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.


THANKYOU NOTE:

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.

(Un)Employment in a pandemic -featuring Lebogang.

The Covid-19 pandemic has mandated several transitions in people’s lives. From personal choices like diet plans, hygiene measures and personality adjustments for people especially extroverts. To impersonal options, or consequences, such as the closure of businesses, restructuring of scheduled events, shortening of guest lists and loss or modification of jobs.

Undeniably, the employment and unemployment talk during the pandemic is one conversation that needs to be had, over and over again as it has affected so many people in different ways.

I am honored to add my perspective to the topic through this collaboration blog with my fellow incredible blogger, Lebogang who is South African based. She calls her blog the Sanctuary of Greatness and no truer words could be said. Her aura undoubtedly exudes greatness, do visit her blog and read her work: here

Whereas I will discuss what employment in a pandemic has been like, Lebogang will tackle unemployment in a pandemic.

We start with my perspective: EMPLOYMENT IN A PANDEMIC

How I got my job

I am currently working as a tax/legal consultant for an outstanding organization. I got my job in 2019, slightly after graduating from my undergraduate LLB program. It was after a series of unsuccessful applications in various firms and organizations. Till an opportunity came up through one of my best friends, who encouraged me to “give it a shot” and I did. The wait between sending the application and getting an interview call was very strenuous as I was not sure whether this application would also be unsuccessful. Luckily, the call came and I was scheduled to be interviewed. A few days after my very challenging interview, I was offered the placement. I have since been learning, growing and enjoying the journey from then till now.

Working under the lockdown and how I coped

Before the pandemic, our office had a lot of habits that unknowingly formed our culture. Every morning, I would walk up to my desk and settle in. This would be followed by making breakfast, usually a cup of tea or coffee as I caught up on emails and read through the newspaper. Our breakfast sessions were enjoyable bonding time, from cracking jokes about sugar preferences to sharing what the other person packed and giving hot takes on trending social, economic and political topics.

Another common activity that was part of our office culture before Covid was celebrating wins or goodbyes through our “Take 5” mini parties. During the Take 5 parties, food platters and drinks would be bought after work hours and people would relax from the day, dance, sing along and share a good laugh.

When Covid-19 Pandemic rolled out, the entire firm enforced firm wide remote working as a safety measure and to also promote flexibility. It meant effective immediately, all members of staff were to work from home. A year later and this remains a firm policy.

At first, I thought working from home would be undeniably cool, I mean… no traffic jams, or wearing heels and “office clothes”. I must admit, the first few weeks were enjoyable. However, it eventually dawned on me that all the in-person bonds that formed our culture would be gone.

Further, with setbacks such as load shedding and terrible internet network, working from home was proving to be more cumbersome than imagined.

Another downside to remote working for me was having the same environment for most things. My bedroom was my office and class as I had online lessons at the time too. I got stressed out as the boundaries between leisure and work were blurred.

I continue to learn to maintain a balance of my worlds. Some days are easier than others.

Gratitude for being employed in these trying times

Despite the few challenges that I face in adjusting from the old way of working to the new normal, I recognize and count my blessings. I am eternally grateful to be employed in these difficult times, where people were being laid off or having their benefits readjusted. I do not take it for granted. It is for this reason that I always strive to perform at my best and not abuse the blessings God has given me. I count it all joy.

What could be done to eradicate such a high rate of unemployment

In my country, Zambia, a lot of factors may be cited as causes for the high unemployment rates.

From the private sector perspective, I believe the question is mainly that of capacity. Digital transformation and consequent closing of physical offices have led to the laying off of workers, such as office orderlies. Further, the automation of most procedures has seen technology replacing people that would do the manual tasks. To eradicate unemployment in the private sector, I feel fiscal and tax incentives need to be improved to allow for growth of the companies which would in turn increase employment capacities and salaries would not be looked at as an unnecessary cost.

From the public sector perspective, I believe it all goes down to good governance. A good governance structure or system would allow for policies to be put in place to firstly curb corruption which takes away money that may be used for developmental projects. For instance, if more industries were to be opened, it would capture and create jobs for people in both the formal and informal sectors. Further good governance would allow for appropriate channeling of resources and creation of financial support models for Start ups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Words of love and encouragement

To everyone employed: Firstly, if you are part of the health care system and have been one of our frontline workers, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY salute you. Thank you for your grace, dedication, and sacrifice. Thank you for saving lives. Secondly, for everyone who is an essential worker showing up in offices despite the pandemic, whenever you feel overwhelmed, please be reminded to count your blessings instead. Thirdly, to everyone learning and trying to adjust their lives around remote working. Stay in there. Find breathers and ways to reduce burnout that is increasingly high from feeling confined in the same environment. Above all, stay grateful for the blessings that you have.

To everyone unemployed: I know it can’t be easy. We live in a world where the cost of living keeps escalating, making it hard to keep up. I am Christian by faith, and I believe in the Lord making all things beautiful in His time. Your season will surely come, and it will surely be astonishing. I am sending you love and prayers. I believe Lebogang’s perspective below will be very insightful and helpful. Remember you are not alone and you are loved.

Lebogang’s perspective: UNEMPLOYMENT IN A PANDEMIC

As a young girl, I had dreams which kept me focused on my studies. I was always an A-student. When I finished my tertiary studies, I never thought I would ever join the statistics of unemployed youth in South Africa. I felt so helpless. It was as if I disappointed that little girl in me who had big dreams, whose sky was no longer the limit but a surface. Disappointments from people are easy to walk past through. At least you have something to shift the blame to. The distress is worse if it is self-inflicted. It is hard to deal with feelings of self-disappointments. That little girl in me might not be proud of what I have become, but she is sure proud and content with how much I fought to be where I am today. I am just grateful to God because I am not where I used to be.

The dynamite Nsatu and I had joined heads to pen down our experiences with (Un) employment in the pandemic. I met Nsatusile during the WinterABC2021 challenge in June. I loved reading her stories. It was her authentic self that drew me to her blog, I kept checking her work daily during the winter challenge. Check her incredible blog and experience her many skills and talents. She is not only a creative writer but a whole qualified Lawyer.

We agreed that we would tackle both angles of the coin. From unemployment to being employed and the pecks which comes from both sides. Similarities, differences, and the overall sense of humanity whether you are employed or not.

My own experiences on being unemployed.

I had my fair share of actively seeking employment but was unable to find one. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Just when you finish your studies, super excited to work for what you studied. I could not fight back the excitement of earning a salary, having my apartment, and taking full responsibility for my family. Having been raised by a single parent, my earnest dream was to see my mom staying home, not working. I wanted to take full responsibility for her and my siblings. The reality of life proved me contrarily. I found myself working jobs that I did not study as. That was not even the case. The case started when I did not even get any employment to begin. I applied for every post I saw on the internet, social media, and word of mouth. People would notify me whenever there were any opportunities, and I would faithfully apply. But nothing came through. At times I did not even have data to send out emails. Now the hustle shifted from looking for a job to hustling few bucks to buy data bundles.

How unemployment affected my mental health

There are a lot of slurs attached to it. It is like watching your own life being flushed down the drain every single day when you wake up in the morning. Sometimes you question your sense of living. By the grace of God, I never had suicidal thoughts. Whenever people speak about their unemployment seasons, suicide is often mentioned. It gets to a point where you question your ‘why’ of living. For me, it affected my mental health. I fell deep into anxiety. The thing with anxiety is that it induces you to direct your focus, into the problem, not the solution. Instead of exploring possible doors, your mind starts playing games with you and makes you believe that your life is over. You begin to think that you will amount to zero in life. Fear starts slithering itself in, and next thing you are deep into the den of lions which you do not know how you got there.

Isolation

I began to isolate myself. Being in the midst of people gave me severe despair. I constantly gauged myself with those around me. I felt like I did not fit in some spaces. Isolation became my only rescue. I am naturally joyful to be around, so my family started to notice some changes in behavior. I got disgruntled quite quickly, which was unlike me. By the grace of God, I have the most loving family who covered me with love more than anything. To them, I was still a sister who had the potential to achieve anything I wanted. Whatever they saw, it did not quite make sense to me. See, sometimes we love to be ‘Mother Theresas’ in our families. We put too much pressure on ourselves unnecessarily, only to find that they love us the way we are, not for what we have and accumulated. Yes, they wish the best for us. It does not mean when we have not achieved anything, would not love us. They would still show us love and care.

Peer pressure

Do you know why sometimes we go through anxiety and all the discomfort which comes with being unemployed? It is because we compare ourselves with our peers. I have emphasized this quite a lot of times on my blog about the comparison. It is very dangerous, and it can cost you happiness. I saw most of my peers already having jobs, depicting cars, and others already getting married with baby number two on the way. I started having panic attacks. I spent most of my time on social media, depressing myself even more. I got used to congratulating people and thought I would never make it in my life. Comparison is toxic. If we were not comparing ourselves with other people, we would never feel as though we missed out on anything. Because we would be focusing on our own lives. Let me warn you of the effects of social media. Comparison is induced by the mirage of lifestyles we see on social media. I am not saying you should stop using social apps. Limit your time if possible. We use social apps for marketing, advertising, and all the other benefits. So it can be advantageous to us. Manage your time on social media and guard your heart.

How to deal with negativity that comes with being unemployed.

Celebrate life.

I realized that we are all facing something in our lives. Unemployment does not begin with me, and it will not end with me. My emotional state became a priority. I got tired of all sorts of negative emotions. People perceive unemployed people as lazy, and I believe that unless one goes through the season, you would never understand the emotional trauma which comes with being unemployed. It is even harsh if there are responsibilities and bills to settle. You apply and knock on every possible door, but nothing comes up. I want to encourage you to stop being hard on yourself. Most of the people got retrenched and lost jobs during the pandemic. You are not alone. Appreciate yourself and celebrate life the best way your know-how. God has plans for your life, it is not over yet.

Have a vision

It was a vision that kept me going. I knew what I wanted and where I was going. That is why I was able to remain focused. Jot down your vision and start cultivating it. You know too well what you are good at, develop your skills, and start working. Do not wait for things to come into place. Start wherever you are, with what you have. If it is a business, do not wait to have capital. You can start with what you have as you grow.

Lessons.

The unemployment season of my life taught me to focus on my purpose and deepen my relationship with God. When everyone else was busy with the hustles and bustles of this life, I had more time to study the word of God and pray. My faith became my priority. God developed my patience and taught me to put my confidence in Him. At the time, I did not see it, but I realized after I passed through that phase that God was right there with me holding my hands and directing my paths.

Unemployment is real. Especially now during the pandemic, people got retrenched, and others lost their jobs. It is only fair to assist where we can and be there for each other. If you are unemployed, do not be afraid to start from the beginning. Build yourself with anything and grow into it. Your employment is in your mind and of course, your hands. Use your skills wiser.


Thank you for reading our perspectives on this very delicate and important topic.

Please share what your personal experiences have been like and on which side of the coin you fall.

Thank you Lebogang for being amazing to collaborate with. Looking forward to many more works together. 🙂

Until then,

Read on & Live long.

Lots of love.

-Nsatu & Lebo.