Reframing African youth roles
Curated Story
This article originally appeared on
World Policy

Shootings and flying petrol bombs turned Mitchells Plain in Cape Town, South Africa, into a war zone for a week in late March 2015. Buses and taxis refused to enter the township established by the apartheid government in the 1970s. Eric Coetzee, a community leader, describes this neighborhood as "a world of gangs, violence, and poverty.” When he was young, Coetzee joined a gang for safety. But the story changed when he started as a student at RLabs. “I finally found the place where I fit in. I don’t have fear anymore,” he says.

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Ashoka Insight

Social innovators across Africa are leading a shift away from the traditional mindset that Africa’s youth are problems to be solved. They know that trusting youth to lead by giving them opportunities to make real decisions, have their voices consistently heard, and make meaningful contributions to their communities ensures young people avoid long periods of “waithood” before fully entering adulthood.

There is no shortcut to create an enabling environment for effective youth leadership, but social innovators are demonstrating three interrelated factors:

  1. creating meaningful youth leadership roles,
  2. ensuring adults provide guidance, support, and partnership to make leadership possible, and making sure adults are accessible enough that youth are not derailed due to a lack of guidance or failure to address holistic needs,
  3. and facilitating experiential learning to ensure youth learn marketable, life-long skills.

Reem Rahman works at Ashoka Changemakers as a Product and Knowledge Manager to help anyone with an idea for social change succeed in making a difference. She is passionate about creating open-source tools for learning and designs products to increase collaboration, impact, and sustainability. These have included a dashboard for every user to receive custom feedback, the Changemakers Guide to Pitching and Crash Course, and guides on trends in social innovation.

Prior to joining Ashoka, Reem was one of the Managing Directors for the innovative Rethinking Islamic Reform forum in the UK, which has reached over a hundred thousand viewers to date and she directed communications and public relations for a civil rights group in Chicago
Lynsey Farrell is a Senior Change Manager and works with the Global Partnerships and Africa Teams. Since 2013, she has been managing Ashoka's partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, a multi-million dollar grant supporting innovations in youth livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to Ashoka, Lynsey directed American University’s semester abroad program on “Issues in Sustainable Development in Nairobi, Kenya. Lynsey’s experience in Kenya began with a Fulbright student fellowship, followed by doctoral studies in cultural anthropology at Boston University. Her doctoral work was based on seven years of ethnographic research with youth self-help organizations in Nairobi’s largest informal settlement. In East Africa, Lynsey also worked as a consultant on a range of strategic planning and capacity strengthening assignments for a variety of non-profits, including the East Africa Law Society and Maendelo ya Wanawake, the largest and oldest grassroots women’s organization in Kenya.

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