LEAPing Beyond Limitation: Youth Leadership for Social Transformation

GlobalEd Leadership is pleased to share with our readers the exciting work and projects of LEAP Africa based in Nigeria and serving the continent. LEAP Africa was founded in 2002 for the purpose of developing the next set of ethical youth leaders. The organization focuses on developing and implementing programs and training which inspire, empower, and equip young people to help lead the continent to its full potential. LEAP focuses on bottom-up national development through the use of local change agents, targeting the development of 21st century and soft skills. This blog written by our friends at LEAP Africa tells us more about their work.

The realization of young people’s full potential is affected by larger social and economic factors. For instance, studies revealed that young people in Nigeria between ages 15 and 34 account for over 34.9% of unemployed youth [1]. For nearly 60% of this youth population, their highest level of education was secondary school [2]. This suggests that there are significant barriers regarding access to higher levels of education in the region. The lack of opportunities for secondary school graduates can be attributed to a misalignment between what is taught in school and what employers need. There are insufficient transition pathways for young people post-secondary school, and with that comes a growing rate of unemployment and underemployment. In addition, some young people exhibit apathy towards their roles and responsibilities as citizens, which could be linked to a limited understanding of their position in the community at large. LEAP Africa works to educate young people about their potential and to motivate them to engage in leadership within their communities. 

In this regard, LEAP Africa has highlighted seven predominant challenges young people will have to grapple with in the coming decades. They are: Education and Skills Development, Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation, Leadership and Youth in Public Service, Employability and Future of Work, Healthcare, Nutrition and Sexual Reproductive Health, Social Mobility, Diversity and Gender Inclusion, and Active Citizenship and Peacebuilding

Much of our work focuses on advocating for successful youth transitions and aims to draw the attention of policymakers, international nonprofit organisations, foundations, and bilateral and unilateral organizations through our research agenda. We are working to create useful and deeply relevant resources for African youth development. Our strategic research approach is captured in the ETA model (Ecosystem Building, Thought Leadership and Advocacy) [3] and the organization is currently implementing a five-year strategy (2020-2025) under two pillars:

  1. Making Secondary School Work for Young People: Addressing transition challenges for public secondary schools by utilizing a systems level approach of top-down intervention (engaging with government through policy advocacy) and bottom-up intervention (engaging with students and teachers) using our robust curriculum.  
  2. Raising Talent for the Actualization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Raising change agents in Nigeria and Africa who, through their activities, social enterprises, and nonprofits, are actively working to improve the socio-economic conditions of their communities by focusing on one or more of the Sustainable Development Goal areas.

We see our research and resources as an extension of our work with respect to self-leadership for personal, organizational, and community transformation. Given the issues affecting young people, we hope to serve as a thought leader by generating knowledge products which shed light on relevant challenges. 

In our recent research, “From Resilience to Transilience, A Case Study of Social Innovators Pushing Boundaries,” we wanted to understand the lived realities of young social innovators and how they traverse terrains to build sustainable enterprises in the face of social constraints. The study presents a new narrative about the abilities of young people, sharing how they are bypassing physiological needs and reaching self-actualization by driving social transformation, which we call ‘transilience.’ The research presents perspectives from a case study of five social entrepreneurs from LEAP Africa’s Social Innovators Programme (SIP). SIP aims to strengthen and advance youth-led innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa through training and collaborative partnerships that enhance sustainability and impact. Specifically, we follow each social innovator’s journey, beginning with their childhoods and the exclusions they faced, and described how they transformed potential limitations into the impetus for brokering solutions for social problems.

Another research output, from 2020, was our white paper “Making Secondary Education Work for Young People in Africa.” It identified gaps and opportunities which impact the effectiveness of secondary education. The white paper also offered suggestions that, if implemented, could make secondary education work as an enabling factor for the successful transition of young people in Nigeria and Africa in general.

Beyond our research work, we also have made significant contributions to social entrepreneurship over the past decade through our social innovators programme and awards. In addition, we have cultivated talent for the social development sector while also nurturing youth’s interest in making an impact within the classroom through our ILEAD Fellowship Programme. We recently relaunched the Youth Leadership Programme to capture the attention and excitement of undergraduates across the country towards active citizenship. Outside of Nigeria, our work continues to support youth agency by equipping teachers in East and West Africa to become transformational leaders. We also host convenings to share lessons from our program, with hopes that stakeholders and decision makers are made aware of both the challenges and opportunities across our thematic areas.

During the pandemic, we have been able to pivot quickly and re-approach our work through the use of technology. We are working with our teenagers through Facebook and other technological platforms to deliver curriculum, as well as through Learning Management Systems for teachers. We also started a new initiative, the Youth Day of Service, during the pandemic (see pictures below). It was a national campaign for community engagement, led by several individuals and organizations, to volunteer time, tools, and resources in a project that gives back to the community.

Looking forward, our theme for 2021 is LEAPing Beyond Limitation. As we approach our 20th anniversary, LEAP Africa is still keen on supporting young people’s agency and transitions. Systems level transformation is the bedrock of our programme and research activities. We are hoping to scale LEAP across more regions within Nigeria and with other parts of Africa. For example, our upcoming Research Fellowship is LEAP Africa’s way of advancing knowledge on youth development by creating a Pan-African platform for researchers to engage in rigorous investigation of contextual issues within the region. This year, we hope to kick start the first community of researchers, who will be young and bright African scholars advancing new knowledge of and evidence-based solutions for youth development, policy, and programming. 

In spite of another COVID -19 year, our 2021 plans continue to unfold and we are poised to achieve our strategic priorities.

To learn more about LEAP Africa and their work, please visit https://www.leapafrica.org/

[1] National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) (2020). Labor Force Statistics: Unemployment and Underemployment Report. Abridged Labor Force Survey under COVID-19.

[2] Ken-Ugwuh, C. (2020) Unemployment, education and the fate of the Nigerian Youth. Available at: businessday.ng/opinion/article/unemployment-education-and-the-fate-of-the-nigerian-youth/

[3] LEAP Africa 2020-2024 Strategy: Enabling youth transition. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/192O5fXlzfzmdLs3QLrwZjQQ0T5YLCIK-/view?usp=sharing