3. History of YALDA
“Any person can easily snap a broomstick in half, but put a couple of broomsticks together, breaking them becomes virtually impossible.” –Old Ghanaian Proverb
The Brain Drain is an issue at the hearts of many Africans, more especially those who go abroad to continue their education. Many of us go to the western world with hope, optimism and passion for our future and how we can contribute positively to Africa’s future. Our intentions are to acquire knowledge and come back to the continent and use it, as was the case with East Asians, and as a result help our countries and the continent develop. But in reality, the brighter prospects of a house surrounded by a white picket fence, effective property rights protection, laws that are adequately enforced, etc. are more attractive and less risky than returning to an uncertain future in Africa; consequently only a trickle of us ever return.
In the United States, Africans are the most highly educated of any immigrant populations; more than half of all qualified Nigerian doctors are in Europe or the United States. The Harvard African Student’s Association (HASA) was formed in 1977 by African students in order to celebrate African culture and to create the presence of Africa on the Harvard College campus. On November 18th, 2003 HASA held a serious debate on the effect of the Brain Drain on Africa’s development and how Africans at Harvard were contributing or not contributing to the problem.
We spoke of our experiences, and other first generation Africans spoke on the experiences of their parents. Frustration was expressed on the following levels: the quality and effectiveness of our current African leaders; the lack of institutions to enforce the law and protect basic human rights; the scale at which corruption superseded the rule of law; the lack of real role models or knowing who they were. A major issue also raised was that we seriously have no information—apart from what we see or read in the western media, which is almost always negative—on the current situation of people on the African soil. We realized that we thought we knew what was going on; we thought we had an agenda, and we thought we knew how to help…but how could we..? We were like that one broomstick that one could easily snap, and many before us had already suffered that fate.
As the discussion went on it became apparent that not only were we feeling disillusioned by outside solutions to Africa’s problems, we were also contributing to them. We needed a new strategy, a new way to “help” without imposing our ideas on our people in Africa. That was when we realized the importance of reconnecting with our peers on the continent. We wanted to know what their problems were, how they wanted to solve them and from there we could exchange ideas on how we would be able to help. The Future African Leaders Alliance (FALA) began to take seed.
Instead of getting ourselves de-motivated and frustrated by wanting to make instant change and not knowing where to start or even where to go, we saw it was time to “learn and get connected now, so we can make a difference tomorrow.” FALA was formed to be a platform for conversations on what young people’s interests are. It was created to be a learning, teaching, motivating, supportive and innovative environment for Africa’s young leaders.
To foster communication, the founder proposed to establish a website, monthly newsletters and biennial conferences on the continent. The founder also proposed to start working with the youth at universities in Africa, as they were in a more condensed environment and easier to find. At the universities we would form branches and these branches would then have the added task of reaching out and sharing ideas with the underprivileged youth in their communities who did not have the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning.
In April 2004 after much planning and research, the first and founding FALA Board was formed and the constitution drafted. Over the next few months our newly selected board sought to fine-tune the constitution and set up FALA branches at various universities on the continent. As the name suggests, our organization was initially established to train and equip leaders to lead for the future, but through gradual consultation with our faculty advisors, we realized that as young people we are leaders now, tomorrow and in the future. The name of the organization was changed to Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA) in May, 2004.
Over the next year, the YALDA team continued to formulate strategies for setting up branches at other universities and locate professional affiliates. Another task was to contact organizations that were already working with youth in Africa and find ways to partner with them. Though finding professionals was challenging, setting up branches in Africa proved incredibly arduous. We had underestimated the amount of work and the types of problems we would encounter on the continent. However, we persevered and our efforts have not been in vain; YALDA continues to add more and more broomsticks to its alliance, and with that our coalition grows stronger—as according to the old Ghanaian proverb.
Since its inception YALDA has made significant progress in its quest to realize and implement its mission by establishing branches at: Harvard University (USA), University of Botswana, Oxford University (UK), United States International University (Kenya), University of Cape Coast (Ghana), University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) and many other universities. These branches (at different stages in development) have been actively involved in some or all of the following activities: recruiting youth members in their communities; recruiting professionals to act as mentors and/ or advisors; holding on campus-events, and workshops and/ or implementing a required YALDA project aimed at empowering African communities and making a recognized social impact.
YALDA’s International Headquarters are in Gaborone, Botswana and the organization is also a registered 501(c)(3) in the United States of America. YALDA is carrying on with its expansion plans primarily in Africa.