Dear Youth: Do Not Become Exactly What You are Trying to Change

By Farhan Yusuf ~ Senior Program Officer at SHOPS Plus on 29 Apr 2020Youth


Africa as a continent has the youngest demographic in the world. The future of Africa is very much in the hands of the youth and there are various initiatives trying to promote youth leadership on the continent and in specific countries. These initiatives aim to guide the young people on various aspects of leadership, sharing best practices and provide certain practical opportunities for leadership. Having been a part of some of these leadership programs I definitely encourage young people especially in these times of COVID19 to seek out and apply for these opportunities (use the internet well!).

It is quite well known that the struggle for the youth has always been aspects such as missing seats at tables where decisions are being made, not being given leadership positions and not being provided the opportunity to innovate and contribute effectively to their communities – even though they know quite a lot about what is going on. Through leadership programs and experiences the youth try to overcome these various challenges and there is definitely progress in terms of young people being focused on. To give one example the African Union has a Youth Envoy, a Youth Advisory Group and a 1m by 2021 initiative that aims to support 1 million youths by 2021 in different areas (another research assignment for young people!)

However, whenever I have attended such programs or seen youths being empowered to become leaders I always have one fear – that the young people might end up becoming exactly what they are trying to change. Experience unfortunately has shown that young people getting positions of decision making end up becoming a “part of the problem”. Instead of making any relevant changes the young people adopt the same cultures that they find pre-existing within organizations. Instead of becoming flag bearers and supporters of other young people they end up becoming toxically competitive and actually block other young people from receiving opportunities. Instead of becoming mentors for other young people they distance themselves. This is an important caution and must be kept in mind.


How can young people avoid becoming a part of the problem?

  • Know yourself and understand your potential. Once you are comfortable in your own skin it is that much more difficult to be wrongly influenced.
  • Seek good examples of leadership to emulate. Unfortunately we don’t have too many of those but that is what makes them stand out.
  • Understand that “with great power, comes great responsibility” (yes I love Marvel!). As a young person this responsibility is to ensure other young people get access to the same opportunities (if not more) than you do.
  • Find mentors who can guide on the path to leadership. It is not easy for sure. Having the guidance of experienced leaders helps a lot.
  • Be a problem solver and not a problem emphasizer. Understand the needs of your community and solve problems innovatively.
  • Remember the African philosophy of “Ubuntu”. I am because you are. As the world moves away from togetherness (as is very apparent in the current times of COVID19) be among the people who push for collective good.


The post COVID9 world will hold a lot of unprecedented challenges for the world and more so for Africa. Young people are currently being faced with and will continue to be faced with different opportunities to take leadership and to make difficult decisions. Make sure you are ready for that. And when you do get the opportunity remember you must be the change and not become what you are trying to change.