It was 3:00 pm and I had not received any confirmation email yet. I was frustrated. Could it be that I was not selected? But how come? I have always been passionate about change and community work is my calling in life. I was about to sign out from my yahoo when a new notification popped up.

Congratulations. You have been selected as a cohort 15 finalist of the Young African Leadership Initiative.

My journey in YALI has been life changing. I have had paradigm shifts, I learnt to appreciate diversity more, I let go of stereotypes and believing in single stories, I learnt how to tap into my  potential, how to use my power as a person to impact lives and how to prepare myself for the race of changing Africa and ensuring that Africa is at the top– not as a hopeless continent but as a rising continent with ambitious people and talented people and selfless people that believe that they have the power to change the world with or without resources.


The first day was simply orientation and an opportunity for the 99 young African leaders to interact and know each other. It was exciting to bond with people from 14 countries brought together by one aim- brotherhood, the African brotherhood. The day ended with a talk by Mr. Mark McCord- the then YALI RLC director. Whenever Mr. Mark talked, I had to cry. I am an extremely emotional person and just words of compassion or empathy can drive me into tears. What I can remember from his talk is that he told us about the 5 things that he learned on his way of being old.

  • Walking through the open doors
  • Learning from those around us
  • Keeping our eyes on the purpose
  • Owning our decisions
  • Changing the way we think

The Leadership Foundation- Limuru

3 days of the first week were for the intense leadership development course. This innovative, experiential, impactful and fun course facilitated by Sandra Owiti (Empire International), Thiong’o Chege (Empire International) and Rudy (an experienced trainer and now a good friend of mine) was filled with a hybrid of activities such as the indoor leadership workshops and the outdoor games which played a huge part in enhancing our creative problem solving capabilities and allowed us to collaborate and be better leaders. Wednesday was spent in BrackenHurst where we did high rope and zip lining and that experience will forever remain imprinted in my mind- it allowed me to move out of my comfort zone.

Appreciating Diversity

On Friday, we were back in Kenyatta University and we had a session on appreciating diversity. We were grouped into two; those that wanted to join in the discussion on women empowerment and those on male empowerment. Various issues were highlighted and the first thing that Farah, the instructor raised was what we understood by the term ‘My People’. The essential lesson that I learned from the women empowerment class was that ‘We should not apologize for being women and women are not meant to be oppressed- women are to be respected and their dreams are to be cherished’. After the heated discussion, we did a negotiation session based on an imaginary island called ‘La la Land’ which was occupied by the Yin and the Yang. This concept made us understand how essential it is to keep our differences aside when it comes to the goodwill of the community or when it comes to protecting the rights of people.

The afternoon was winded by a ‘Stereotype’ session where we highlighted the stereotypes we had of women, men, people with disabilities among others. Stereotyping is not upright if we want Africa to grow. The belief that people have, the single stories as Chimamanda Adichie puts it should also be eliminated. When we believe in single stories, we confine ourselves to certain beliefs which may or may not be true.

The Giraffe Center

The week ended with a trip to the Giraffe Center where we had the opportunity to see different breeds of giraffes and got to fall in love with nature a little bit more.

This is Africa

What I like about YALI is that the classes are not like the normal boring classes we attend to where we are just forced to absorb information even if it might not be useful to us. Have you ever wondered where matrix went to? Calculus? Newton’s theory? With YALI, the instructor engages the students, you interact, you brainstorm on ideas, you work on real problems. This was a 2-day course that stirred our passion and commitment to transform our communities, our countries, and our Africa. We had candid conversations with our facilitator, Mr.Francis and we were able to go down to understanding our own perceptions about Africa, people’s perceptions about us, negative worldviews, stereotypes, the Africa Rising Narrative, our dream for Africa and what we can do to make that dream a reality. The one lesson that I drew from this course was the TED talk by Mallence Bart; you can check it out, it’s called ‘Change your channel’ which very much highlighted how resources in Africa are exploited and what foreign aid does to us.

Talk by Margaret Kobia- Head of Public Service Commission in Kenya

We were honored to have a Public Servant, Mrs. Margaret Kobia join us to enlighten us about her journey to success and how she made it to her position. Below are some of the key lessons that you can also acquire:

  • Appreciate your blessings more than your problems
  • Having a good support system is vital
  • Have a dream and work towards it
  • Move out of your comfort zone
  • Create your own niche
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses
  • Teamwork makes the dream work
  • Leaders always look for solutions
  • If you have an idea- resources are not a problem
  • Never give up

The 7 habits of Highly Effective People

Kindly refer to my previous article:

 Design Thinking

This was a 2-day workshop that wrapped up week two.  The workshop provided the foundation of human-centered design and we applied the 5-step process to design solutions to complex or untapped problems. That is; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. We conducted field studies, brainstorming and prototyping activities, and group discussions.

Specific Tracks

The last week which was rigorous since it was to act as a guideline for the 8 weeks of virtual learning, we were grouped according to our tracks i.e. business and entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership.

Virtual Learning

This was the most intense since people were already in their respective countries and we still had to communicate, amidst the work and internet challenges to ensure that we submit our assignments in time.

Presentations and Graduation

On the last week, we all had to travel back to Nairobi for the presentation of our design challenges and graduating as YALI alumni. April 28th was a very beautiful day for the cohort 15 members and we all can agree that it was worth all the pain. What we gained from the learning center has changed our lives and has made us be more prepared to transform Africa. As a YALI alumni, I am excited about the various opportunities available to us and the fact that I am now part of the YALI family forever.

And as I conclude, I want to urge all of you to appreciate the people in your life who have always stood by you, who have raised you up. The best gift to offer to these faithful stars overhead that have magnified our outlook and our self-esteem is to raise them up as they have raised us, to appreciate them with Thank You and to shelter them when their sky is dark.


Author: salummy

Writers will always tell you about them through their pen....The power of the pen can transform hearts even a heart that has been plugged into darkness...

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  1. wow! now i want to experience YALI too!

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      • I am actually gearing up for the YALI experience too via the MWF fellowship thanks for the heads up, my interest was just raised a notch higher.

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        • Thank you…You will definitely love the experience I am sure!

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  2. We made it bby gal.

    Welldone Salma

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  3. Wow, this writeup is inspiring. I am also a yali fellow and I can confirm all you say is true. Congrats

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  4. Wonderful dear you always say it all.may you pen always roll it down.
    keep it up !!

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  5. This is really encouraging. I had applied but i never qualified though i can say, i tried .It was indeed an amazing learning journey.

    Post a Reply
    • you can always give it another try. All the best. Inbox me for more assistance…more than willing to help.

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