Youth Development Arena
With Barnabas Akyenyi Usman
I recall speaking to a friend about an opportunity for his eighteen years old daughter. Unfortunately you will not find a lot of information about this particular opportunity by using Google, but the picture I painted about the opportunity and what his daughter stands to benefit from this, looked too good to be true. I thought it will benefit the young lady so many years to come, so I insisted he ask her to put in an application. I didn’t stop, until I confirmed she dropped her application and the quality of the words she put together was astonishing.
Fast forward, she got selected and while she was on the programme, the updates she sent to the father made him grateful for the opportunity. This is how a lot of people react to opportunities. Excellent opportunities always look too good to be true. They look like opportunities for someone better than you, someone somewhere. Then people end up not taking the chance and therefore end up losing out.
In my experience over time, opportunities for youth development always look too good to be true. Each time I talk to participants of the youth volunteering programmes or youth conferences that I have been part of, the story is always the same, “Someone told me about it, I thought I should give it a try, here I am” or “I saw it online and I wasn’t sure, my friends tried to discourage me, but I applied, here we are” or “I was just looking for opportunities online and came across this, I dropped my application and luckily got on the programme”.
One of my favourite Nelson Mandela’s quotes goes “it always seems impossible until it’s done”. This is true with opportunities for youths. Taking a step when you have little or nothing to lose shouldn’t bother you at all.
Youth opportunities here will focus on activities or events for young people. This includes volunteering programmes, workshops, conferences, booth camps, fairs etc. All aimed at achieving varying youth development objectives.
Not all that glitters is gold. It is true in the same dimension that not all information online is legit. Even face to face information sometimes is not confirmed by the person sending. This has affected people’s perceptions towards online opportunities. I have met young people have been scammed of money and other resources while seeking opportunities. Human beings generally think Socially, Automatically and using the Mental Model to think.
People tend to have a negative bias to online opportunities thereby rubbing it off on the people they are associated with. This is thinking socially. Other people just see opportunities and automatically decide that the opportunity is greater than their capacities. Religion and culture have also affected the way people reason and have given rise to a mental model of thinking for most people. So for some people, an opportunity in certain parts of the country or in some countries is a no for them, because of their religion or culture. They forget that youth opportunities do not discriminate. If it is an opportunity for only Christians, it will be stated. If it is an opportunity for only Muslims, it will be stated. If it is an opportunity for a specific age group it will be stated. If it is not stated, then it is an opportunity for all.
Be At The Right Place With The Right People
Getting information about youth opportunity means you have to be at the right place or be connected to the right people or networks. Connected to the right people here means following someone who has information about opportunities and are willing to share. Being at the right place means attending events where you get face to face with opportunities. Being at the right place could also mean surfing the right websites.
As a result of exposure and experience certain individuals are automatically in the know of opportunities that will benefit others. Websites like eventbrite shares opportunities for workshops, fairs and seminars on youth development issues on a regular basis. The first time I got information about a training on entrepreneurship for youths in Nasarawa state by an NGO was in through the church announcements. Intentionally looking for opportunities means one has to be deliberate about connecting to the right sources. This includes, but not limited to getting a mentor who shares information, even if he/she doesn’t know you. This implies that you have to become a dedicated follower of this person to follow and take advantage of opportunities shared; deliberately surfing websites that share youth development opportunities (I will share my top three websites at the end of this write up); Talk to people at similar youth events. Walk up to them and show you are interested in learning more, exchange contacts and be in touch. There might be something for you.
Being Prepared; Getting Your Arsenals Together
Once you are interested in actively looking for opportunities, you have to be prepared. I always tell people that looking for opportunities is a full time job. If you want it, you have to go for it. To go for it, you have to prepare your armoury and launch out when there is an opportunity. Getting prepared involves a lot of different things together. Let us take a look at three of them.
Firstly, your personal statement. At this stage your personal statement is showing that you understand yourself, the situation with youth development in your vicinity, the country and globally, and you are willing to learn and contribute your quota to changing the narratives. Most opportunities that you will be applying for will require you to have a personal statement tailored to their own thematic area (depending on the focus of the organization or group). So I must say that you have to be conversant with a range of topics and issues in youth development. How will you do this? Read. Use Google to randomly get youth development related topics and read for yourself, then try to follow the trends on social media. This takes us to the next point.
Secondly, being informed. You should be conversant with discussions and trend on issues that has to do with young people from your local community up to the global community. These issues are interrelated and are always subject of discussion on social media platforms like twitter, as an example. So there is a need to deliberately search for these on twitter and get engage in discussions. How informed you are on youth issues will come handy when you start applying for opportunities. Topics or themes of youth conferences and workshops will feel relatable. They won’t be abstract because you have read about it or engaged in discussions in the areas.
Thirdly, go about it strategically and systematically. If you have a laptop or a phone, create a folder for yourself to drop information that you come across as you read or surf through the internet. This will help you to be organized and to go back to this information anytime you need them. Most youth events are annual or they happen on a rolling basis, therefore an opportunity for you to start planning for opportunities that have passed against the next one. Having a folder helps you to be a good planner. Your information is all in one place. Here you already know what opportunities you are going for and there for able to prepare adequately. Other general tips are written in the next paragraph.
All opportunities outside Nigeria will require you having an international passport at least at the point of application. No one will give you an opportunity and then wait for you to go to the immigration and begin the process. Saving to get yourself an international passport itself is a good step to encourage and push you to look out for opportunities. Prepare your CV and get experts to take a look. Most opportunities will require submitting a CV while applying. Perhaps once you do all these, then you are ready to give these opportunities a shot. The truth is you cannot be fully prepared, but you can be prepared at least to take on the opportunities you are an anticipating.
Give It A Shot; The Application
Applying for an opportunity is as difficult as looking for it. This stage is a bit tricky. You need quite a lot of time to pick your best words, your sharpest armoury and give it a good shot. In submitting applications, I have seen two categories of people. Those people that rush to submit an application the moment they see an application and the ones that take their time before submitting their application. In both cases, I have seen failed applications. The reason is not far-fetched. Both applications are not strong enough. In Nigeria, there are usually thousands of applications for few slots. I was overseeing an application process for a youth volunteering programme, the application portal was open and was supposed to last for five working days. After the first two days, we closed the portal. Over 2000 applications were received for 30 slots. The truth is, while there are a lot of opportunities out there, there are thousands of people waiting to give it a shot just as you. The top applications always get selected. What I usually recommend is to double your efforts. Consider consulting someone who is good at writing or good with critical reasoning to look through your application before submitting. Also, someone who has passed through a similar or the same process will be of help. Unless you just stumbled on an information, it is always good to prepare and submit your application as soon as possible. Try not to be the last person to submit an application, unless you got the information late. Ensure that you cross the Ts and dot the Is. Read through the application process and be sure that you are conversant with what they want and you meet the requirement and have the necessary documents needed to make the application. You might be asked to attach some documents, have them at hand before starting the application process. If you are asked for 250 or 500 words, don’t go less. Keep it within the limit. Remember to use your best words and carefully look through questions before responding to.
Experience has shown that fraudsters are always out to take advantage of unsuspecting youths. These days they are everywhere, including professional sites like LinkedIn. If you didn’t apply for an opportunity, don’t respond to random emails about conferences. If you are asked to pay certain fees, please verify that is legit before paying. Confirm from all possible sources including making posts on social media to randomly ask people about the legitimacy of such opportunities. Read between the lines when you see call for applications and do not assume. I always recommend that you look for the organizers’ website to verify information.
You Might Fail, Try Again
I have put in my best applications, but the response was not what I expected. I have put in applications on deadlines because I got information late and got a good response. This implies that there is no guarantee that your best application is the best application that the organizers or organization is receiving. The best you can do is to give it your best shot and wait for a response. The response might not be favourable, you might fail. But try again. Winston S. Churchill said “success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”. So I must warn that you might fail in your first 5-10 attempts, but the more you try the more you understand why your applications failed in the last instances. This generally makes you better at the process. It is simple, if you fail at this prepare better for the next one and give it your best shot again. You don’t lose anything by trying again; you lose everything if you give up.
You Now Have It
Once you get selected to participate in a youth programmes. This can be a youth volunteering programme, a booth camp, a conference or a workshop or events alike, there is a need to set goals for yourself and be clear about what you are setting out to achieve. I have seen people take these opportunities and platforms too likely and casually. The resultant effect is not always good. These opportunities have a great chance of propelling you to unimaginable heights. It is a chance to build a career or even diversify what you do. You should see these opportunities as golden and should take advantage to learn as much as possible from them and take a lot of positives from them. I have seen young people who are products of different youth programmes currently doing great all over Africa and the world. You should always set goals for yourself before going for any youth event and also plan out how the learning will fit into your overall goal in life.
My Top Three (3) Opportunities For Youths Website
Here I will like to share the websites I use to get information on opportunities for youth. I cannot expressly say that all information on these websites is correct. Like I stated early, once you see an opportunity, it is good to look out for the original source and verify before proceeding. If you cannot verify this, and they are not asking you to pay money, then you do not have a chance of losing anything by submitting an application.
- Opportunities for African https://www.opportunitiesforafricans.com/
- Opportunities for Youths https://www.opportunitiesforyouth.org/
- Opportunity Desk https://opportunitydesk.org/
If you meet and discuss with someone who has taken advantage of opportunities for youths, what you will generally sense is that this person has to put in quite some good level of work to get to that level. Hard work, persistence and commitment are important when seeking for and taking advantage of youth opportunities. Opportunity seeking shouldn’t be casual. It should be deliberate and consistent. Like I mentioned early, it should be a full time job itself. Always be on the look for discussions on youth issues, following the trends, make contributions and join in the conversations. Get familiar with youth related issues. If you have opportunities to attend youth events exchange contacts and keep in touch. Spend time on the right websites to get important information. Youth opportunities are likely to be your stepping stone to greatness.