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Taking youth activism to the level

Taking youth activism to the next level

Samson Haileyesus Kebede is a youth activist from Hawassa and is the Deputy Director of International Youth Society. He was recently nominated as an outstanding young achiever in Ghana at the Young Leaders Summit. Here, he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on his upbringing, on his activism, on being recognized for his effort so far, on voluntarism and on what he wants to accomplish before he hits 30. Excerpts:

The Reporter: You are a noted activist and a youth ambassador of a number of organizations. Tell me about yourself?

Samson Haileyesus Kebede: Thank you! I am from Hawassa and moved to Addis for my undergraduate studies at Addis Ababa University and studied Construction Technology and Management in Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).

I started volunteering with youth organizations there as a freshman in 2012 with AIESEC, World Youth Alliance (WYA), Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP), Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA-AAU), Sira-Tukole Project, Pan-African Youth Association for the promotion of Peace and Unity in Africa (AJEPAX), Team 54 Project, A Common Word Among the Youth (ACWAY), and  O-YES Global Foundation.

I am engaged in advocacy for youth leadership, development, and empowerment currently work and volunteer in many areas and serve as a country representative and National Coordinator of International Youth Society in Ethiopia, which is mainly a youth advocacy group in the world.

You must be a really busy young person.

While working in these organizations, I had the chance to travel to 14 countries and participate in about eight International conferences, seminars, and meetings. To mention some of this; I gave a speech representing the youth in the Conference of African Ministers of Finance (COM2018) and the 1st United Nations Ministerial Conference on Immunization. 

In addition to this, I participated and contributed to the global youth taskforce that prepared “The Manifesto”, a document compiled & adopted at the 11th Conference of Youth (COY11) in Paris, as a global manifesto and input of the youth to the COP21 Int. Climate Conference.

I'm passionate about making a difference. I engage myself in various community and personal

development programs to represent an important segment of society by way of youth empowerment, leadership, and Sustainable Development Goals and major areas that interest me most.

What specific project have you been able to achieve via this association with notable organizations?

Bearing this in mind in late 2014, my team and I at AIESEC (the largest youth-run organization in the world, which is found in 128 countries and territories) started a project called “Sira-Tukole”, a regional youth exchange project between three East African Countries of Ethiopia, Kenya & Uganda entailed on training youth on leadership, entrepreneurship, and business development.

The project which was funded by FK Norway (Fredskoprset) currently re-named as Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation (NOREC) has impacted more than 2000 young people in the universities of the three countries. Through our exchange, we managed to give opportunities for eight Ethiopians, eight Ugandans, and five Kenyans, in total 21 young Africans on a fully-funded exchange program of nine months.

In early 2019, I was recognized as a Global Goodwill Ambassador (GGA) and become one of the winners of the Special Award Books for Peace 2019. Currently, I am an AIESEC and YALI alumni plus an ACWAY fellow, recently finishing my fellowship in Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), East African Regional Leadership Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Excerpts:0

You have recently been nominated for an award. Tell me about that?

I was nominated by the Young Politicians and Leaders Network as the only Ethiopian nominee for the Young African Leaders Summit 2019 Award in Accra, Ghana under the category of Young Policy Advocate of the Year.

The award is hosted every year by the Young Politicians and Leaders Network. This year round, outstanding young achievers will be honored at the Young African Leaders Summit 2019 in Accra, Ghana. The awards will be used to acknowledge, encourage, celebrate and authenticate the success and vitality of these astute change-makers by giving them the opportunity to gain valuable exposure and well- deserved recognition for their national and global ambitions and excellence.

Nominees' work will be evaluated by a committee before passing for the final nomination stage and voting. In this award Nigeria has the highest number with 9 nominees followed by South Africa which has seven nominees, Ghana has six, Liberia has three, Kenya and Guinea Bissau have two each, Ethiopia and the rest have one nominee.

Influential young Africans on politics like Hon. Munah Youngblood from Libera and Bobi Wine from Uganda, Celebrities Davido from Nigeria and Wiyala from Ghana, South African athlete Caster Semenya, and Tunisian AU Youth Envoy AyyaChebbi are among the nominees of the Young African Leaders Summit 2019 award.

The nomination was publicized on the 12th of September, voting has started last week and will continue till the 15th of October. Winners will be announced on the 23rd of November in the Young African Leaders Summit.

Tell me about the International Youth Society?

International Youth Society (IYS) is a global youth-led organization that empowers students and young professionals to create ‘positive change’ in their local communities and around the world. The organization provides unique opportunities that assist young people in becoming the business and professional leaders of tomorrow, comprising many young professionals and students that are committed to service and leadership in their communities and abroad. It's a global network of young people over 50 countries working to facilitate young people’s efforts in exchanging ideas and preparing themselves for a better future and building social responsibility to create a sustainable and peaceful world.

The organization’s Ethiopian chapter was created recently, I have been appointed as the deputy country director and we are on the process of registering the organization and its partner O-YES Global Foundation.

The award you are nominated for highlights your achievement as the only Ethiopian nominee. How can your fellow Ethiopians support you?

I was nominated as the only Ethiopian nominee in the award, but I believe there are many young Ethiopians who have had the same or further achievement than I did, it's just they didn’t get the opportunity to be nominated. This indicates that we need to capitalize on creating platforms for young people to showcase their work, talent and passion.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank everyone who voted for me and I call on all Ethiopians to keep promoting the vote. I have seen that there are many kind Ethiopians who have dedicated their time to promote the award voting in their platforms.

As a young activist, mentorship is paramount to your work. Who are some of your mentors and how have they helped you with your endeavors?

I agree that mentorship has a huge impact on youth; the greatest mentor in my life is my father. He guided and supported me in all my life journeys; his unwavering support has made me commit to my leadership journey in spite of all the challenges. In this all-time, he showed me strength and courage in my difficulties. Unlike other families that I know, he supported me to be engaged in many extra-curricular activities as I could, which laid a good foundation for which I am today.

The other mentor I had was Hiwote Negash, the former President of AIESEC in Ethiopia. She was a supportive and charismatic leader who showed taught me the very principles of personal development. She is currently working and residing in Warsaw, Poland.

In addition to this, my books are my mentors, I read many historical and leadership books that showed me the path to self-confidence and taught me lessons from the experience of other people.

In many countries, public figures and successful people have mentorship programs that are used as a system to nurture young people in their countries, which doesn't happen in our country or is done by a few people. I believe mentoring and guiding the next generation of this country is the responsibility of everyone, taking this chance I request all influential and successful people to take available platforms to share their experience inspire and mentor at least 5 young people in their community.

What are your plans that you want to be able to achieve before you hit 30?

Well, I have a number of plans that I want to achieve before I reach the age of 30, but if your question spins around my work in youth. The national youth policy of Ethiopia states that ‘youth’ are those citizens whose age falls between 15 and 29, so I wanted to dedicate my years until I reach 30 working on youth development agendas in my country, the continent, and the globe.

I have mainly planned for two things, The first one is pioneering on creation of a National Youth Council and Youth Advisory Board, bodies which shall play an integral role in facilitating cooperation between Ethiopian youth and youth internationally, represent the youth of Ethiopia, fill the existing vacuum for an umbrella body for the various youth organizations in the country, lobby for youth-friendly legislations and policies, facilitate the growth and improve the quality of youth, coordinate activities, programs and policies of the country in the field of youth.

I have started working on this and have submitted a proposal for the Ministry of Woman, Children, and Youth (MWCY). I believe these two structures when it goes functional will produce young leaders capable of ensuring the transformation of our country and fill the vacuum of young leaders in our government structures.

What is your take on the affairs within Ethiopia when it comes to youth? 

As Ethiopia’s population age structure changes, the knowledge, skills, and capabilities of its future working-age population will determine the extent to which it can realize its demographic dividend and the associated economic growth all Ethiopians desire. These citizens, when properly mentored and educated, represent the labor force that will support Ethiopia’s industrialization and progression.

Based on the information from MWCY, out of 547 MPs currently working, Ethiopia has only 14 MPs whose age falls under the ‘youth’ age group, where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 29 and the ‘youth’ group accounts for 28 percent of the entire population.

The second one is running for a parliament seat (maybe on 2024 G.C election), I know this could be tough but I always had a dream to serve my country in such a position.