The importance of youth leaders and organisations has come to the fore amidst the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The spread and subsequent restrictions of the virus has affected communities and widened the gaps of inequality and poverty, resulting in amplified marginalisation. The impact of COVID-19 – described as the most serious health emergency in generations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has affected different groups of people differently – with the youth being the most affected.
Amidst the trying times, it is positive to note that the youth in southern Africa have been proactive in their response to the challenges worsened by COVID-19. For example, a number of youth organisations such as the Great Debaters Association from Botswana, the Eswatini Youth Information Centre, and the Funda Nathi Foundation from South Africa, as well as the Physically Active Youth from Namibia and Young Christian Students in Lesotho responded to the call for young people to play an active role in combating the pandemic. These four youth organisations identified access to education in their community as a challenge which needed to be addressed in order to ensure continuity of learning amidst precautionary lockdown regulations imposed by a number of countries. That resulted in schools and other educational facilities shutting down.
The closure of schools widens education inequalities and affect vulnerable children and youth disproportionately. The youth organisations mentioned thus focused their solutions to ensure that the learners continue to receive educational material during this time. By rising to meet the dire need, these organisations, among many others, enabled access to learning content in their communities.
So the question now is how can the work of these and other such youth organisations and many others be amplified? How can the youth effectively lead development in the post-the-COVID-19 era? I firmly believe more collaborations need to be encouraged to add value to each other’s activities and show higher returns on investment. The organisations that are supporting youth activities, financial and non-financially, need not force collaborations but encourage them. This includes creating an enabling environment where collaborations can be supported, increased conversations about how best to support youth and not to prescribing and stifling new ideas that do not fit the objectives of their programmes. Organisations need to demonstrate a greater understanding of their needs of the youth that they serve. There are greater benefits to collaborations since these will assist the youth to be less scattered and present a united front.
It goes without saying that collaborations among youth come with challenges. My recent interactions with youth leaders from countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe suggest that there is a lack of trust from youth organisations among themselves. Most youth organisations are more inclined to collaborate with more established organisations,there is a deficiency in transparency, and the limited resources create a competitive approach among youth organisation rather than promote a collaborative approach. These preliminary results provide lived experiences of youth leaders when trying to collaborate. Furthermore, these results show that there is a greater need to understand the current context in which successful and failed collaborations operate.
Despite the challenges that collaboration present, it is still essential that youth entities organise themselves to take full advantage of the opportunities and to complement each other. There are limited financial resources from international partners, and this presents the southern Africa region with a unique opportunity to unlock community resources and mobilise resources within the region. The work done using these resources needs to be impactful; thus, the principal of value-for-money needs to be adopted in every activity. A myriad of challenges face the youth in the region, and no single approach will solve the problems; however, there is power in unity. As the old African proverb reads:“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have to go far and work together to solve the challenges we are faced with as a continent. A future where Africa is funding Africa is possible.