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Engaging youth in rural transformation – 3rd RUFORUM Biennal Conference

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) is - in short - a network of 29 universities in eastern and southern Africa working with other partners, to enhance high education quality and impact in the field of agriculture.YPARD was invited at the 3rd RUFORUM Biennial Conference, last September, 24-28, 2012, in Entebbe, Uganda. The objective of this meeting was to exchange findings and experiences, and indentify lessons learned in order to improve performance of the agricultural sector.Few words to give an insight of the event’s spirit:  “peer review”, “quality control”, “mentorship”, “networking” and “shared learning”. Doesn’t it tell a lot already? A strong youth presence!A diversity of stakeholders in agricultural research for Development from Africa and beyond was present, with a significant participation of students and alumni, universities members and supervisors! It was an asserted will from RUFORUM to dedicate this event to their graduates and universities team, and I must say that they visibly achieved their wish and goal!Students and Alumni were given the chance to showcase their research through posters exhibition; some were panellists and invited to share their experience and success stories; they were all solicited to contribute actively, give comments and ask questions during the discussions. They were showcased during their supervisors’ presentations as well. In addition, RUFORUM students had a full afternoon to discuss on their own issues and recommendations to enhance RUFORUM’s education programmes. The outcomes were presented during the final plenary session by one of the students!Freedom of expression, they truly had, and they used it in a very professional way! Young people made excellent presentations, questions and passionate and clear posters presentations. The issues identified were raised loud and clear, in a very constructive way, embracing the complexity of the challenges and revealing a thorough reflection on the situation. Discussing Youth engagement in rural transformation!YPARD was particularly invited to share its views and experience on “engaging African youth in rural transformation”, with a particular focus on our own experience as a network: key for strengthening agricultural innovation. “Which strategies should we devise for channelling and tapping the energies and talent of youth for transformation of Africa’s rural sector?”One could talk for hours about the unattractiveness of rural areas, the consequences of transformations but also the opportunities generated from it, and then the ways and the needs to engage the youth in these rural transformations. My key message and recommendation was as such: yes, we need to engage the youth: we specifically need to engage the youth as PRIMARY stakeholders, as OWNERS of the action!The key note addressed by Professor Charles L.M. Olweny was expressing that “youth” corresponds to the period of life were emerges responsibility.  As representative of YPARD Young Professionals’ community, I could assert that youth is willing to undertake their responsibility with their natural vigor, freshness and creativity. With the support of mentors and experienced professionals, they have the means to realize their full potential.What is “youth”?YPARD discussed its own concept of “young professional” as the key note was pointing out the complexity of the notion. Not everyone agreed on us tapping to 40 the age limit of our young professionals. It is fair with regards to the right and encouragement RUFORUM young students are allocated to share their views among RUFORUM. Unfortunately, the situation is different in some other context, where a 35 years old person would still be considered not experienced enough for being able or allowed to express its thoughts.Work collaboratively!Young people were called to work collaboratively to embrace transformation. Appealing to social values was presented as necessary towards this purpose. At this age of “social media” youth is predisposed to “inter-act” indeed. YPARD shared about the way we get connected online: through the website and with other communities: ARDYIS, GYIN, e-agriculture.The advice was addressed to young people but also all stakeholders present. “University must not exist in isolation”. Linking faculty and students with communities, promoting inter-disciplinary research and encouraging multi-agency teams to create impact across the region were emphasized .Create Jobs!Young people should be called to become “job creators rather than job seekers” only. YPARD couldn’t have nodded more! We shared about our information services through ypard.net, pointing out a number of sponsorship, jobs and internship opportunities, but also key events where young people could get the chance to build useful networks or news about key aspects related to soft skills and tertiary sectors needed for creating opportunities such as entrepreneurship, leadership, business skills, political literacy, etc. YPARD is moreover a multistakeholder platform where people are solicited to post by their own, share news, write blog posts, submit questions and ideas on the forum. We strongly believe that sharing ideas enables critical thinking, creativity and designing solutions, which boosts young professionals to take in hand their own career.Find mentors!Networking is a critical factor, particularly for young professionals as they need to find their place in the workforce. YPARD can be this platform where people create their personal profile and are encouraged to interact with members from different parts of the world to expand their own professionals networks.An extension of this is the planned YPARD online mentoring programme designed to link YPARD members with senior mentors as well as connect YPARD members with each other to engage in peer to peer mentoring. We aim at promoting a two-ways mentoring  process which benefits boths junior and seniors parties. We believe that youth bring new ideas and skills (I.e ICTs). “Mentors to be trained”, it requires proper skills. We are identifying possible strategic or implementation partnerships. We are in contact with AWARD who has a great experience in mentoring  for women leadership, for example.Get a voice into policy debates!We presented the way we solicit youth to express their ideas and opinions on key ARD issues which are often fed into wider policy discussions. This is facilitated through online discussions addressing different topics in a way that outcomes can be used for further actions, such as pre-consultations for an event, developing a statement or communiqué to feed into wider development of policy. YPARD Youth presence at GCARD2 is one of the examples of this.Get inspired!For one to perform, one needs to be inspired. This is particularly true in the agricultural sector that suffers from an image problem and a not highly valued career route among young people. When at primary school, farming activities are used as a punishment, how do you expect youth to be interested in agriculture? Agriculture is not seen as a business but a way of life: you go to the field before school and you arrive late at school. Showcasing testimonials of successful young professionals in ARD is a way to promote agriculture as a career path. YPARD launched a YP showcase which is a dedicated page of portraits of young professionals in the field of agriculture.Language issues: connecting with West AfricaA lack of capacity and resources has meant that the YPARD website, communications and activities have traditionally been undertaken in English (except at local level). YPARD is making further efforts to expand the language base to French to include West Africa. Language is a key component for YPARD to have a more comprehensive continental strategy and provide its francophone members equal opportunity to be a part of the network and be heard.YPARD is one of the possibilities to get young professionals to express themselves and build their capacities, but it is important that organizations in ARD are open to listen to what the youth have to say and work with them to work towards a more youth-inclusive ARD. Keep growing, people!A Katasana, from Rwanda was invited to present his and other Rwandanese’s success story as alumnis. He addressed to young scientists in the room and expressed how RUFORUM helped him to succeed. He expressed that he often wanted to give up although his supervisor tried to convince not to. His experimentations were not successful and he was getting desperate. His supervisor told him “even failure is a research output”. “Research teaches as well perseverance. If you don’t have perseverance, you won’t go far.” Perseverance helped him a lot when going back in Rwanda.Professor Charles L.M. Olweny was expressing that while it is said that humanity generated from the African Continent, Africa is named the “youngest continent” due to the large population of Youth. I see it as a sign that Africa has all means for “rejuvenating”, which implies making young again, restore and making new. In other words, I trust Africa can promisingly ensure sustainable livelihoods without depleting our environment! Young People, thanks to their creativity, innovation and values, can work and make it happen - if given the chance!"We are used to say that wisdom comes with age"" said one YP at RUFORUM conference. "How do we consider olders’ roles in engaging youth? How do we gain from them?". Another replied: "Youth should become wise now; older people are key in helping the process."