Pan-African youth leadership development
Africa is by far the world’s youngest continent, with a median age of only 18. Such a large population of young people presents an enormous challenge for the governments of Africa’s 54 countries. Resources must be found to ensure food, water, shelter, healthcare, education and livelihood training for fully half of the 1.2 billion people on the continent.
While this is indeed an enormous challenge, for the Jesuits and their partners it has also become a real opportunity. Here is the future—full of energy, ambition, idealism, passion, hope; eager to learn and open to new ideas. Here too are the future leaders of Africa and of the world, whether in government, business or civil society.
Jesuits have made a major contribution to education in Africa for many, many years. More recently, however, they have begun focusing on the leadership potential of African young people in very direct and deliberately Ignatian ways: forming young people holistically; teaching methods of discernment and decision-making for the common good; providing skills for leadership that is spiritually and emotionally intelligent, compassionate, ethical, authentic.
In 2017, a new pilot program called Purpose-Driven Leadership Development was launched at the Jesuit Centre for Leadership Development (JCLD) at Copperbelt University in Zambia. Fifty university students, half of them women, participated in training workshops to develop their personal and professional skills as future business, government and civil society leaders. The program was run jointly by JCLD and the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Eminent Zambian leaders from the public and private sectors were also invited to help with the training. Overall, the 10-month program, which was supported by Canadian Jesuits International (CJI), was considered quite a success and the final evaluation gave good direction for further programs, especially in areas that provide students with an expanded sense of their role in society and with new perspectives on what is possible when leadership is ethical and “purpose-driven.”
Based on the success of the Purpose-Driven Leadership Development program in Zambia, the Justice and Ecology Network of Africa (JENA) in the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar has launched a new pan-African Leadership Development and Mentorship program. The idea now is to empower university students in other African countries with people-centred leadership skills. The director of this new program is Charles Chilufya SJ, who is the current head of JENA and who also launched the leadership program in Zambia.
With headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, the Leadership Development and Mentorship program has an ambitious agenda for training tomorrow’s leaders across Africa. True to Ignatian formation, this agenda is also patient and methodical. The first phase began in February 2019 and will last 10 months. It has three aims: to train 15 university chaplains to provide leadership skills and support; to develop the leadership capacity of 40 university students in a Training of Trainers program; and to hold an international roundtable conference with 250 African youth.
Once again, CJI is a supporting partner, for we too believe in a future led by young people who have been formed to serve the common good of all.
This article first appeared in the Spring & Summer 2019 issue of CJI’s Mission News.