Though the challenges that we face are immense, our young people have proven time and time again that their immense optimism and desire to make a change is very strong -President Ramaphosa
Since the 13th of July 2020 when the initial strategic framework of the National Youth Resilience Initiative (NYRI) was defined by South African young people, the initiative has come a long way. A major milestone is the onboarding of the first cohort of Youth Ambassadors, which took place on the 15th of April 2021. The NYRI Youth Ambassadors Network (YAN) is an innovative and relevant approach to build youth capacity, nurture emerging leaders and enhance youth resilience. The NYRI aims to highlight the issue of the psychosocial well-being and resilience of young people during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the aftermath by promoting access to quality, evidence-based psychosocial support programmes and services. The Initiative is not only youth-centred but is intrinsically youth-led, with a capacity building training that aims to equip the NYRI Youth Ambassadors with the relevant skills and knowledge to enable them sustainably lead resilience work within their communities.
The YAN is based on a youth leadership approach with a strong focus on promoting youth resilience. The ambassadors of the network are supported to develop their individual competencies and leadership to be able to create platforms that drive the national youth agenda and amply the voices of the vulnerable youth. The Training & Support Plan for the Youth Ambassadors combines elements of leadership training and peer learning exchanges into a unique curriculum that will capacitate 100 young people. The two generations of 50 ambassadors per year will exemplify active youth participation and multiply youth leadership in the development and realization of the agenda of South Africa.
Deputy Minister in The Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, strongly reiterated in her opening speech at the onboarding of the first cohort of Youth Ambassadors that
‘’One of the primary roles of the Youth Ambassadors Network for Resilience programme is to design initiatives that contribute to and strengthen youth resilience. This will take place in consultation with young people to ensure that young people are in the driving seat throughout the initiative. This will also ensure that the programmes are youth-centred and geared towards real and specific needs of our youth’’
This will aim to encourage youth to take ownership of the country's future, to shoulder the responsibility as nation builders, to step up as inspired leaders and bring to the table their energy, creativity and innovative mindsets to redefine and reimagine our society. The specific focus on the resilience of young people, particularly during the pandemic and its correlation to risky behaviour and violence, is important to highlight and this is what makes this intervention not only unique but important.
Youth leaders have always played an extremely important role in shaping South Africa’s history, and particularly in the struggle for democracy. Politics catalysed and galvanised young activists to take brave actions. Today, in the face of new social and ecological challenges and injustices, activating the leadership agency of young people remains critical. More importantly additional vulnerabilities and stress factors, such as unemployment and access to income, opportunities for further education and training, and the extreme levels of interpersonal violence, including gender-based violence, are demanding a societal response to strengthen the resilience of our youth.
The NYRI Youth Ambassador Network represents South Africa’s diversity across all nine provinces and is comprised of aspirational young leaders between 18 - 35 years of age. The 50 motivated young people who make up the first cohort onboarded on 15th April 2021 were selected out of 347 applications. The selection committee comprised of colleagues from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, the National Youth Development Agency, the Centre for the Study of Resilience at the University of Pretoria, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) & Activate! and the Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention programme.
The ambassadors’ capacity building process will be guided by a Training & Support Plan developed by NYRI’s civil society implementors WESSA & Activate!. It incorporates a creative mix of virtual exchanges and in-person capacity development. It will aim to inspire, through new knowledge and local actions, youth initiatives that will, in the words of President Ramaphosa, “inject the new perspectives to reimagine our very society!’’
In order to ensure sustainability, the NYRI Youth Ambassadors Network will be supported through an Alumni/Fellowship Programme where ambassadors that underwent the NYRI training are able to remain engaged in the process as alumni. The Alumni/Fellows Programme will ensure the leadership impact and competencies of these youth are available to the new generation of ambassadors, as trainers and mentors.