UK’s youth agenda in Malawi: Unlocking potential and imparting skills

Today is an important day for Malawi’s Commonwealth Young Leaders in the UK and here in Malawi.  Tonight the ‘Commonwealth Young Person of the Year’ will be announced in an award ceremony at Marlborough House, London. Just last week we heard that Malawi’s Charles Lipenga was in the running having been shortlisted as one of seventeen 15-29 year olds world-wide to receive a Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development work. He and his Maestro Leadership team were recognized for spearheading projects that will contribute to Malawi’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals – a set of 17 global targets that governments have committed to achieve by 2030.

Ideas festival

Here in Malawi, Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex will be taking time to meet and discuss the work of a selection of influential young Malawians who are making a positive difference to their communities and the lives of others.

Malawi can proudly claim no less than 3 recipients of the prestigious Queens Young Leaders Award. This 4 year programme set out to discover, celebrate and develop young people from every country in the Commonwealth who are already displaying exceptional leadership skills and changing lives for the better.  Madalo Banda and Virginia Khunghuni 2016 and 2017 award winners respectively will present the projects they’ve developed and introduce some of the other young people benefitting from their work to her Royal Highness.

Also present will be the 2013-16 cohorts of recipients of the prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowships. Since the programme launched in Malawi in 1970 just over 200 Malawians have undertaken post-graduate study at Higher Education Institutions primarily in the UK but also other Commonwealth countries.

These prestigious opportunities provided for learning, creativity and exchange of ideas give young people, academics and professionals from Malawi, the UK and across Commonwealth the chance to imagine and shape a better tomorrow together.

Indeed the Commonwealth is an important vehicle for progress and Malawi and the UK as equal partners amongst the group of 52 countries have a shared interest in collaborating to ensure we continue to support the development of young leaders who are forwarding thinking and outward looking as we move towards CHOGM in 2018 and Malawi’s Presidential elections in 2019

So what are the factors critical to successful youth leadership? And how are the UK and Malawi working together in support of this?

The British Council has been working and building relationships across the arts, education and society in Malawi for over 60 years. Our work with young people aims to build upon the historic and deep connections we share and support a genuinely new forward looking partnership between Malawi. We aim to do this through working together to provide positive pathways for young people, improve young people’s skills, employability and life chances.

Last month in partnership with UK led arts and cultural organisation Lake of Stars we delivered a day long Festival of Ideas for 1000 young people – secondary school learners and others from youth focused organisations from across Lilongwe.

Festival of Ideas set out to expand the perceptions of these young people about what was possible within Malawi and their own abilities and potential roles in leading and demanding change.

Critically the event and the sessions within it were designed and led by other young Malawians, creating an environment of mutual learning and respect and collaboration. Having Inspirational role models and the opportunity to build connections across different sectors of society is vital to nurturing effective and dynamic leadership amongst our young people.

The Festival of Ideas provided a variety of creative methods – theatre, film, poetry and graphic art to name just a few – through which the young people we are able to identify and consider together what their collective challenges were and more critically what they could do about it, through working together to bring about change directly or to engage with those who can affect change. Creating opportunities for young people to use their voice and to hold others to account is another vital component of developing effective leadership.

Finally, we are all familiar with the adage that knowledge is power. Qualifications and knowledge certainly remain important but are no longer enough to secure a successful future alone. In addition the development of 21st century core skills such as Critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and entrepreneurism will provide our young people the opportunities to grow into well-rounded, creative and critical citizens, ready to engage with one another, our governments and labour markets to shape the future for themselves and future generations.  Our Connecting Classrooms programme working with Schools across Malawi and the UK aims to do just that.

I have no doubt that today will bring Malawi more cause to celebrate its young leaders and to look forward to a future which they will play an active part in shaping. The UK values its partnership role in making that happen.

  • The author is a Country Director for British Council in Malawi


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