60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 35. To capitalize on the enormous potential of youth and future leaders on the continent, former President Barack Obama created the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010. One portion of this initiative, primarily funded by USAID and the Mastercard Foundation, worked to identify and empower young leaders through the establishment of Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs). The RLCs located in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya offer trainings to foster leadership and entrepreneurial skills for exceptional individuals aged 18-35, and work to provide these youth with tools, skills, networks, and partners to bring change in their communities. Social Impact (SI) served as the Learning Partner to the RLCs, providing a full range of monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) services to improve RLCs’ ability to support the next generation of African leaders.
Throughout the learning partnership, SI conducted two performance evaluations (PEs), using the Most Significant Change technique and a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods across all four RLCs, as well as an impact evaluation (IE) of the East Africa RLC. The team also worked with YALI to develop a program-wide monitoring framework and tools and a customized Management Information System that tracks and visualizes data from all 4 RLCs. Additional learning activities included facilitating learning summits, capacity development, and enabling cross-RLC learning and reflections.
Table 1: SI’s YALI Evaluation Questions
||· How effectively are the RLCs preparing to ensure their sustainability after the end of the YALI program?
· To what extent are RLC YALI alumni implementing the learnings from the YALI program to help them attain desired leadership outcomes?
· To what extent are RLCs able to recruit targeted participants, including vulnerable groups?
||· How are alumni connecting with each other? How are alumni using the networks?
· What, if any, impact has participation in the YALI RLC had on personal life improvements for alumni?
||· To what extent does participation in the YALI RLC program increase leadership skills?
· To what extent does participation in the YALI RLC program increase leadership behaviors and practice?
· To what extent are networks supporting YALI RLC graduates to be successful and enact change?
The results of SI’s evaluations highlighted how YALI contributed to personal, professional or business, and community-level changes. That stated, significant barriers still exist for the alumni to put their leadership skills into practice. The PEs suggested that the YALI alumni network is a strong method for engagement and is used actively to advance alumni’s professional interests. The evaluations additionally presented data that alumni enacted personal-level change including improvements in their own soft skills, ethics, tolerance, and good citizenship. The second PE noted substantial increases in civic participation, especially in community-based volunteering and political participation. YALI alumni reported a 73% increase in civic engagement, with many attributing their change to a greater sense of purpose and more efficient time management gained from the program. Economic impacts of the program included 72% of alumni reporting income increases post-program and 69% recording that YALI had some impact on their change in income. Lastly, the impact evaluation highlighted the correlation between country context and alumni’s ability to apply their leadership skills.
Based on the results of the evaluations, SI recommended several activities to ensure sustainability of the YALI project including strengthening partnerships, exploring alumni results more deeply, and fostering collaboration among RLCs. Results from the learning partnership have sparked discussions about re-structuring YALI to better align with its continent-wide approach, improving and scaling recruitment efforts, and more clearly identifying expected leadership outcomes. These evidence-based suggestions were designed to inform YALI’s transformation into a central YALI Africa entity that can better leverage learnings and strengths across all RLCs to empower young African leaders in the coming years.