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Unleashing the Power of Youth: Reflections on the Mano River Youth Network Convening

Youth activists from Liberia, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Sierra Leone gather around a banner celebrating the convening.
Photo credit: Girls Behind the Lens (2023).

Under the scorching mid-May sun of Guinea, on the coast of West Africa, over 50 young people took part in an extraordinary gathering of youth-led civil society organizations from the Mano River Youth Network.

This momentous event brought together a dynamic coalition of activists from the Mano River Union countries—Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone—who are dedicated to championing children’s and youth rights across the region. The three-day-long convening served as a melting pot of ideas, experiences, and dreams, offering a unique opportunity for reflection, collaboration, and strategic planning.

In this article, I delve into the transformative power of bringing activists together and explore the inspiring achievements, challenges, and shared visions that emerged from the second annual Mano River Youth Network convening.

Strengthening Intergenerational Activism

The theme of this convening was strengthening intergenerational partnerships and building synergy for inclusive and effective transnational youth movements. This resonant theme served as a guiding force, reminding us of the immense value in bridging the gap between generations and fostering collaboration across borders.

For me, as a young person in the world of philanthropy, it was an extraordinary opportunity to witness the power of collaboration and collective action as the cornerstone for transformative change. Throughout the convening, I marveled at the interplay between passionate young leaders and seasoned mentors, government leaders, donors, and stakeholders. The convergence of diverse generations, fueled by mutual respect and shared purpose, fostered an environment where knowledge and experiences seamlessly merged, igniting a spark that transcended borders and propelled the movement forward.

The Mano River Youth Network stood as a formidable baseline, radiating inspiration and providing a solid foundation for intergenerational partnerships to flourish. Through thought-provoking panel conversations, dynamic focus group discussions, and intensive working groups, the convening showcased the tremendous power of collective wisdom, innovative ideas, and strategic planning. It was an enlightening reminder that the true strength of transnational youth movements is when generations collaborate, merging their unique perspectives and expertise to forge a path toward a more inclusive and effective future.

Youth activists from the Mano River region sit for a discussion outside.
Photo credit: Girls Behind the Lens (2023).

Lessons Learned

Embracing the Power of Youth

At the core of our funding strategy is the indelible fact that youth possess immense power to shape their own destinies and transform their communities. The Mano River Youth Network convening put this principle into practice. By acknowledging young people not merely as recipients of aid but as critical agents of change, we opened doors for them to influence decision-making processes and create innovative solutions to pressing challenges.

Moreover, it was a transformative experience to witness the Mano River Youth Network achieve significant milestones during the convening. The network seized the opportunity to develop a new strategic plan, charting a course for their collective efforts to address child rights issues in the region. This strategic plan will serve as a roadmap, guiding the network’s activities and ensuring a cohesive and coordinated approach toward their shared goals.

Additionally, the convening marked a remarkable moment of intergenerational collaboration as the network unveiled a new toolkit as part of its five-year strategy. Aptly named the Inter-Generational Collaboration Toolkit, it provides practical resources and strategies for fostering effective partnerships between the young leaders and their more experienced counterparts. It will serve as a guiding light, encouraging meaningful exchanges, mutual learning, and shared decision-making processes that will harness the strengths of both generations.

Building Strong Networks

The convening served as a pivotal moment for fostering collaboration and forging lasting connections among the youth activists. By facilitating cross-border dialogue and exchange, we encouraged the participants to share their experiences, strengths, and aspirations. Through workshops, interactive sessions, and team-building activities, they cultivated a sense of camaraderie and nurtured the bonds that will fuel their collective efforts in the future. These networks have the potential to transcend borders, amplifying the impact of youth movements and paving the way for regional collaborations that can effect even more transformative change.

Amplifying  young Voices

By creating safe spaces for dialogue, the convening provided a platform for youth leaders to demand accountability and engage with policymakers, media, and other stakeholders. The participants fearlessly shared their stories, perspectives, and dreams through various mediums including spoken word, visual art, and theater. Their powerful narratives challenged deeply rooted societal norms, exposing the injustices and inequalities prevalent in their communities. Amplifying their authentic and impassioned voices instigated meaningful conversations on issues that affect children and youth.

Youth as Agents of Change

As children and youth rights funders, we recognize the importance of equipping young leaders with the tools and skills needed to effect change. The Mano River Youth Network convening placed great emphasis on capacity building, providing specialized training in advocacy, strategic planning, and effective communication. Expert facilitators and mentors guided the participants, enabling them to develop strategies to influence policy, mobilize communities, and create sustainable projects. By nurturing their leadership skills and fostering a culture of mentorship, we planted seeds of empowerment that will continue to bear fruit long after the convening concluded.

Sustaining Momentum

This convening was not a standalone event. Rather, it was a catalyst for an enduring movement. It planted the seeds of change in the hearts and minds of the young participants, igniting a flame that cannot be extinguished. In its aftermath, the convening has spurred the creation of regional youth-led coalitions, online platforms, and advocacy networks. These initiatives will serve as vehicles for knowledge exchange, resource mobilization, and coordinated action, ensuring the longevity and impact of the youth movement in the Mano River region.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

One of the significant challenges in building a transnational youth movement, as witnessed during the convening, is overcoming the language barrier. With diverse youth activists from different countries and linguistic backgrounds, effective communication and collaboration can prove difficult. Language barriers can impede the sharing of experiences, ideas, and strategies, limiting the potential for cohesive action and the development of collective solutions. Mitigating this challenge requires proactive measures such as providing translation services, promoting multilingual spaces, and fostering language exchange programs. By investing in language support initiatives and fostering inclusive dialogue platforms, we can empower young activists to overcome linguistic barriers and cultivate a more inclusive and collaborative transnational youth movement for human rights advancement.

A group of youth activists from the Mano River region raise their hands in celebration.
Photo credit: Girls Behind the Lens (2023).

Moving Forward

Looking ahead, it is crucial that we recognize the continued need to invest in young people and their initiatives. The Mano River Youth Network convening served as a powerful reminder that building youth movements requires sustained support and resources. As funders, we must commit to continuously and tirelessly supporting young leaders, their organizations, and their innovative projects. This means not only providing financial assistance but also offering mentorship, capacity-building opportunities, and platforms for amplifying their voices. By nurturing the potential of young changemakers and sustaining their momentum, we can help cultivate a generation of empowered leaders who will shape a more just and equitable future.

Let us stand together—united in our commitment to unleash the power of youth—and create a legacy of lasting change that will resonate across generations.

Dorah Muhanuuzi is a consultant with the Children’s and Youth Rights Program at the Fund for Global Human Rights.