Young African Leaders Share Their Take on Youth Skills Development

January 11, 2016Duncan McCullough

There is a unique energy that fills a room when a group of passionate, informed young people gather together to discuss their plans for social innovation. This was the case when Results for Development (R4D) and the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) hosted recent graduates of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) for a workshop on African Youth Economic Opportunity. These students have experienced the benefits of effective skills development initiatives directly, and met on Friday to learn more about using their own experiences to inform youth-skills interventions of the future.

“I’m here because I believe education is the key to transforming Africa, and I want to contribute,” said one optimistic student.

The workshop featured incisive presentations from Jana Zindell at the Ubuntu Education Fund, Ashley Barry from Education for Employment, and Janet Barry from the Bantwana Initiative.

The Ubuntu Education Fund employs a comprehensive, cradle-to-career model to help orphaned and vulnerable children secure better futures in Port Elisabeth, South Africa. Ubuntu’s Chief Operating Officer, Jana Zindell, kicked off the workshop with a dynamic session using markers, post-its, and play-doh to creatively identify which types of support help youth develop marketable skills.

In the second session, Ashley Barry outlined the experience of Education for Employment, a training organization that seeks to reduce the high youth unemployment rates in the Middle East and North Africa region. Ashley spoke about Education for Employment’s work establishing relationships with local employers to help identify what skills are most in demand, as well as some of the costing differences that come from training in a variety of countries and contexts.

Also in the second session, ALA graduates heard from Janet Barry, Senior Advisor to the Bantwana Initiative, an organization with a mission to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable children and their caregivers and families affected by HIV and AIDS, and poverty. Janet explained the importance of engaging local businesses to support their skills-based education work.

“We’re appealing to their enlightened self-interest” Janet explained with a smile, discussing the shared benefits that such partnerships can provide.

After a short coffee break, student participants broke out into various groups to discuss their own plans for new skills-development initiatives. Jana Zindell, Ashley Barry, and Janet Barry all led sessions, as did Boris Buyalev of Educate!, who led a group on cost-effectiveness and developing effective communication strategies for skills based education. Representatives from Jumpstart Academy, an organization operating in Cameroon and Nigeria that equips young people with the skills that will make them assets for 21st century work environments, also led a dynamic breakout group on secondary-school level outreach.

Navigating the various breakout groups under the guise of taking pictures, I was struck by how determined the students are to give back. Booming youth populations and inadequate support frameworks are posing immense challenges to millions of Africans, but the students we hosted Friday are not daunted by the magnitude of this task. In fact, they are energized by the inherent possibilities. Much work remains, but Friday’s workshop is another hopeful reminder that if Africa’s young leaders are supported and empowered, the kids may very well be alright.


Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

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