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Last week I was in Washington D.C. for the kick-off of our Youth Leaders for Nutrition Programme. This is a 3-year programme that aims to empower young people, primarily from countries with high rates of malnutrition, to become leaders in the campaign to end malnutrition. The programme, which is a partnership between the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network, RESULTS, ACTION and Global Citizen, will provide young people with the skills they need to create change in their own communities as well as advocate at global forums. The programme started with a training event in Washington D.C. for nine incredible young advocates, age 18-25, from Cambodia, Malawi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Canada, the Philippines, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Here are my top 5 highlights…
1. Current leaders meet future leaders!
Our youth leaders had the opportunity to meet many inspirational leaders from around the globe, including Joyce Banda (Former President of Malawi), Princess Kasune MP (Zambian Parliamentarian and first openly HIV Positive female MP), Annette Dixon (Vice President for Human Development, World Bank) and Ambinintsoa Andriamboahangy Raveloharison (Coordinator of the National Nutrition Office, Madagascar). What was great was that many of the youth leaders were the ones that made these meetings happen – proactively contacting key influencers to set up the meetings and putting their lobbying skills into action from the beginning. For us, what was also important was that this included many strong, female leaders from the global south. To quote Joyce Banda, who spoke at the event: “What the world needs is a critical mass of women leaders.”
2. Youth power: amazing ideas, creativity & impact
Throughout the week each youth leader developed their own campaign plan, putting into practice what they had learned through the training. On the final day, they presented their plans to the group and our expert judges from Nutrition International. We were bowled over by the standard of the campaigns presented: strategic, ambitious and creative. Campaign plans covered a wide range of issues, from adolescent nutrition to nutrition financing to tackle violations of the Breast Milk Substitute Marketing code. After the training, we will be supporting each of the youth leaders to turn these plans into a reality back at home.
Throughout the week the group also took over our Twitter account, chaired meetings with decision-makers and filmed interviews – in each case having a bigger impact than we could have as Save the Children staff. These are all important examples of what is possible if you empower young people to lead for themselves.
3. Youth leadership
One of the highlights of the week for me was hearing from Mwandwe Chileshe, a youth advocate and former coordinator of the SUN Civil Society Network in Zambia. In 2017, we nominated her to participate in a Global Citizen youth programme. Since then she has gone on to secure a Global Fellowship working with 1000 days in Washington D.C., driven forward work for the International Coalition for Advocates on Nutrition and advocated at multiple global forums including a side event at the HLPF. She is a testament to the importance of investing in young leaders and demonstrates the incredible things young people can achieve and the impact they can have. Mwandwe spoke on our opening panel alongside other advocacy experts. We all got quite emotional hearing her speak – she is now an incredible nutrition champion and a huge inspiration to the next generation of leaders.
“Sometimes I would be the only young person in the room, my legs would be shaking and I would doubt what I was doing there, but I pushed myself to keep breaking down these barriers.”
Mwandwe Chileshe, youth champion
4. Advocacy day: putting skills into practice
On the final day, we headed off around Washington D.C for a series of advocacy meetings with key decision-makers. The youth leaders put their new-found advocacy and communications skills into practice. This included meetings with Anne Peniston (USAID), Piero Tozzi (Chief of Staff for Congressman Christopher Smith), Meera Shekar (Head of Nutrition, World Bank), the Gates Foundation, 1000 days and many more.
“I felt more inspired by these wonderful youth leaders after meeting them, and knowing what they will be truly doing in the world for now and future generations!”
Anne Peniston, USAID
The honesty and openness during some of these meetings was truly special. We were blown away by the great questions raised by each of the youth leaders – never an awkward silence with these guys! Many of them challenged those we met to explain what they were doing to involve young people in their work. Many organisations struggled to answer this question. This really highlighted the current lack of youth participation across the nutrition sector. Our youth leaders have, however, most definitely started to put this on the agenda, and this is something we will be continuing to advocate for after the training.
5. Creating new friendships
During the week we discussed some of the barriers to effective youth participation. Many of the group highlighted self-doubt and confidence as a big barrier. We heard some great advice from other leaders who spoke about the importance of self-care and always having your ‘tribe’. We definitely found our ‘tribe’ through this training and have started to build a great, global support network- and had lots of fun along the way!
So, what makes a great leader?
We asked our youth leaders to create an image depicting the characteristics of a great leader. One thing that stood out was that both groups put a ‘big heart’ at the centre of being a great leader! Not only is this a reminder to us of the values we should embody but also a reminder that there is an inspiring new generation of great leaders ready to help us create change.
Youth Leaders for Nutrition is a one-year programme that will continue until July 2019. Here’s what’s coming up throughout the rest of the programme:
- National campaigns –With the support of their mentors and small grants from the SUN CSN, the young leaders will be taking forward their campaign plans and turning them into a reality back home.
- Global advocacy – we want to ensure that young people’s voices and experience of malnutrition are heard at key global advocacy forums. We’ll be sponsoring the youth advocates to participate in upcoming events including the Global Citizen Mandela Festival, World Bank Autumn Meetings, United Nations General Assembly and Women Deliver.
- Skills development – to continue to build on the skills learnt in Washington D.C. we’ll be holding a series of webinars for the youth delegates throughout the year. So far webinars include MEAL for advocacy, media, digital campaigning and grant management.