One day, I received an invitation to attend the African Youth Conference, an annual conference organized by UN Women for 300+ young people and key shareholders to share ideas and showcase innovative approaches to solving youth challenges in Africa. Discussion topics range from the future of youth political involvement and the prospects of social entrepreneurship to how to prioritize investment in youth development, especially among young women and girls in Africa. Going into the conference, I was really new to politics and starting a business did not seem that interesting. Although I had some experience advocating for women’s rights, I did not have much and was eager to learn more. Needless to say by the end of this conference my mindset completely changed!
Day 1 was political empowerment day. Young people in general are rarely politically involved in the region, despite making up more than 60% of the population. It was something I did not have in mind at first, but then it made sense. We need more youth to represent us politically so that our voices can be heard! We got to meet and speak with Ms. Hanna Tetteh, Director General of the UN office at Nairobi (UNON). Not only did she share with us a politics 101 lesson on how to get involved as a young person, but she also gave us a master class in presentation skills. Every smile, gesture and word had a meaning behind it; her body was absolutely synchronized with her words in a way that was breathtaking.
Day 2 was social entrepreneurship day. It was that day when I discovered a new passion of mine. I got to meet all sorts of young people who started their own businesses and are on their way to financial success, all while helping to make their community a better place. The concept of social entrepreneurship was an epiphany for me. I love helping people and, at the same time, I could create a business that has social and economic benefits. EUREKA! It all made sense! We got to meet with several young entrepreneurs and incubators. One that comes to mind is my fellow countrywoman Rania, the founder of Entreprenelle. Rania helps women learn more about how to run a business, and then empowers them to run their own. Another successful entrepreneur was Amadou Chico. Chico stressed that failure is part of reaching your goal: “I failed my way to success,” he said. He works to empower and invest in promising youth to mold them into successful entrepreneurs. His vision is to help create OneMM2030: one million millionaires by 2030.
Day 3’s focus was on women’s empowerment. We all empathized with our sisters and gave them a safe space to share their stories. “He for She” is a movement that promotes positive masculinity, giving the guys awareness and encouragement to advocate for women’s rights. As I put on the campaign’s pin, I gained a new resolve to help make the world a better place for all women. One session we attended talked about extremism, how it develops and what can be done to stop it. We had a speaker, Michel Chikwanine, who was recruited as a child soldier in the past, and was forced to kill his best friend on his first day of recruitment. He shed light on how unfathomable and utterly inhumane these practices can be.
Looking back at Egypt, women’s rights activists are working relentlessly to secure a better future for society. Emad, a fellow women’s right activist estimated that abuse of women in Egypt has an annual economic cost of around $2 billion dollars, which shows just one side of how dreadful mistreatment of half the population can be for the whole population. I think we could use more awareness raising for social entrepreneurship as well, since a lot of young Egyptians are “sitting in cafés”, which in the local dialect means they are unemployed. While political involvement may still be a long shot for youth like me, it would help if we took small steps towards achieving that goal, focusing more on creating answers than condemning problems.
For me, the highlight of the conference was the speech of a 13-year-old girl, and by no means am I exaggerating. Natalie Wambui, a motivational speaker and a writer, managed to move all of our hearts. Despite her young age, she spoke more articulately than the majority of people I met in my life. A few of her many inspiring statements included: