Now more than ever, society is changing and the reach of leaders of all types is extending further into our lives. We as young people should be looking for ways for support and lead those leaders who are working with long-term benefit in mind, through sustainable practice and change. It is they, after all, who are securing our futures and the futures of our children. Here are some suggestions for how we do that…

At a time of tremendous change in our post-modern civilization, leadership is the single most important issue for the billions across the world. In Africa, from the colonial liberation struggle to the Arab spring, many martyrs have lost their lives for the freedom we now enjoy to not only live our dreams, but to lead our lives.

Leadership, in its proper context, not only refers to governing ourselves socio-economically but it is inherently about securing the future wellbeing of our children’s children. Some have called this sustainable leadership. In recent development circles there’s been the introduction of the ‘sustainable development’ approach to contemporary development. But can there be sustainable development without sustainable leadership?

According to Edge equilibrium researchers, sustainable leadership is an approach that is guided by a long-term perspective centered on leaders exercising a duty of care for their own sustainability as well as that of the wider business/organization/community and the society of which they are a part – including the environment.

In my perspective, the influence of young leaders as well as that of women should be considered, sought and incorporated in decision making to assertively refer to it as ‘sustainable’.

There is a need to acknowledge that our leaders will not be able to solve post-modern problems on their own – regardless of how much power, resources and history they may have at their disposal. Given the nature of the global challenges, many leaders are now more open to new innovative ideas and input from anyone or group who can help navigate through the complexities and bring transformative solutions where disruptive change is occurring fastest. This is where you and I step in. I want to suggest three levels of leadership through which we can help ‘lead the leaders’:

1. Service: This is the day-to-day carrying out of one’s duties/obligations with a willing heart where one doesn’t look upon his/her work as a burden but as an opportunity to express their talents and gifts for a greater purpose. Everyone can practice servant leadership.  One great way of starting out (if you haven’t) is joining an organization that is working on an issue that you are passionate about. For example, if you are in Kenya and are interested in governance issues, volunteer with Mercy Corps-Kenya. If your interest is in emergency response, you can join Kenya Red Cross and dedicate a few hours every week. All these are just examples. The main idea here is that one does not need to be intellectual, powerful or at the top of their field of expertise to express one’s talents.

2. Influence: At this level, we are engaging our highest intellectual capacities to create the tools through which the desired change can be realized. We are now engaging strategically to bring about the required policy-level paradigm shift that reflects our highest vision. It requires us to engage at the institutional level, understand the policies and participate in international, regional and national discussions that are currently ongoing and that are relevant to our areas of interest. In reality, only a few of us have the have the opportunity to lead in this capacity given the technicality of the engagement (which oftentimes requires one to be acutely knowledgeable of the issue). Unfortunately, some have fallen to the trappings of power that arise from the lofty status currently being ascribed to ‘intellectualism’.

In Kenya, A.Y.I.C.C.-Kenya has been at the forefront of engaging youth and climate change policy and advocacy for the past 6 years. I would recommend any young leader to join hands with other young leaders and influencing policy through actions on the ground and advocacy.

3. Influence through service: The third (and most impactful) path to leading the leader is influencing through service. This style of leadership is not only the combination of the first and second levels but the unique incorporation of wisdom of the heart and knowledge of the mind (EQ and IQ). If we could harness the power of servant leadership, apply our skills and talents while using the scientific/technological knowledge to help tackle the universal challenges of our time then we can literally be the change we want to see in the world. This is what all our great contemporary leaders (Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Prof. Wangari Maathai) have left for us as a legacy to follow; Love in Action.

Kenya has just elected new county leaders who will manage the devolved/county gorvenment system. Maximizing on opportunities for policy engagement will be critical in effecting change on the ground. This is one area we can engage constructively and influence through service – at the grassroots level.

At a more broader and regional level, one opportunity to lead through service is by joining regional bodies such as the African Union (through its Youth Volunteer Program) whereby youth are trained and deployed to work in an African country that is not of their origin so as to serve in an area of their passion/interest. As I happen to be part of the program, it is very rewarding knowing that one’s actions are creating impact in the lives of others.

In truth, we were all born to lead; maybe not all of us at the top at the same time where opportunities are limited (even-though our society tells us this is the only way). But each of us can utilize our unique talents and live our highest purpose every single day in whichever capacity we are currently serving in. Whenever we allow ourselves to influence through service, we are etching out for ourselves a lasting legacy grounded in love and expressed in our actions.

Every leader is looking for his/her fellow leaders to share the responsibility of ensuring we not only create solutions to our challenges but leave a prosperous leadership legacy that will sustain future generations – in the same way we have stood on the shoulders of giants and now succeed.


Featured Image Credit Green Generation Kenya.

Written by David Wainaina

David Wainaina

David Wainaina is a young, passionate communications and advocacy specialist with experience in youth mobilization in various African countries via AYICC-Kenya.  Currently serving as a Professional volunteer with the African Union, David has represented his country (Kenya) as part of the delegation to the 17TH Conference of Parties. His strongest conviction is that strategic volunteerism can bridge the gap between policy and actual implementation.