Dr Stigmata Tenga, the Executive Director of the APN had a conversation with John Youhanes the Executive Director of the Nile Youth Development Action (NYDA); and currently, he is serving as a Policy Mining Officer for the African Union Commission. The conversation was focusing on the work John is doing in driving impact and change within his space. The conversation forms part of the series that APN is hosting with key African Youth across the continent that are harnessing their relevance in championing productive change across the continent. The conversation was as follows:
Stigmata: Please tell us about yourself and how did you end up being a leader?
John: Back in my university days, the youth network started as an informal platform. We challenged ourselves not to be the ordinary young people who only graduate with the objectivity of going on in search for jobs, we wanted to champion change in our nation. It was a question of ‘what is our role in the society and what can we do as young people?’. Driven by an ultimate desire to create impact, my colleagues and I decided to establish the ‘Nile Youth Development Action’ with the core objective of helping the youth of South Sudan and East Africa realize their place in society. We became leaders by first realizing our role in this world, our community, and what it can do to make a difference. In order for us to have a greater impact on our mission, we had to strengthen our partnership and collaboration with other youth and the government because, while believing that we can do more if we operate as a collective.
Stigmata: How are you addressing the power structures that perpetuate poverty and marginalization through your work?
John: I understand poverty is a big struggle that is confronting the African continent. However, it is dependent on how we wish to conceptualize poverty. For instance, a naked child in the village with no clothes, who can eat three times a day, happily running around and the child’s parents have a farm that helps provide for the family; I do not see this as poverty. It is not fair for this family to fall under the global narrative of being poor because they earn less than $2 per day. He who controls our perception controls the conceptualization of reality. This is not to say that there is no marginalization in our societies, but we also have to see beyond what is dragging us backward and begin to appreciate what we have been endowed with as a continent and use this to break barriers of marginalization. To this effect, as an organization, we are consistently advocating for the implementation of developmental solutions that are sustainable for young people and for future generations. One of the things that we are doing, is to look into continental policies that are targeting young people, and see how we can advance and restructure them towards creating an environment that discards the marginalization of the African youth. Personally, I design programs and work with the African Union (AU) gives a platform to bring about ideas that help young people. I believe that we cannot talk about the future and sustainability without the inclusion of youth.
Stigmata: How would you describe the role of African Philanthropy in championing the change you envision and so dearly want to see?
John: I see African Philanthropy as an art of giving back to the community. For instance, the founding fathers of the African community have committed financial and non-financial resources to building systems that unite us today. I do agree that philanthropy is transforming because of the global world we are living in, and it all depends on who has resources, power, and decision authority. However, in the midst of all these as a continent, we should not relent on raising the voices and action of generosity, young people should be taught the essence of Ubuntu – for it is such an ideal that binds us together as a diverse community. Programs such as the one being championed under the Tony Elumelu Foundation is helping to provide basic skills and resources to young people. Mo Ibrahim Foundation is also being selfless in championing philanthropy in the governance sector. With these examples given, we can see that despite the dynamism of African Philanthropy we can still believe in the reality that there are Africans that are generously committed to championing a more inclusive society through their philanthropic in investments.
Stigmata: How can different African philanthropy practices encourage innovation and the participation of more young men and women in development?
John: African philanthropy practices should see beyond giving for the sake of temporality, but giving with an objective to champion change should be at the core. There is still room to create more impact. For example, we have young entrepreneurs in African nations who may not have access to digital skills and capital, African philanthropy can be the bridge that helps such innovative brilliance at the grassroots level come to life. Moreover, in our quest to champion all these progressive ideals, the gender aspect should not be neglected. We can achieve this by championing equitable distribution of opportunities and encouraging young women and girls to be innovative. In my village, for example, we believe that women are the evident nature of life because they give life. African values and principles are the remedies of hope towards creating the Africa We Want! When African philanthropy Support Organizations champion their cause, they should not neglect African ideals and values.
Stigmata: What are you doing to ensure resilience and financial sustainability of your organization, to dependence on external support?
John: It is important to establish that our external dependencies, tie to our actions and it might guide us to the direction we do not want to be. As such it can hinder and or cripple the extent to which we champion our developmental actions and interventions -a reality that is evident with most civil society movements on the continent. If we really want to achieve our vision, we need to look into our internal resources, ensuring that a larger portion of the financing is within as opposed to consistently depending on external financial support for our survival. External funding comes with conditions that are not directly aligned with our development needs, and the change we want to see. The NYDA when it was initiated, we focused on our own self-financing; to date, we individually contribute to keeping the institution running. The other strategy that we would want to employ is through our business program, where we hope to train and support young people to start businesses and in return, they will support the sustainability of the institution.
Stigmata: Please leave us with an inspiring quote
John: Albert Einstein has a famous quote that I like, and it goes like “learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow”. The important thing is to stat questioning, than comply without questioning – that is what I want to leave young people with. Question everything, if they told you that you are the leader of tomorrow do not get deceived but ask why? Because you are leader of tomorrow, tomorrow is few hours from now. So, the work for the future starts now, step by step, each step will lead you close to your goal. Thank you so much, APN for this opportunity!
John Youhanes is the Executive Director of the Nile Youth Development Actions (NYDA) focusing on advancing local socio-economic development in the Nile Basin countries. He is also a Mining Policy Officer at the African Union Commission working to advance the Africa Mining Vision. He is an alumnus of Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), entrepreneur, youth advocate, author of “The Forgotten Youth of a Nation Book”, researcher, and speaker at the World Youth Forum 2019 on African youth employability and the role of civil societies in Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) in Africa. Co-researcher who produced “It’s our future report”, which aims at “Building better education and work for young people in a post-pandemic world” funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Restless Development organization. Youhanes was a sub-team leader in Masindi District in Western Uganda, as part of the East African Community (EAC) Observers’ Mission to Uganda Presidential and Parliamentary Elections 2021.