A quick Google search on “give youth a seat at the table” garnered more than 49 million results. These statistics show how trendy this topic is nowadays. However, when you discuss it with young people across Africa, they do not feel that this motto is always put into action when decisions involving them are taken. Therefore, there is room for improvement, but the will is real from both sides. Youth are willing to speak. Institutions and policy-makers are willing to listen. The challenge is to find the right mechanisms to nurture this dialogue.
The World Bank Africa Region has made major steps towards this goal since Blog4Dev, a blog competition, was launched in 2014 by the World Bank Country office in Kenya. Its goal is to engage youth to express themselves on development-related topics that affect them. It was progressively extended to the surrounding countries becoming a regional competition for the first time in 2018. A total of 1,212 participants answered the following question: “What will it take to enhance the skills needed to prepare Africa’s youth for the digital economy and the future of work?” The winners from 32 countries were invited to attend the Spring Meetings 2019 in Washington D.C.; 23 were able to make the trip.
This journey was a great opportunity to make Africa’s youth voices heard at the highest level. Sandrine Bwiza (Rwanda) was invited to speak on behalf of all the group during an event dedicated to Human Capital in Africa, in the presence of His Majesty King Letsie III, King of the Kingdom of Lesotho. About 400 people attended, representing delegations at the Spring Meetings, policy makers, development practitioners, youth leaders and civil society representatives.
Throughout their weeklong stay, the bloggers were introduced to the members of the delegations of their countries, with the goal of connecting these bright, ambitious young people with big ideas to the policy makers who can contribute to turning their ideas into reality. We also launched a Youth Transforming Africa, a dedicated blog for Africa’s youth to continue to express their ideas and be heard.
The youth delegation met with several World Bank Group leaders, including Hafez Ghanem, Africa Region Vice President, and Diarietou Gaye, Africa Region Director of Operations and Strategy, and the “founding mother” of Blog4Dev. At these meetings, bloggers were able to express themselves, share their views and expectations. Most importantly, we were there to listen.
Blog4Dev is the major pillar of the Youth Transforming Africa (YTA) program being developed by the Africa Region Communications and Partnerships unit. The YTA program aims to developing platforms to allow young Africans to weigh in on development-related topics, support their networking, and build bridges with relevant constituencies such as policy makers, development practitioners or financing sources. We also plan to use of sports and music to address development challenges.
Blog4Dev is more than a simple blog competition. It is a powerful youth empowerment mechanism, and a contribution to equip the future generation of African leaders. There is something deeper beyond winning a blog competition, traveling to Washington D.C. and taking selfies with some World Bank Vice Presidents or Ministers. The process allows a better knowledge of the Bank, a better knowledge of other people, their cultures and countries. This will positively influence mindsets, provide inspiration in their day-to-day life and work, and promote a culture of tolerance and respect.
The challenge now is to maintain the continuum, extend the network, and build the bridges. It is a challenge that we in the Africa Region are willing to take on, and we are thrilled to have our skin in the game.