I'll never forget the energy of this moment. Yemurai Nyoni was amongst a hard-hitting roster of speakers tasked with closing the PMNCH Partners' Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2014. The list included Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin of UNFPA, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez of USAID, and Dr. Carole Presern of PMNCH - true giants in the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health (RMNCAH) space.
The plenary stage was quite long, so it took each speaker at least 1 minute to walk to one side or the other to get to the podium, which is longer than you think from the audience perspective. After so many speakers before Yemurai walked that long walk, it was his turn. In his truest display of youthful exuberance, he hopped on stage from the center like a spry rabbit. Of course the crowd roared, as if to say THIS is why we need more young people in fora like this one.
I was live-tweeting, trying to keep up with the Yemurai-isms. Partners like Johnson & Johnson and Girls' Globe were doing the same. At the end of his speech, where he encouraged the RMNCAH community to prioritize adolescents and youth in the post-2015 agenda, the crowd roared again. This time, the roar was a commitment to follow the advice of this young leader, wise beyond his years and committed to the RMNCAH agenda.
Young leaders like Yemurai are why I love my job, and why work to promote meaningful youth participation is a worthy endeavor. Beyond the daily dose of inspiration they provide while working in a set of issues that often feel grim, they are effective, connected, and savvy advocates and activists. Similarly, Yemurai and his fellow leaders are proof that the RMNCAH conversation needs their perspectives, experience, and expertise. The movement would be lost without them, and all they usually need is a platform and a modicum of support.
This is why Women Deliver has scaled up the Young Leaders Program, a three-year fellowship program for young people (under the age of 30) who are passionate about maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights. We work to develop the skills of youth advocates through our online learning communities, seed grant funding, and high-level networking and media opportunities.
The overall goal of the Young Leaders Program is to create more moments for leaders like Yemurai to hop on stage, share their stories, and rally the global RMNCAH community to action. Again, the movement would be lost without them, and we recognize this in our planning for our next conference. In addition to being awarded a full scholarship to attend the Women Deliver 2016 Conference on 16-19 May 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Young Leaders will also have the opportunity to: participate in capacity-building e-learning; apply for seed grant funding to implement a community-based project; make connections with a wide range of stakeholders working in the field; and more.