Lessons from Leading Youth Initiatives in Malawi

This blog is as a result of a few meetings that I have had with fellow youth leaders in my country, Malawi, who have been asking me to share some of the lessons I have learned from running youth initiatives in Malawi. For the past four years, I have lead two youth initiatives, Youth to Youth Empowerment, and Maphunziro265 as founding national coordinator and Co-founder and CEO respectively. Let me take this opportunity to state that I am not the founder of Youth to Youth Empowerment. Tayani Vincent Banda, founded Youth to Youth Empowerment, therefore any founding credit needs to be directed to him not me. Back to the topic of the blog, here are some of the lessons I have learned leading two youth initiatives.

The Power of Social Media

Youth to Youth Empowerment, and Maphunziro265 are initiatives that have used social media extensively. The two youth initiatives have used Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp for resource mobilization and brand awareness. For example, Youth to Youth Empowerment, used Facebook to share a story about the lack of books in schools in its initiative called ‘Donated a Book campaign.’ A simple flyer was developed that was shared on Facebook daily. At the end of the campaign, over MK200,000 was raised and over 100 used books were donated to Youth to Youth Empowerment, that were later donated to schools. For brand awareness, Maphunziro has be using the personal and organization social media accounts to share the work that it is doing. Through this, Maphunziro265 is getting organizations and individuals that are expressing interest to partner with the Maphunziro265. I find this to be great news.

Value for Money

You don’t have a pool of fund with limitless resources. Therefore, you have to make the best use with the little resources that you have to maximize impact. Youth to Youth Empowerment, and Maphunziro265 as youth initiatives have been running on a low budget that depends on members contributions and donations. How then is Youth to Youth Empowerment, and Maphunziro265 able to do all those things we have been seeing on social media? Great question. It is an issue of understanding the value for money. In every activity, they are things that are core for the activity to take place, and they are things that I consider to be secondary. So, every time, we develop a budget for an activity, we focus on what is the core expense. There have been times, where I have received a request of funds of US$350 only to find that we could shave off the US$200 and still conduct the activity effectively with US$150. This is how we are able conduct many activities.

Management of volunteers

One of the key things that you will learn about youth initiatives is that they are run by volunteers. This is why I always laugh when people say, the youth in Malawi don’t volunteer. My question is, which youth are hanging out with? Anyway, back to the main issue here. It is very important that the people who are expressing to join your initiative understand what being a volunteer for your initiatives means. Are they going to get paid? Are there any special incentives that you have put in place? All these things need to put in black and white before someone joins you. If you also don’t have anything, please let the people know. From my experience, I have seen that sometimes we have had members leaving initiatives because they felt their expectations were not met. When Youth to Youth Empowerment, then Known as World Bank Youth Network, was established, the expectation for all of us was that we are going to be making a lot of money and travel the world. But after joining we discovered that none of these things were what the network was about. Some people left the network and others stayed. It is therefore important to address the issue of expectations right from the word go.

Ownership

Ownership of a youth initiatives is very important by the founder(s), the leadership and the members. It should never be ‘my initiative’ but ‘our initiative.’ You need to trust the team that you are working with. The team needs to be trusted with the truth even though they might not like it. The team needs to be trusted with huge responsibilities that involve money of course. The team needs to be trusted with the power to make decisions, even if you as the founder, or the national coordinator might not agree with that decision. In short, there has to be a co-ownership of the youth initiative. When people own a movement, they put their reputation with that movement. Because people value their reputation, they wouldn’t want their name to destroyed. They will therefore work to uphold their image and leave a legacy. Eventually, there is a development of a healthy competition driven on results that sees a movement grow. I will give you an example of Maphunziro265. Most of the activities that are conducted are run without the push of the co-founders. In addition, where resources are not available, the team members use their personal money to finance an activity. Oh! And those beautiful T-shirts we wear, every member buys them. They are not handed to members for free. This to me, is what ownership means. This is where I say, in as much as I am the face of Maphunziro265, but the initiative is owned by every young man and woman who makes Maphunziro265.

Celebrate People

It is very important that people have to be celebrated in a youth initiative. As a leader you need to take notice of things like birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, promotions, awards etc. of the team. These things are very important for each member of your team including yourself. Let’s be real, we all want people to spoil us on our birthday, graduation, and promotion etc. We want for a moment to be the centre of attention. Who doesn’t love attention? What best way can we do that, than to use the network that this person tirelessly works to improve the lives of young men and women in Malawi. This goes a long way to motivate your team to work extra harder.

Share opportunities with people you work with. Share materials that you find to be useful. Write recommendation letters for the team and most of all, provide a listening ear when they have a personal issue. Most importantly, share the spotlight with the team.

Have I been the best youth leader for the past four years? I will leave that question to the people I have worked with to address that question.

This blog was first published on Medium.com 

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