Lessons on Youth Leadership from Garissa, Kenya

Education Development Center

Many of us youth development practitioners have been eagerly anticipating the release of USAID’s youth policy with the hope that it will increase awareness of the importance of youth issues to development. I know from EDC’s work around the world how integral youth are to economic, social and political development.

One of the main principles in the youth policy is youth participation and youth leadership. In my work with youth in Garissa, Kenya, I see how young people have jumped at the chance to get involved in their communities, when given channels to apply their ideas and energy. Young women and men producing and broadcasting their own radio stories throughout North Eastern Province about news that matters to them is a great example. Youth led programming‐with youth in real decision‐making roles is essential, but it is far from easy and quick; it takes time and involves lots of trial and error. So it’s important for us to understand this when designing programs—we need to be ambitious but also patient and target a range of outcomes, that include building the capacity of young people not just as leaders, but as team members that are able to work together to problem solve and make decisions. I'm hopeful that we, as practitioners, and our colleagues at USAID can design programs that reflect this complex process.

The Youth Policy's emphasis on families and communities is another principle that the Garissa experience has demonstrated. As important as ‘youth‐led’ programming is, youth still need support and encouragement to take on new roles and responsibilities. In fact, I think parents are often the best partners we have in communities because they know first‐hand how much their children are frustrated or depressed when they do not have opportunities. We hear directly from parents in Garissa how much they want to help their children do something that stimulates them or gives them inspiration, such as access to training or scholarships. Programs need to include parents consistently therefore, and not just at the launch of the project or when problems arise.

I’m also hopeful that the Youth Policy will reinforce USAID’s gender policy to continue to highlight the importance of gender within youth programs and development programs more broadly. All too often, the different needs and considerations for reaching young women and young men are not part of youth program design. We see this particularly in workforce programs in which it is rare to see specific workforce strategies for young women vs. men. As youth employment receives more attention, we can’t forget that meaningful solutions for addressing youth employment must consider the unique constraints affecting young women’s and men's employment and livelihoods opportunities.

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