Picture credit: Bible Society / Mark Woods
Kenyan leadership mentor Caren Wakoli challenged delegates to the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) conference to prepare the way for the next generation by passing on the baton to younger leaders.
The founder and director of the Emerging Leaders Foundation (ELF) spoke of her early struggles to find partners to help support young people, and of coming close to giving up on her vision. Now ELF has trained thousands of young leaders and has won praise from former US President Barack Obama for its pioneering work. Among its values are servant leadership, integrity, teamwork, and the belief that 'only the best is good enough for Africa'.
Quoting a TED talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she said that stories have power and it matters who tells the story.
Wakoli spoke of the healing process that could begin as young people reflected on their own stories and began to share and own them. 'I've had stories of healing in families, stories of young people getting jobs, forming families, and just amazing success.'
She shared lessons about effective youth mentorship, especially through storytelling.
It was important to build authentic relationships with young people, she said: 'A lot of times speakers come and share stories of the finished product, not the process of the journey.' Unconditional love was crucial: 'Love is what mentorship is all about – believing in somebody, believing in them just as they are, never seeking to change them but helping them to find answers from within them.' So, she said, was genuine listening: 'A lot of the time we listen not with the intention to understand but with the intention to respond.'
She challenged her audience to 'embrace the spirit of succession' by being willing to pass on the baton to younger generations, pointing out that while the median age of Africans is 19, the median age of leaders is over 60. 'For us to be able to pass on the baton, young people have to be at the table. They have to be involved in the planning and discussion of their own future and the future of their children's children.
'Will we have nurtured a generation of ethical, values-based leaders who are courageous enough to stand for the right thing, who will take that baton Africa where we want it to get to? Or will that time come when we will have crisis, because we never looked back to hold the hands of young men and women and children who are our future?'
She urged the conference to 'teach values by living them out' and to show young people that success should not be measured in material terms. 'Success is about holding that person's hand, making a difference in somebody's life,' she said.