Ideas & Debate

Preparing the youth to be responsible leaders

youth

Youths take part in a physical grill at Molo Stadium in Nakuru County during a Kenya Defense Forces recruitment exercise. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG

The Institute for Responsible Leadership (where I am a co-founder) recently partnered with UNITAR (the United Nations Institute for Training and Research) with whom IRL collaborates closely) to broadcast a webinar on youth and responsible leadership.

Keynote speaker Sebastian Hofbauer talked about how youth have become significant “influencers” through the use of social media – some positive, but many not so. The latter are primarily in it for the size of their following and the revenue they therefore generate.

So we need government regulation, he suggested, but also self-regulation, this in partnership with the private sector and including through the UN Global Compact. Much helpful food for thought.

In my contribution as a panelist, I focused on two youth organisations with which I have been closely involved since the late 1970s. Both have been spectacularly successful at developing highly responsible young leaders – many of whom have gone on to occupy the highest positions of leadership in Kenya and way beyond.

The first one I spoke about was Rotaract, the young persons’ Rotary, where young adults aged 18 and over join – as in Rotary itself – to offer service while enjoying each other’s friendship, and where they also develop their leadership skills, not least through learning by doing.

There’s no better way of accelerating one’s development and one’s career than by joining such volunteer organisations, and the earlier one does so the better.

For here one is exposed to projects and committees, to managing people and funds, while learning about policies and programmes, meetings and minutes, and so much more about leadership.

Rotaracters apply Rotary’s “4-Way Test”, so in everything they think, say or do, they ask: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” and “Is it beneficial to all?” It is young adults who practice such values as honesty and fairness that are attracted to this organisation, and their membership there reinforces these further.

The first Rotaracter I met was in 1979, a young man called Stephen Musyoka, whom the Rotary Club of Nairobi where I was a member selected to benefit from a post-graduate scholarship at the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus. Now better known as Kalonzo Musyoka, he went on to develop a very successful career in politics, where practicing the 4-Way Test is so challenging!

In 1986, when I became the President of our Rotary Club, one of my main goals was to relaunch our Rotaract Club, that had meanwhile faded away.

I challenged two young professionals in the IT company of which I was CEO, Henry Njoroge and David Muiruri, to gather together a group of suitable people to form one, and indeed before my year was done the Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central was launched.

Since then it has continued to thrive, a permanent source for developing responsible leaders. Indeed the current President of our Rotary Cub, Gideon Akwabi, became a Rotaracter in 1989 and emerged as a leader there before joining our Rotary Club in 2012.

The second example I chose was AIESEC, which was launched in 1948 as an international association of students of economics and commerce, enabling them to be exposed to other European countries and cultures in the aftermath of the Second World War.

When I was an undergraduate in the mid-sixties I undertook AIESEC internships in France and America, and they were life-transforming exposures for me.

I became a member of the advisory board of AIESEC Kenya soon after arriving here in the late 1970s, and ever since I have enjoyed mentoring generations of AIESECers – the brightest and the best of responsible young leaders.

AIESEC partners with major institutions that act as hosts for internships, and these days it attracts students from all disciplines and actively supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

You can just imagine how that develops their members as responsible young leaders. Like with former Rotaracters, AIESEC alumni are consistently sought after to occupy leadership positions. (One such is Polycarp Igathe.)

I am currently involved with the inspiringly responsible leaders of the AIESEC chapter at Strathmore University, whose Vice-Chancellor Vincent Ogutu I first met when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi… as a result of him being a member of AIESEC.

So you can understand why I am such an enthusiastic advocate for young women and men joining these wonderful organisations, as they are extraordinary incubators of responsible leadership.