To curb the impact of COVID-19, young leaders across Africa are leading timely and critical interventions in their communities — helping people with disabilities access critical health information, distributing food and cash to vulnerable households under lockdown, protecting essential workers with free hand-washing kits, and meeting the rising need for hand sanitizer.
This movement comes from a network of more than 17,000 alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the United States’ signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. The four YALI Regional Leadership Centers — a USAID project in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and other private sector partners — offer transformational leadership training programs for young leaders ages 18 to 35. Since 2015, the centers have helped equip entrepreneurs, public managers, and civic leaders with problem-solving skills — which are now crucial to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are four of their stories.
Closing the Information Gap for People with Disabilities in the DRC
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bonte Kuru is a long-time advocate for people with disabilities. Bonte is the founder of Le Geste, a non-profit organization that helps deaf and hard of hearing individuals to access equal education and become active members and problem solvers in their society. During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have had less access to reliable health guidance.
Bonte, who attended the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa training in 2017, is leveraging social media platforms to close this information gap. On March 27, he started a social media awareness-raising campaign in French Sign Language. In Le Geste’s Facebook video, which has reached over 15,000 people, interpreter Moise Luzayisu explains the origin of COVID-19, symptoms, and prevention measures.
“The YALI program helped me realize that I was an observer of the problems in my community … YALI equipped me with the necessary skills to be a development actor for my community. Through the Design Thinking course, I developed my sense of searching for solutions … and awakened my inner hero.”
Supporting Those Who Cannot Work Under Lockdown in Nigeria
Oluwafunmilayo Oni is a passionate social entrepreneur working to create equal opportunities for women and girls in Nigeria. She is the founder of Iranwo Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers women and girls in underserved communities, like Makoko slum, and provides them with micro loans, business advisory services, and training in tie-dying clothing and soap-making to start their own businesses.
These communities are experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown more severely than other parts of the country. Many have been unable to leave their homes to work and cannot afford to buy food. Oluwafunmilayo, who attended the YALI Regional Leadership Center West Africa-Accra training in 2018, is mobilizing her network to meet this very need.
Iranwo Foundation, in partnership with The Butterfly Foundation, is raising funds to support families in Makoko, Mushin, and Oke-ira. In just 10 days, they raised over 1 million Nigerian naira (about $2,500), which was distributed as cash donations and food to 144 households whose livelihoods have been affected.
“One of the things I learned at the YALI training is empathy and how to design community-centered solutions to problems. This has sharpened my ability to lead my team to design a response to the crisis.”
Protecting Essential Workers in Guinea
With COVID-19 cases rising in Guinea, the government instituted a national curfew and mandated the use of masks — however, essential services like markets and orphanages remain open and at risk. In response, the YALI Regional Leadership Center West Africa-Dakar Alumni Association of Guinea and the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Guinea developed hand washing kits for distribution to essential workers.
On April 12, the group of alumni distributed the kits within the Dabompa Plateau and Lansanaya markets and the local orphanage Foyer de Esperance. Their efforts have the potential to reduce risk of infection for over 9,000 people.
“Leadership is even more critical during a crisis. We have been trained to deal with various regular and periodic crises [in] our countries … YALI RLC-Dakar alumni are on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 [because] of the trust that communities continue to have in us.’’
— Barry Kadjaly, president of the YALI Regional Leadership Center West Africa-Dakar Alumni Association of Guinea.
Increasing Supply of Hand Sanitizer in Liberia
Jemiama Tschetter Dassen is a social entrepreneur in Liberia who noticed the supply of hand sanitizer, a critical tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19, was running low in the country. As the CEO of the Creative Group of Companies, which employs people with disabilities to provide electrical, construction, and plumbing services, she pivoted her company on March 31 to manufacture low-cost hand sanitizer to meet the growing demand.
Jemiama, who attended the YALI Regional Leadership Center Southern Africa training in 2018, is also providing free hand sanitizer to vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, and inmates at the National Central Prison.
To date, her company has provided over 60 low-income households with hand sanitizer and reduced the risk of infection for up to 1,200 prisoners.
“The YALI network could be the greatest asset to any young African who knows how to utilize the strength, power, leadership, and growth that’s embedded within it.”
YALI has become a movement in itself — a network of driven problem-solvers who are transforming their communities, countries, and continent. YALI Regional Leadership Center alumni, like Bonte, Oluwafunmilayo, Barry, and Jemiama, are using their honed leadership skills to advocate for vulnerable populations, support households with impacted livelihoods, and increase access to sanitizing supplies to curb the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the Author: Evania Robles is the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Program Analyst in USAID’s Bureau for Africa.
Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published by USAID/OFDA in USAID’s publication on Medium.