The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at The University of Cape Town

Emerging African Leaders Programme

Lead Organization

The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at The University of Cape Town

Cape Town, Province of the Western Cape, South Africa

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Africa's developmental challenges are wicked and protracted, demanding constructive engagement with youth who comprise the largest population, but continue to be marginalized from centers of power. There is no doubt that many of these challenges are rooted in the shortcomings of leadership and governance across sectors. The Emerging African Leaders Programme offers a solution to empower and connect young courageous changemakers from different sectors (governement, civil society, business, creatives) in Africa through its two-week residential programmes, coaching, and systematic policy, research and expert convenings. Housed within The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town, this programme's two pillars of individual and collective transformation have proved their impact on the current group of over 100+ alumni. Participants, many of whom are young women, testify about their personal growth (self-awareness, inner coherence, wellbeing) and the opportunity to access a network of like-minded peers to craft innovative solutions.

Problem Statement

The question of sustainability in Africa cannot be addressed without considering how to dismantle barriers to youth participation in political, social and economic activities. Youth constitute over 60% of the continent’s population and the majority are women. Youth are not a homogenous group, but represent multiple interests, economic opportunities (or the lack thereof), physical abilities and geographic locations. Challenges related to socioeconomic and political developments inevitably affect youth and their aspirations for a better future. Although youth comprise the majority, very few hold positions with strategic decision-making power, let alone have access to key decision makers. Additionally, even youth who make it through university, have few chances of finding employment. Despite these challenges, youth are not sitting back. There are circles of effectiveness emerging across the continent that are led by young people. From #NotTooYoungToRun in Nigeria, to Food For Education in Kenya and the Social Justice Coalition in South Africa, youth are formulating and implementing innovative solutions to address local challenges. We know that burnout levels amongst activists, entrepreneurs, and public servants are amongst the highest. Leadership tools and networks of solidarity and trust are not always accessible to these passionate individuals, who often feel isolated and like they are fighting a lone battle. There is an opportunity to connect these like-minded change agents to build a community of learning, trust and collaborative engagment. There is also an opportunity to equip them with knowledge and skills that empower them to keep standing in the face of immense obstacles.

Solution Overview

The Emerging African Leaders Programme aims to strengthen public leadership in Africa and create new networks, connecting a strong cohort of courageous and ethical leaders committed to driving change in their own countries and across the continent. Strong leadership is critical for promoting accountability and ensuring inclusive governance in all sectors of society. Discussions about development usually focus on policy and practical issues, or the challenges of African leadership, yet fail to address how to inspire, cultivate, capacitate and, ultimately, enable the next generation of African leaders. The programme provides a unique learning space, combining substantive inputs on a central theme, with the development of core leadership skills and the practical application of concepts and tools in real life situations. These include emotional intelligence, ethics and values, balancing personal and professional development, creativity and innovation, self-reflection and effective communication. In September 2018, we invited the 103 alumni from our Emerging African Leaders Programme to respond to a tracer survey. By 5th October 2018 when the survey closed, 64 of the 103 alumni had responded, a response rate of 62%. Findings from this survey, exit interviews, and testimonials reveal the individual and collective impact of the programme to date. 93,8% of respondents confirmed that skills they learned and people they had met (48,4%) during the programme assisted them to overcome challenges. Over 5 years, we expect to make this leadership opportunity to available to 500 youth, a sample of whom we will select to roll out similar programmes in their communities.

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Project Funders

  • DFID 2014 - 2016
  • IDRC 2014 - 2018
  • Ford Foundation 2014 - 2018

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