A huge aspect of leadership development involves embracing diversity, which can be achieved through intercultural exchange. As the African YMCA movement, and part of a great global YMCA movement, intercultural youth exchange is important to us. Actually, it has become so normalised for us: we learn from each other, add value to each other, work together across borders, stand in solidarity with each other. All this contributes to leadership.
Our YMCA youth are blessed to have exchange as a foundation of their growth – whether they themselves travel for training, exposure, sharing lessons, presentations; or whether they benefit from being nurtured by those who have had this intercultural exposure. This happens without them even being aware of it.
We are fortunate to have specific leadership initiatives that focus on intercultural exchange. Currently I am in Norway, with fellow coordinators of an exchange called Young Advocates for Change, which is coordinated by Africa Alliance of YMCAs.
I am surrounded by a packed hall full of participants representing 22 youth exchange programmes. We are attending the Youth Summit/Partner Meeting in Hurdal, Norway, organised by FK which funds these exchanges. Well, while it is correct to say that FK funds the youth exchanges, it is more appropriate to say that they partner with us as the exchange programmes are based on local or national partner needs. There is room for real exchange.
All day we have discussed different approaches, methodologies, expectations, outcomes and contribution to youth leadership. Core to each is diversity through cultural exchange. The importance of diversity is that it guides us in peace, in problem-solving, and in appreciation of the value of those who are different.
Earlier, a speaker described the youth exchange intercultural diversity experience as the ‘journey of a lifetime’. A good few minutes after this part of her presentation, I found myself still smiling. My mind had wandered. This was the ‘aha’ moment for me for the day. You see, I realised that the phrase is actually world-changing in its potency.
Imagine. Just imagine if every young person had this ‘journey of a lifetime’: matching empathy with solidarity, and understanding with action. Young people are stepping up to be in the driver’s seat of our future. Imagine what type of future they could create if they all had this journey of a lifetime, whether it is a one-year continental exchange programme or it is an innovative power space engagement with neighbourhood youth of a different faith. I wish every young person could have their own journey of a lifetime!
The Young Advocate for Change Programme is coordinated by the Africa Alliance of YMCAs, and involves 16 youth from YMCAs of Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Y Global, Norway. The youth who give 10 months of their life to live at a local YMCA in the 4 African countries, and work on local issues with the youth leaders to both make positive impact at local level, and add value to the YMCA. Their work is based on the African YMCA Subject to Citizen (S2C) change model.