The Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program: Cultivating Social Entrepreneurial and Civic Minded Leaders

PAYLP 2018 spring cohort participants at Meridian International Center


The Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP) is a program designed to develop leadership skills in youth through dynamic trainings and cultural exchanges. In April 2018, Meridian hosted adult mentors and young scholars between the ages of 15 and 18 from Sub-Saharan Africa, including the nations of Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“I have discovered a group of diverse cultures, from my fellow African participants from Sudan, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana as well as Malawi.”

Exchange programs like these bring leaders from around the world to the U.S. to experience and enhance their knowledge in major fields of study and provide them with an opportunity to explore U.S. culture while empowering them with valuable skills. This recent program began in Atlanta, GA, where the participants got a taste of America visiting World of Coca-Cola, Ebenezer Baptist Church, CNN Center, and the Georgia Aquarium. From there, students were split into two different groups for visits with Ball State University in Indiana and the University of Texas-Austin. Each city provided unique cultural experiences for the students, whether visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Visitor Center or taking custom city tours as well as attending congressional meetings.

It was very interesting to see all of this history up close, as I had learned about his story from books years ago; but to attend the places he visited is something I deeply appreciated, and I feel lucky.” 

The students also volunteered their time to local community projects where they gained deeper understanding of the importance of giving back to community.

“I have also felt impressed to see how Americans have a spirit of volunteering: they are ready to take time to help others in the community. I have had a chance to volunteer my time in sorting food for families in need alongside members of the Austin community, after coming to Texas.”

These service experiences underscored the two guiding pillars of PAYLP: social entrepreneurship and civic responsibility. A key component of this program is working with peers to develop social action projects in their communities to affect positive change in their respective countries. Students participate in various workshops, which include an action planning series that focuses on assessing community needs, SMART goals and communications messaging. This training contributes to equipping PAYLP participants with the tools and the know-how to succeed.

“Taking risks is part of the pathway to success that a leader must be able to accept their own errors and be ready to correct them.”

With these newfound skills and experiences, the participants created local community initiatives, which they presented to panelists upon returning to Washington, D.C. to conclude the program. All 40 students leveraged feedback they received from the panelists to polish their action plans and apply for seed funding to implement their community initiatives when they return home.

“I have a change of perception of what America and Americans are. The great infrastructural development and technology and the way of doing things. An open mind to diversity in addition to experiencing and learning leadership skills as a youth mentor and an educationist. Thank you.” 

Written by Lida Azim, PAYLP Intern