On January 17, YouthPower Learning announced its second cohort of YouthLead Ambassadors, 22 young changemakers competitively selected from over 600 applicants from 85 countries. Among them? One of IYF’s very own—24-year-old Youth Engagement Officer, Arafat Bakir Lesheve.
Hailing from the town of Moshi, Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, Arafat is ambitious, hardworking, and passionate about his country and the potential of its youth. I have had the privilege of working closely with Arafat over the past two years as we’ve sought to increase the presence and power of youth voices in IYF’s Tanzania portfolio. That’s why I was not surprised to hear that he was selected to help promote and grow the YouthLead platform, which collects resources for and by young global change-makers. After the announcement, he and I chatted about what the opportunity means to him, why he is excited, and what he thinks young Tanzanians can contribute to the global development conversation.
For those who don’t know, what is the YouthLead platform?
The YouthLead platform is funded by USAID and implemented by Making Cents International. It’s a place where young people globally can link up, share our perspectives with each other, and access the resources and information needed to make informed decisions. For example, young change-makers can find information about grants to implement their ideas and projects, and there are resources, research, and evidence related to youth issues that they can learn from and apply in their own work. It’s also a place to network with young people across the globe. I can connect with peers all over the world, and I can also grab a mentor on the platform who can coach me on a topic or theme that I’m interested in.
What does a YouthLead Ambassador do?
As an Ambassador, my key responsibility is to ensure more youth are joining at the national level. I will be actively updating and uploading resources to the platform—research, activities, events, trainings—and making sure my Tanzanian peers are aware of and connected to the available opportunities. Ambassadors also play an advisory role to USAID and get to create webinars for the content and capacity strengthening needs young people are requesting. This is the first time a Tanzanian has been appointed as an Ambassador for this platform. It’s recognition for our country, and I hope to be a good role model.
What are the benefits of peer-to-peer learning and mentorship as opposed to more traditional models that might pair a young person with someone much older?
It is easy for a young person with skills and experience to share with and teach their peers—they can speak the same language and talk freely in a way that might not happen with a much older adult. Young people are often in the same life or career stage, struggling with the same challenges, and pursuing similar opportunities. When we collaborate with each other, we can share what we’ve been learning and doing to be successful, and others can do the same. Peer-to-peer learning brings innovation and creativity, and it helps to build self-confidence.
Why is it so important for young people to network with peers, and how do you maintain these relationships over time?
Youth are diverse—some are urban, some rural; some are well-educated, and others are not—so while they face certain universal challenges, they all come from different backgrounds, lifestyles, cultures, and contexts. As a Youth Engagement Officer at IYF, doing my job well requires me to be engaged with other networks and groups. I attend their events and forums so I can be close with our target participants. I connect with my peers and listen to their challenges, aspirations, and barriers so I can have an understanding of how we can address their wants and needs in our projects. Networking is also important for bringing global ideas to the country level. Not all young people get opportunities to engage ideas and campaigns on a global level. Those of us who do should utilize these chances well and share them with our fellow youth.
How do you envision the YouthLead platform benefiting young Tanzanians?
I’m excited to share the resources and messages of YouthLead with my peers in their own language. Translating into Kiswahili will help relay activities and promote trust in the information. Young Tanzanians should see this as an opportunity to grab resources and opportunities, and to build skills that can support their careers and professional development. It is also a chance for them to spotlight their own leadership and sign up to mentor and share with others.
What do you think Tanzanian youth will contribute to the platform? In other words, what is unique, exciting, and special about Tanzanian youth that the world needs to know about?
Tanzanian youth are very spiritual, confident, and self-driven. There is a high degree of interest in community participation, especially in development activities. Young Tanzanians are committed to civic engagement. We have a lot of youth nowadays seeking election in various positions, be it in an organization, an advisory board, and even in parliament. So, this will be a good platform to showcase Tanzanian leadership, skills, and experiences. Young people in Tanzania also spend a lot of time engaged in volunteer work because they believe if they carry one young person, that one person can turn around and do the same for another, which ultimately contributes to the social, economic, and political development of our country.
Sarah Jonson is Program Coordinator, Africa.