The first time I read about the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was on Facebook in 2015. YALI was launched by the United States government as a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. YALI promotes three different programmatic models designed to identify and empower young leaders: 1) the YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship, 2) YALI Network and 3) the establishment of Regional Leadership Centers across Africa. The YALI Regional Leadership Center for West Africa is located in Accra and hosts young leaders between the ages of 18 and 35 from Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Cameroon and Sierra Leone, who are all ready to embrace leadership and work hard to transform their countries.
In mid-2019, I was one of 132 selected participants (out of 7,000+ applicants) to represent Ghana and convene with the aforementioned West-African countries to participate in the three week long onsite program in November 2019. I went to the YALI program with three expectations: 1) to learn practical leadership skills 2) to learn more about civic leadership 3) to network with other emerging leaders. At the opening ceremony, I received a deeper understanding of the program, which was to reorient our thinking about leadership. One after the other, the speakers made it clear that there is an urgent need to have a rethinking about leadership in Africa. I left the opening ceremony highly charged with a new sense of leadership, which is that of an ethical, selfless, and accountable leader. The YALI program was well structured, with courses that provided both the theoretical knowledge and practical experience. One of those courses was Ethical Leadership, which takes into account the standards of right and wrong.
Ethical Leadership emphasized the importance of credibility, self-respect, and integrity and highlighted the fact that it attracts collaboration. This form of leadership also creates a positive climate and a high-performance culture within an organization, in addition to a high level of trust that people can follow. When the facilitator concluded the session on Ethical Leadership, they took us through a group activity that focused on role playing and enabled us all to practice the strategies we’d been taught. These lessons on ethical leadership have equipped me with skills to make ethically sound decisions when faced with complex dilemmas.
Another impressive course that honed my skills as a leader was Leadership and Accountability. The topic of self-knowledge was especially useful for me in this course, as knowing oneself is said to be the beginning of becoming an effective leader. I learned that effective leaders know themselves well: they know their abilities and they practice them constantly while also knowing their limitations, and thus engaging in continuous self-improvement. Effective leaders also engage others (i.e., teams) who balance their weaknesses. I came to an understanding that due to our weaknesses, effective leaders work to shore up their weaknesses while ineffective leaders try masking their weaknesses and also engage in negative behaviors.
Communicating Impact was another essential course I took and is an undeniable fact that my role at Pencils of Promise (PoP) entails communicating, backed by data, what does and does not work. How can these be done effectively using modern tools, particularly through social media? And what ethical issues should be considered? This course explained how Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram could be used to tell success stories and the steps involved in writing impactful stories. Because stakeholder management is considered as a major factor in the success of any project, we were taken through the processes used in identifying persons or groups that can be impacted by the work of civil society organizations and to understand their expectations, requirements and influence. Another course worth mentioning is Proposal Writing, where I improved skills needed to prepare professional, competitive, compelling and successful grant proposals.
During YALI, I was able to advance my ability to be an effective leader, gain a better understanding of civic leadership and network with other emerging leaders from the participating countries. These three weeks were a period of reorientation on ethical leadership and it was an experience that I strongly believe will make me not only more effective as a Learning & Evaluation Manager at PoP, but also as an agent of change in West Africa.