Enhancing African youth engagement and leadership in conservation.
The Mweka College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania represents African Wildlife Foundation’s belief in African youth as the next generation of conservation practitioners and leaders. Since helping establish the institution in the early 1960s, we have continued to engage young Africans to ensure that they voice their interest in biodiversity conservation and step up to champion conservation on the continent.
It is estimated that Africa’s population will be 1.6 billion by 2030, of which the rapidly growing youth demographic will constitute 42 percent. Young Africans will need capacity and opportunities to take up leadership positions as their countries work towards economic growth and attaining sustainable development goals.
Focusing on innovative youth-led approaches, AWF seeks to empower and inspire youth action and grow the influence of youth networks in the conservation sector at its interface with sustainable development. Additionally, we support young professionals in conservation to implement impactful programs on the ground and help launch successful careers in the sector — from wildlife management and conservation science to policymaking and sustainable enterprise.
Young people have limited influence across sectors, including biodiversity conservation.
While some aspects of environmental education are incorporated in school curriculums, delivery mechanisms and learning approaches are not designed to encourage youth participation in biodiversity conservation. Yet, getting youth connected to nature requires an innovative, youth-led, practical approach that triggers critical reflections and strategic action. Without a strong, informed foundation and limited platforms to participate and lead, young people are mostly indifferent and excluded from conservation conversations. As such, youth stewardship in the conservation sector and championing the green agenda continue to be wanting.
Few opportunities for learning and professional development in conservation.
The youth must be a part of transforming the African conservation agenda, yet they remain marginalized, poor, uninformed, and disenfranchised. Unemployment has relegated African youth to social, political, and economic exclusion. This has also increased youth vulnerability to political, ecological, and health crises at global and local levels, driving the continued exploitation of natural resources.
A 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report found that over 30 million youth are expected to enter the African labor market annually, yet between 2010-2020 only 4 percent of new entrants between found waged work in industry and 21 percent in waged services. This means that over 18 million jobs need to be generated annually to accommodate young workers instead of the current rate of 3 million jobs per year. At the same time, increased educational and economic opportunities for young people are pivotal to achieving sustainable development. Addressing these multifaceted challenges requires a deliberate strategy that puts African youth at the forefront building their capacity to secure jobs and establishing sustainable enterprises.
Ineffective and disconnected youth networks and movements.
According to research by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 61 percent of youth networks in Africa are weak in internal capacity, 54 percent are weak in external engagement, and 84 percent are weak in advocacy. AWF’s youth engagement strategy is rooted in the idea of inspiring youth networks and igniting a sense of conservation stewardship in Africa, creating meaningful linkages at the national, pan-African, and global levels. Such connections can help strengthen critical thinking and creativity while mobilizing resources to increase the influence of youth groups in conservation and biodiversity protection.
AWF engages African youth in conservation by:
AWF works with partner organizations to nurture capable youth leadership across different sectors that are championing conservation and sustainable development in Africa. In March 2021, we launched a bespoke youth leadership program for recipients of the Top 100 Young African Conservation Leaders Award. Collaborating closely with the Africa Alliance of YMCAs, the World Organization of the Scout Movement, and WWF, AWF is delivering the nine-month program to bring together young leaders from different sectors and support their conservation agenda.
We remain committed to empowering young conservationists through the Conservation Leadership Management Program. This program at AWF provides on-the-job training for early-career conservation professionals. Deployed to landscapes across the continent, trainees learn the conservation methodologies and solutions that AWF manages on the ground. Some of the Conservation Management Associates have gone on to join AWF as field program managers or policy team leaders.
AWF has also proposed the establishment of the Young African Policy Fellows Program to equip African youth with the necessary skills to take on roles as biodiversity policy negotiators and involve African youth in the national and international policymaking processes. The initiative also aims to provide the necessary support to the African Group of Negotiators as they engage in multilateral biodiversity and climate change agreements.
AWF is collaborating with the African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation to provide internships at AWF for students pursuing conservation-related courses and host research activities. Additionally, the university's MBA for Conservation Leaders course provides students — who are young professionals from various fields — to unlock their entrepreneurial thinking and develop innovative, research-based solutions in a practical setting.
For young people from rural areas living near conservation landscapes, AWF is working to increase access to higher education by providing scholarships. Offered exclusively to youth from landscapes where AWF has implemented long-standing community-based conservation programs, the scholarships will allow us to support the next generation of homegrown leaders and give these young people a chance to nurture their interest in conservation.
AWF helps amplify the voices of young Africans by supporting the work of vibrant youth networks influencing and driving local, national, and global decisions towards conservation. In November 2018, we supported the Africa chapter of the Global Biodiversity Youth Network to conduct a five-day workshop in preparation for the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
In March 2019, we hosted the three-day conference #IAM4NATURE Youth Summit at our headquarters in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund. This led to the formation of the Africa Youth for Nature Network.
We also facilitated a one-of-a-kind online regional biodiversity youth workshop organized by Réseau des Jeunes des Forêts d'Afrique Centrale - Association Jeunesse Verte du Cameroun in November 2020 to build the capacity of over 100 young leaders from francophone Africa. The four-day virtual workshop was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with participants from across the continent.
AWF has also partnered with Friends of Nature, China's oldest environmental non-government organization that focuses on environmental awareness, to create a space for youth to exchange knowledge and best practices. Through virtual dialogues and workshops, young people from across Africa and China are discussing solutions to save endangered species, use natural resources sustainably, and highlight the contribution of indigenous people and local communities.
We continue to identify, profile, and collaborate with youth networks in Africa in order to strengthen their capacity in advocacy and grassroots action.