The Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA), hosted its 4th biannual International Conference in Lagos, Nigeria, from the 4th – 7th October 2012. The conference was themed “Innovation and Creativity for a Better Africa: Implementing your dreams.” Delegates came to Lagos from all regions of the African continent, the conference proved to be an intensive fusion of culture, intellect and passion for the continent. Over 40 speakers representing a multitude of sectors indulged delegates with a wealth of knowledge spanning private, government and civic organisations. Against the back drop of excessively high unemployment among the youth in Africa, but with an increasing amount of foreign direct investment and high growth rates, the conference sought to provide a platform to enable the youth take advantage of the opportunities that have availed themselves on the continent in the last decade.

Organised by all YALDA branches, the conference commenced on Thursday morning with the opening speech by Dr Enase Okonedo, Dean of the Lagos Business School. She emphasized the importance of creating jobs as opposed to applying for them because opportunities abound within the reach of all, but it requires just a little perseverance to get there. Delegates were then indulged by Prof Pat Utomi, Founder of the Centre for Value in Leadership, who stressed that the world is revolving and as Africans we need to learn how to be creative without waiting for a white collar job. I quote, ‘‘Entrepreneurship is a facet of Change.’’ The speech from these two academicians provided a sound basis, from which the delegates can participate in the conference with the view of learning as much as possible to be a participant in the entrepreneurial sector.

The rest of the program for the first day was IDEAS LAB workshop, which provided an opportunity for delegates to receive assistance with idea generation, refinement, planning, and project implementation. The first Ideas Lab session educated delegates on specific barriers to African development by using various simulations and case studies, that demonstrate the power of the youth in creating better future outcomes for the next generation. It involved delegates understanding the root causes of social issues in order to come up with ideas that would solve them. They then separated into break-away groups and a peer group facilitated session on idea-exchange was conducted. Delegates were then treated to an inspiring and relevant talk on how important it was for delegates to be self-aware when coming up with ideas by Dr. Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director of LADOL.

The first day closed with a session hosted by Funto Akingbe, MD for on networking and branding. It involved developing the delegates’ softer skills in these areas and how crucial they are to the success of their respective enterprises/ projects.

On Friday morning the plenary sessions then commenced, after opening keynote by the Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, followed by a speech by the Special Advisor to the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Tunde Opeibi. First, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba spoke on how young people need to differentiate themselves from others by understanding their passions and pursuing them. She encouraged delegates to be valuable individuals who contribute effectively towards the development of their societies. This is because young people are vital stakeholders in the development and maintenance of democracy. Next, Dr. Opeibi from the Lagos State Government, in his address to the delegates spoke on the topic ‘‘Africa needs forums of this nature to gather its young intellectual minds together, so we can deliberate and discuss the way forward as a continent.’’ He also emphasized the importance of changing the state of the continent’s economy and the dire need for the youth to take a more active role in doing this.

After those two riveting speeches, delegates then proceeded to the second/third plenary sessions, which was combined into two core fields: non-profit focused and for profit focused ideas. In these sessions, delegates were split into two according to their preferences and undertook an insightful and educating session aimed at enhancing delegates’ soft skills in these series. The facilitators of these workshops focused on two areas of growth for the delegates: setting goals & targets, effective planning and getting finance. The facilitators of these panels were industry leaders and also present were representatives from the Tony Elemelu Foundation in Nigeria, the Pan-African University & the First Bank of Nigeria.

After lunch and several hours of preparation, delegates went into the sector plenary sessions. These were sets of panels representing different sectors; delegates got the opportunity to first seek guidance in each sector led by the respective sector panellists. The panellists on the first day included: Jonathan Odenga (MD Orchid Hotel Group), Dr. Dan Tarka (Founder START Education Partnerships in Africa), Nadine Rix (Executive Director, Nyansa Africa), Mavi Isbor (CEO of Poise Africa) and Former Ambassador Olu Ontula. Then, the delegates with the best ideas were given the opportunity to present their ideas to get feedback on their ideas from the panellists. These sessions were interactive, informative and dynamic. Next on the schedule was the cocktail dinner and speed dating activities, which certainly got delegates into thinking about how to put into action the networking skills they learned at the conference. First, delegates got to learn about the various cultures present at the conference via the cultural attire that all wore. Next, each country presented an ethnic dance for the other delegates to appreciate.

The next day delegates were treated to a thought provoking address by Dr Louis Edozie, Director at the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited. He asked the participants to be adventurous, live life to the fullest and follow their dreams. In addition, he provided with them practical tips from his own life that delegates could follow in order to pursue a fulfilling life. With the schedule being so tight, delegates were hard pressed to find time to sit and relax. It was such a busy day during which immense intellectual value with years of experience were crammed into three conference rooms, from which all the young people could benefit. Again, delegates heard from expert panellists in their respective sectors including: Ms Bolanle Austen-Peters (Founder & CEO Terra Kulture), Mr Alex Okosi (Snr. VP & MD Viacom International), Mr Ade Adeola (MD of Standard Charted Bank of London), Mr Tony Cole (CEO of Sahara Group), Mrs Yemisi Ransome Kuti (Founder of the Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organisations) among others. Following, the delegates got feedback on their unique ideas to help them improve and implement such ideas.

The final day proved to be an emotional nostalgic farewell. Delegates were treated to a speech by Mr Cole Davids (MD Youth Unplugged), from South Africa that certainly hit home the reality of what they are faced with in terms of choices, opportunities and growth. The address highlighted a key item of discussion and principle that YALDA seeks to purport; “Are you One or just Another One?” Such a message prompted everyone to think about the legacy that they wanted to leave behind, and what they were going to do to improve the continent.