXchange programme in 2014.

She is currently a second-year law student at the University of South Africa (Unisa), a move she attributes to her involvement in SayXchange.

“The SayXchange programme is designed for young leaders and people who want to change the world. It has shaped and paved the way for my dreams and aspirations; I knew what I wanted to do but did not have a clear direction regarding how to pursue it,” said Kunene.

Kunene works as an orphan coordinator at Thari Ya Sechaba Home Based Care and has 126 children from age 0-17 years under her wing. Her role entails compiling progress reports, doing school visits, checking if children are properly taken care of, and resolving related cases as and when they arise.

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