Our YALI 2021 Experience: Civic Leadership Cohort

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the United States’ signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. One of the programs offered by YALI include the cohort trainings through Regional Leadership Centers. The cohort trainings are divided into three tracks:

  1. Business & Entrepreneurship Development
  2. Civic Leadership
  3. Public Management and Governance

I was privileged to be among the recent graduates from the Civic Leadership Online Cohort 12 of the YALI Southern African Regional Leadership Center (YALI RLC-SA).

In this post, I am honoured to host two of my colleagues who also recently graduated from the Civic Leadership track- Pennina from Namibia and Sethunya from Botswana. Together, we will share our YALI expectations, experiences, key take-aways and action points.

I hope you enjoy reading our dialogue of different perspectives below and get encouraged to join as a YALI member and apply for the program.

  • Why we chose the Civic Leadership Track?

Nsatu: I chose the Civic Leadership track as it gravitated towards providing essential skills for Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations. From as far back as I can remember, I have always been inclined to helping the less privileged in society and being a channel of sensitization, hope and change. I have volunteered for a number of organisations and co-founded some initiatives. I know that the more I grow, I would like to continue being an active agent of change in my community and beyond and to do so, I need the right skill set among other resources. From the descriptions of the tracks offered by YALI in the Regional Leadership Cohorts, I knew without a doubt that the Civic Leadership track would give me the need tools required to make a difference. I should immediately mention that my expectations were exceeded.

Sethunya: My name is Sethunya Kenyaditswe, hailing from a small village by the name Gweta in the northern side of Botswana. When I first read about Civil Leadership cohort, I knew in my heart I had to submit my application.

Having grown up in a rural village where most of the basic needs are hard to reach, I am in a better position to advocate for my community. A few years ago, my mother who is retired came across a 5-year-old girl staying with her grandmother at the cattle-post. This girl was due for grade 1 but since her grandmother stayed in the outcast of the village, which is 15km away, she would not be able to go to school from there. Furthermore, she found out that she has been sexually molested by a teenage boy who worked in one of nearby farms. She called me to tell me this story and asked for my advice on how best to help this little girl to which I recommended her to take her in.

I went back to my home village a few weeks later and met this girl for the first time. She was shy, frightened and you could tell she has never really experienced being loved and taken care of properly, and I promised my mother that I will help her take care of her. She is now part of the family and knows she is loved. She knows how to express herself now and you can see how free she is.

It is this girl who I now refer to as my daughter that inspired me to get into the YALI Program in order to know more about how to run an NGO and how to be helpful in my community.

Pennina: Between the start and the finish is purpose. Purpose is only fully attained when one is in knowledge of the right tools, has them and propels them towards the right focus. I come from a community like any other that has it’s unique set of problems, and in working towards successfully solving them, I need to play my part too. Civic engagement is vital in any community set up, not only does it rest the notion of personal responsibility on individuals, but it encourages others to do so as well through authentic civic engagement which is built on a shared understanding of community needs. My work at the Northern Charity Initiative here in northern Namibia helped me in realizing that engagement should be a priority in order to strengthen democracy.

  • Expectations before starting the YALI program

Nsatu: I had no specific expectations when joining the just ended YALI program. All I knew was that I was going to learn a lot, meet new people and gain new experiences. I started the program with an empty jar and with every discussion, webinar and assignment- my knowledge jar was filled.

Sethunya: I recognize that even though we managed to help one girl, there are many more children in my village who need the same help. Through the program, I expected to gain skills that would assist me as I work hard to make sure that I get my CSO off the ground running. This is in order to ensure that more girls get to go to school and are taken care of.

Pennina: Most of my expectations were weighing on the network I was looking to grow through this program. A network of same minded people, who understand that change happens when we show up with courage and compassion to improve our societies.

Graduation Picture with leaders from various countries and our lovely facilitator: Nishta Jooty-Needro

  •  How the experience was and key take aways

Nsatu: One word to describe the experience would be: INSIGHTFUL. It would take an entire book to adequately unpack the lessons from the program. However, it is my wish and desire that I get to implement the lessons learnt through various initiatives. That notwithstanding, I must admit that the package gave so much more than I expected. It was particularly interesting to note that CSOs and NGOs need to be as intentional about revenue making as they are about creating a difference. The interactive discussions with my group members and the care group that would check on our mental health was really the icing on the cake. It was worthwhile.

Sethunya: I have learned a lot from the program, it opened my eyes to a lot of subjects, such as how to get funding, how to form partnerships and how to know if an organization is the right fit for your CSO etc. I am grateful for YALI, because before I joined the program having a CSO was a dream which seemed way too far to reach but now I am pumped and highly motivated to take all the lessons from the program and implement them.

Pennina:  The YALI experience is a once in a lifetime adventure, coupled with a plethora of lessons to pick.  My best being the significance of authentic and transformational leadership that is a generational need for Africa, in avoiding a more permanent and dysfunctional inequality of opportunity on the continent.

  • Closing Remarks

Nsatu: I would like to encourage anyone interested in setting up or being part of changing society through an NGO or CSO to consider applying for the YALI RLC and specifically, the Civic Leadership Cohort. I value the developed network with the various leaders across the Southern African Region. I cannot wait to create, collaborate and contribute to change.

Sethunya: I am grateful to be able to connect with my fellow leaders from different countries, we will be able to share ideas and help each other going forward. I look forward to many many interactions with the leaders and I hope we can recognize that we all need one another for make our dreams a reality.

Pennina: People are central in our communities, and we need to collectively do better for and by them. YALI gives you the tools you need to do better, and knowledge that sets you apart. Take the opportunity.


I would like to extend my gratitude to my two amazing ladies and fellow leaders, Pennina and Sethunya for taking time to feature on this blog and for sharing their experiences. You, ladies, are made of gold. THANKYOU. I cant wait to witness the greater good that comes out of the knowledge gained from the program.

For those interested in the program and the many other online courses and initiatives by YALI, here are the links to YALI resources:

  1. https://yali.state.gov/
  2. https://yali.state.gov/courses/
  3. https://yali.state.gov/network/

Thankyou for reading!

Until next time,

Live long & read on!

Miss Nsatu.

8 thoughts on “Our YALI 2021 Experience: Civic Leadership Cohort”

  1. From what I’ve read here, it seems interesting and something I would like to know more about. Will definitely look at the resources you’ve shared. Thanks for sharing your experiences ladies!

    Also, on a totally unrelated note, you look like someone I have met/seen before but I have no idea where. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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