Episode Five - Youth Leadership is Transforming Development

Friday, May 18, 2018

In Episode Five of USAID Leads, we discuss how USAID is engaging young leaders to foster peace and prosperity in their communities with Administrator Green and our Agency Youth Coordinator Michael McCabe, along with Abella Bateyunga, a YALI Fellow and CEO of Tanzania Bora Initiative.

Carol Han: Hi, everyone and welcome to the USAID Leads podcast. Today we're going to discuss how USAID is engaging young leaders to foster peace and prosperity in their communities. We'll kick things off with a conversation with Administrator Green about the Agency's work with youth as well as his upcoming priorities. After that, we'll talk to USAID's very own Youth Coordinator and one of the many young leaders transforming development around the world.

Administrator Green, thank you for joining us. We're going to start things off a little differently this morning, and play you a clip from a recent interview at the USAID Youth and Innovation event on April 19th. You're about to hear from someone you know, Abella Bateyunga, a Young African Leadership Initiative, or YALI, Fellow and CEO of the Tanzania Bora Initiative.

Abella: You are either the most respected development partner or the government, you don’t give us things. We contribute together; we are building a community together. So when we come into [sic] the table, we don’t come to beg, we come to partner. I think we need to start from there. So when young people come to the table, they come with skills, they come with passion. Our asset is in numbers. But also we are the… we belong to this community.

Carol Han: Abella is clearly challenging preconceived notions that some people may have that youth can't be partners because they're young, but you don't see youth that way.

Administrator Green: No, not at all. First off, just as a practical matter, young people, people under 30, make up over 60% of the population in many of the countries where we work, and that's particularly true in Africa, and particular true in East Africa where Abella comes from. More significantly, I think unfortunately we've patronized young people for too long. We've somehow looked at them as being helpless or unable to lead themselves, ignoring of course the great creativity and drive to lead which you see and hear in Abella. She's exactly right. We're better off, we do a better job when we start to think about young people, again, particularly in places like Africa, as partners and not patients if you will, people who want to craft their own future and not simply have things handed to them.

Carol Han: Clearly, people like Abella want to do their part. They don't want a handout. She talks about being partners.

Administrator Green: This is a very idealistic generation, and that's great. They don't want to be told that things can't be done. They don't want to be told what they cannot do. They want to be given an opportunity to show what they can do. I think that young people like Abella really are the best hope that we have for the future, and again, the fact that so many of the world's young people are in Africa and the developing world, to me that's even more inspirational because it means that they're gonna help their home regions realize the real vast potential that's there, and that really lifts the world itself. Yeah, you're right. I do get invigorated when I meet with people like Abella.

Carol Han: 90 percent of young people live in developing countries. To the skeptics out there, they would see this as a burden, not as opportunity.

Administrator Green: They look at it as a challenge to be overcome. That somehow this is a bad thing or a difficult thing or something that we have to figure out how to deal with, when instead they should be looking at this as an opportunity for new partners and creativity for minds that haven't yet been fully tapped for a chance to have conversations with young people who have notions, who have dreams, and instead of presuming that we understand what it is that young people want, maybe we can actually listen to them and ask them what it is that they see and they need and they want, and what they can contribute. That to me is why this is all so important. I think it's particularly true in the developing world, because there's oftentimes creativity that hasn't been tapped by Western tools.

Carol Han: From where you sit, is there also something to say about youth helping with self sustainability, self reliance? I know that is something that is really important to this Agency now.

Administrator Green: It is. We believe, as you know, we believe that the purpose of our foreign assistance must be to end the need for its existence. We should be looking for ways to partner with countries, help them on their journey to a brighter future, and of course with young people, we're talking about not just tomorrow's leaders but in many cases today's leaders. If we're really going to help a country reach its potential, we need [00:07:00] to be talking with those leaders who will shape its future, and that's young people.

Carol Han: What's around the corner for you? Are you hitting the road again?

Administrator Green: I'm heading to Asia. The plan is for me to venture out to Burma and Bangladesh. It's a chance to meet with our great teams there, also take a look in particular at the challenge that we all see with the Rohingya population, displaced community, tragically displaced, and it's a chance to take a look at the challenges that the Rohingya community is facing, as well as the host country communities. That's a big part of the work that we'll be doing. Looking forward to meeting with our mission directors in the region in Bangkok, and also plan to do on the way back, at least a brief visit to South Korea.It will be a chance for me to listen to our great team members, learn from them, share some of what we see back here, some of the ideas, and then see what we can do to better enable their work.

Carol Han: Thanks again for joining us, Administrator Green. Coming up next, we dig deeper into the topic of youth and development with our experts.

Carol Han: Hi Everyone. We're back. I'm joined now by Mike McCabe, USAID's Youth Coordinator, as well as with Abella Bateyunga, a YALI Fellow and CEO founder of the Tanzania Bora Initiative. Thanks to you both for joining us.

Abella Bateyunga: Thank you.

Mike McCabe: Thank you.

Carol Han: All right, we're going to jump right in by going back in time and listening to a clip from a recent youth event that you both participated in. Let's listen.

Administrator Green: What I see is perhaps the greatest promise of all, as I look out and see so many young people, what I want you to gain from today, and what I want you to gain from the network, the Learning Hub, is inspiration. As what you see each idea, I want you to say to yourself, "You know, I can do that," and you take that, and you apply it to what you see locally. To me, that's the importance of it. Then secondly, and I'm announcing this today, we are announcing a complementary youth lead platform. It will be in English and Spanish, but there will also be a translation machine, so it will translate into as many languages as I see represented in this room.

Carol Han: Mike, let's start with you. As the Agency lead on youth engagement, tell us about this Learning Hub and youth platform that the administrator launched at the event.

Mike McCabe: You know, this generation that we're working with right now is more connected than ever before and really interested in being engaged in meaningful ways, to meeting those big issues of the day. At USAID, we're trying to support the tens of thousands of young people that are in our leadership development programs every year, but until now, we really haven't had a good way of staying connected with them.

They've also been asking us a lot for support with a virtual collaboration platform that allows them to continue networking and problem solving in their country, around the continent or globally, so youth leaders being developed by and for young people through our YouthPower Learning initiative. It's a collaborative learning tool with youth-led content linked to areas and issues that young change-makers really care about. The idea is that youth and their allies want to accelerate and lift up ideas and make sure that, in that crowd of noise and voices, that young people's voices are really heard and come to the front.

We see Youth Lead as a force multiplier for innovation where thousands of young leaders will share and find resources, connect with each other, advance their organizations and their efforts, as well as connect to funding opportunity.

Carol Han: Getting back to youth in general, Mike, why should youth be our key partners for development in the first place? Why reach out to them?

Mike McCabe: One, there's a lot of them, about 1.8 billion and they're dealing on the front lines of issues, including violence and complex mental health, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and more. Second, they're remarkably connected, as we all well know, and they're able to mobilize others via social media. We see that all around the world where the youth are at the front of a lot of mobilization efforts for social and political and economic opportunity. Then third, they have a tremendous buying power and consumption power. Young people spend about $800 billion a year, and when they bring that consumption power towards ends that are positive goals, they can really transform attitudes on a lot of different things. Young people are at the core of the population for mobilization diffusion. If we want to amplify effort, they are our best connectors, without a doubt. We're changing our lens from looking at young people as a set of risks and drugs and HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and violence, and really trying to empower and highlight how youth are at the front lines of our interventions and helping response.

Carol Han: Abella, do you agree with Mike on why youth are key to development? What are your thoughts?

Abella Bateyunga: I agree 100%. I believe, more than ever, now is time to improve investment such in policies and in programs, to just creating a new environment for the young people, because we want to prosper. We want to fulfill our potential, but also we want to enjoy our basic human rights. We also want to engage as responsible social actors. Young people are looking to actually have our capacity increase or also, we are looking for spaces for us to actually be able to be creative and engage and come up with ideas that we contribute to our individual livelihood but also social well-being and economic empowerment of our community. The young people are looking for opportunities, opportunity to grow, opportunity to venture out, opportunity to actually just grow with our community, and above all, they're looking for partnership.

We [are] no longer are looking for aid and charity, they're looking to be heard, to be seen, and to be looked as potential, as asset and not a liability.

Carol Han: Abella, in your opinion, when it comes to reaching out to youth, what has worked and what has not worked?

Abella Bateyunga: What is working is, again, looking at us as partner. What is working is coming to our platform and understanding our language. What is working is understanding the young people parity and the agenda. What is not working is to sit somewhere in seclusion of the young people and create issue that we think are of important of the young people without actually bringing us in the table. Young people, they don't necessarily come with so much experience, but they come with so much passion and activity and innovation. So we need to consider innovation more. We need to look and see that the age factor, and also just seeing experience can come in different form.

Youth have been thought as an after the fact, but we are saying, if we are the majority of the population across the globe, and that now you have close to 73 million young people unemployed, well, that's a ticking bomb. But then you can look at them as an asset to engage them in innovation, in getting new start-up, for getting new involvement, to start a new way of economic empowerment of young people. So what should work? Look at us as partners.

Carol Han: Mike, I think, coupled with that innovation is also key, but to supporting youth, what do we do as a community? Then I'm going to ask this to Abella. What do we do as a community to support youth innovation? What can we do?

Mike McCabe: Through USAID's YouthPower Initiative, that's our flagship youth funding mechanism that has about $630 million in funds, it's allowed for our missions to really program around innovation and cross-sectoral youth programming, as well as to look at the evidence of what worked. Over and over again, we hear from the field, we need to know what works in different contexts, and so we really tried to put the resources of YouthPower to figure out what works in soft skills, what works in violence reduction, what works in a number of different areas in different contexts. We've been able to pull all that research together in those schools for our missions to have some partners on YouthPower.org, which is our clearinghouse public site for knowledge on innovation and youth development.

Carol Han: Abella, you are a YALI fellow, and you are a founder of your own initiative. Looking at-


... young people as leaders and not just young leaders, it may be difficult for some people. What do you do? What do you say to these people to change their minds?

Abella Bateyunga: It begs me to ask you look at history and say, look at the great leaders we've ever heard. They've all has been young. You mention it could be the founding father of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, could be the Kennedys, could be the Founding Father[s] of America. There are actually formed at a tendered at a tender, young age when they're starting causing a movement of human rights or of chasing the colonial people out, or looking for new constitutions, or looking for new ... Martin Luther King was very young ... so I don't know why, back then in the '50s, in the early 19th century, the young leaders were actually embraced to cause revolution and movement, but right now, when we say young and we say leaders, it seems like it's things that are not coming together.

Honestly, I don't mean to be just age biased, but young people speak more innovation than as the older generation would, and so I think we need them, because innovation is the new current of the current economy. We need young people. It's not either/or. It's not if we can or we cannot, it's how we engage young people.

Carol Han: What am I missing before we close, Mike, Abella? Is there anything else that you want to add?

Mike McCabe: Too often, we find donors and governments designing programs that impact young people without really authentically engaging them in that, and that's where we need to move. Young people want to be part of it. They have tremendous capacity, energy, and motivation, and if we really engage them, we can advance so many of our development goals by taking advantage of that large population of motivated young people.

Carol Han: Abella, any last thoughts?

Abella Bateyunga: Yes. I would actually call for all of us to champion intergenerational partnership, but also, intergenerational balance, because we are not saying young people are better. We thought the older generation's better. We're saying the older generation should saying actually exist to the exclusion of the young people. We are saying how do we meet in the middle, because we are all part of the community, and we all have issue that concerns us, so we need to find a way to start calling for intergenerational planning, strategizing, implementing and dialoguing and continue to understand one another.

But above all, I think we need to look ... Innovation scares the traditional way of doing development ways, so we need to define what is innovation, but also, as Michael is saying, we need to find a space of young people as partners. I cannot say this enough. We need to come on the table as partners, not as a charity case or people who were thinking before us.

Carol Han: Abella, Mike, I love the passion you brought to this talk. Thank you so much for a great discussion.

Abella Bateyunga: Thank you.

Mike McCabe: Thank you so much.

Carol Han: And also, thanks to our listeners out there for joining us, and be sure to look out for new episodes of USAID Leads. Take care.

Last updated: March 09, 2020

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