12 Jan 2014

Six Lessons for African Youth in 2014

Judyannet Muchiri
Network: The first lesson we the young people need to learn in 2014 is the power of networking. We have often heard that birds of a feather fly together.  A while back when I was starting out in the community development journey I used to hear people say you should ‘network’ and while I knew the basic meaning of the word network I really never understood the magnitude of this term until I saw it in place in later years. Look for people involved in your areas of interest; follow them on Twitter, Face book and other social networking sites. You will be amazed at how much your world will enlarge without you leaving your residence.  As you build your networks do not be afraid to think global; the world has been brought closer by the internet and what was once a big globe, seemingly unreachable, is just but a village now. Be a fellow villager, think global.

Safety on the internet: We need to learn how to deal with the different people we meet online. People are different and since the internet is such a wide platform there are all sorts of people. Before you contact people and give them your personal details you need to run a background check on them ‘FBI Style’. Google them, see what other people they have connected with, check which organizations they have worked with and if you are not sure don’t contact them. Similarly if you meet people whose interests are not in line with what you are looking for, you need to know how to cut communication with them in a mature way. Do not use insults, just let them know they have the wrong idea and then ignore any further communication from them.

Information: Although curiosity killed the cat, a curious mind is a fertile ground for growth. While a few years ago it was a bit hard to access information, with mobile internet in most African countries it is easier now for any young person to get information. Research has shown that the young person today spends more time online than ever before. But that is not the point. As you click on that site ask yourself the question why and how that information will benefit your work. Having access to information but not acting on it is like having a library full of books, unless you open them, read  them and learn from them they are just a ‘bunch of books’. What information are you getting and why.

Language: As you network and meet people across the globe via the internet or personally you need to learn the ‘language of development’. The ‘language of development’ is the language you will use to approach other likeminded people. There are a lot of things we ought to learn here, and a lot of ‘languages’ we need to drop this year.

First, drop the ‘nyc 2 mt ya’ and the ‘dat s gud wak u r doing dea’ speak. I always shudder when I find young people using such language in a formal situation. Using it in a formal situation sends the message that you are too lazy to actually write complete sentences, imagine what will happen if the person reading it is somebody who is looking for a partner in a project or such a thing. Reserve them for when you text your friends.

Secondly, we need to learn how to approach strangers we want to get acquainted with and finally learn from or do something together. Don’t send somebody a friend request on Face book then follow it with this message “Hi. What do you do? I would like to know you more...” This is a message that screams ‘spam’ at first glance. You need to introduce yourself first; your name in full, your country and why you are contacting them.  “Hello Mr. A. My name is BMD. I am a South African who is involved in community work in my village; I specifically work with children living with disabilities. I would like to connect with you to learn more from your experience working with vulnerable children. You can contact me through this email address.” Keep it short, to the point, formal and without personal stuff.

CV: Most likely the people you meet will request to see your CV to understand what you do before they can let you in their network. A CV is the document that will introduce you to somebody in say Malawi, they might never meet you in person but your CV might or might not convince them. Keep the language plain, don’t pad it- if something is unnecessary don’t write it, give relevant information especially in line with what you are looking forward to, give current contact details- include your social media contacts, give an academic and a professional referee never a relative and finally remember to keep it formal.

Social Media: We are in the information age where everybody has this urge to write every single detail of their life on social media. Sociologically speaking we live in the internet now. Pay attention to what you write, comment, tweet, Instagram or post. Remember if you can run a background check on other people that is the first thing they will also do. For this reason be cautious of your digital footprints and the posts people make on your Face book wall or tag you in.

Finally, let’s make 2014 the year of Sustainable Development.

Judyannet Muchiri