Monday, April 24, 2017

Youth participation beyond tokenism

Youth Empowerment and Youth Development have joined the family of buzz phrases that are constantly being used by governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector in various ways. Like girls and women empowerment, everyone wants to take part in this new hype, and use it to position their organisations or products. Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) initiatives are also been aligned to the youth development agenda, which is a good.

But to what extent is youth participation seen in the initiatives developed by the government, non-governmental organisations and private sector?

Malawi has seen its fair share of youth development events, where the youth come as an afterthought. That is, the youth are invited to the event after everything else has been set already. Then, we realise that we are missing a major component, the youth themselves. Of course, this is compensated by the phrases ‘youth at heart’ and ‘youthful.’ Just a reminder, the national youth policy defines a young person as someone who is between the ages of 10 and 35. It is estimated that over 60 percent of the Malawi population is below 35 years. In an ideal situation, you would expect this segment of the population to get a lion’s share in decision making or participation on issues that directly affect them.

Recently, Standard Bank in partnership with UNICEF and the Ministry of Labour, Youth and Man Power Development organised a Malawi Socio-Economic Forum that focused on Youth Entrepreneurship. This programme was supposed to be by the youth and for the youth. Just by taking a glance at the programme, you realise that the youth are missing in this program. Of the 9 speakers that were lined up to present, only 1 person was in the category of youth. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the contributions of this one young people will be overshadowed.

The rest of the youth that were privileged to walk into this invited space, did not event get a chance to participate in the discussions that took place. Was this event for the youth? or was this event organised for another purpose and the youth just happened to be invited or co-opted? This is just one example of ‘youth events’ that does not really involve the youth.

Events that are organised to speak to the youth, and not let the youth speak and the rest of us listen.

Equally, there are many initiatives that young people are organising to empower fellow youths and contribute to the economic development. Efforts are made to seek support from the government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector which is hard to come by. Without their support, endorsement or recognition of their efforts, the outcome of these initiatives is neither regarded nor considered in their decision making.

To move away from youth participation as tokenism, the government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, need to involve the youth right from inception level. The agenda of a youth meeting/forums must be set for, and by the youth. This way, you will have a relevant discussion with the youth. Even if you want to financially invest in the youth, you will invest in areas that the youth are interest in. The youth might be inexperienced and not as wise, but they know what they want, and where they are going.

Selection of speakers also needs to go through the same young people. You will be surprised that the panel that you might form and the one that the youth will form will be totally different. You will be even surprised with the list of mentors or people who motivate them that they might share. Without having the youth, you will have a list of speakers that the youth will not relate with, which is a waste of time and resources for the youth and the organisers.

Most of all, the stakeholders need to move beyond funding youth forums, they need to start funding the implementation of the resolutions made. You have stakeholders who are willing to spend over 10 Million Kwacha to have a youth forum but run away from supporting an initiative that will cost less than 1 million. Again, this goes back to the mismatch between the youth priorities and those of the stakeholders.

This post was written by Chimwemwe John Paul Manyozo a Chevening Alumni and Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society

and Vincent Kumwenda the CEO of mHub. Vincent is writing in his personal capacity. The post was also published on

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Imagine getting a chance to meet Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and owner of Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. A man sitting at the helm of conversations between and about over 1.5 billion people. Mark is one of the top 6 richest men in the United States of America. Imagine that He further adores you and even posts about you on his Facebook page.

Well, this is no longer an imagination or a dream for 10 year old Panashe Jere from Area 49 in Lilongwe, Malawi. It is reality. Panashe met Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook Headquarters, Menlo Park in California. Zuckerberg later posted on his Facebook page; a photo of him talking with Panashe captioned “This guy started coding earlier than I did.” Mark seemed to acknowledge that Panashe has started doing wonders in computer programming at a much early age than He, Zuckerberg. Panashe met Mark alongside the grand F8 conference organised by Facebook that brought together thousands of developers from across the world. Panashe got a ticket to travel from Lilongwe, Malawi to the Silicon Valley after winning a coding competition supported by Malawi’s mobile network operator TNM through its TNM Smart Challenge Competition. TNM sponsored coding workshops, prizes in the form of smart phones for all finalists and a trip to the Silicon Valley for all winners. The winners visit Facebook, Google and Stanford University among other high tech institutions.

Panashe developed a mobile application that allows children to input text and then converts it to voice so children always have someone to talk to; as he describes it.
It wasn’t just Panashe who got to shine at the F8 conference; three other young Malawians; Daniel Mvalo, Thandie Magasa and Walter Moyo were at it as they got recognition from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Chief Operations Officer; Sheryl Sandberg. The three developed a mobile application called Maternitech. The mobile application provides information on maternal health and family planning.

But, where is this technology revolution in Malawi starting from? The place is called mHub. It is Malawi’s first technology hub. The hub runs a Children’s Coding Club, where Panashe had his first and eight other lessons on how to develop computer programs that could even run on the cell phone and do amazing things like converting text into voice. The club has so far trained over 30 children aged between 8 and 16. The hub also runs the Girls coding club where girls are taught basics of computer science and how to develop technology applications. The tools that these children and girls are taught on include high tech platforms such as Scratch and Google’s MIT App Inventor. Scratch is a special developing platform developed by MIT and Google to teach Children block programming using drag and drop.

The hub also trains young entrepreneurs on basics of entrepreneurship. And serves as an incubator and co working space for emerging technology start-ups.

mHub was founded by a young female technology enthusiast; Rachel Sibande. Hers is a story of focus and determination against the odds. She is a Google Award Winner and has been recently named one of Africa’s Next Einstein’s by the Next Einstein’s Fellows Initiative.

It appears that Malawi is right on to a good start on this global technology revolution. Earlier in the year; President Obama launched the multibillion Computer Science for all program in the USA. Through the initiative; American Children will also start to learn basics of computer Science early on in school intimating the fundamental need for incorporating computer science as a cross cutting subject.

It is inevitable that technology is fast becoming a key stimulant and enabler for economic growth and development. Careers in technology are becoming more lucrative. And Malawi seems to be taking good steps so far if these success stories are anything to go by. However, the need for private sector entities such as TNM; mHub, Government and the Academia to enhance sustainability of such phenomenal talent is absolutely necessary and can only be emphasised.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

TEDxLilongwe Speaker nominations are open

TEDxLilongwe is calling for interested people to apply or nominate a speaker for this year's TEDxLilongwe event which will take place on 21st May 2016 at CrossRoads Hotel.

Below is the original message posted on TEDxLilongwe Facebook page:

Hallo TEDxLilongwe fans! Now calling for nominations for ‪#‎TEDxLilongwe‬

The team is in full swing working, planning and coordinating. A lot is happening behind the scenes, towards the next #TEDxLilongwe 2016 event slated for May 21. It is going to be great!
Do you know someone with an interesting story/idea that could inspire via the TEDx stage? Please forward the name of nominee, contacts & brief summary of the person to

1. Name of nominated person (you can nominate yourself)
2. Contact details of nominee (email address and phone number)
3. Brief summary of why the person is being nominated

Deadline for applications is 31 March 2016

Many thanks in advance. See you in the next post!