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One to Watch: Nkosana Mafico

14 November 2017 at 8:35 am
Wendy Williams
Nkosana Mafico is the founder and chief of the Council for Young Africans Living Abroad (CYALA), a leading development organisation for young Africans aged 18 to 28. He is One to Watch.

Wendy Williams | 14 November 2017 at 8:35 am


One to Watch: Nkosana Mafico
14 November 2017 at 8:35 am

Nkosana Mafico is the founder and chief of the Council for Young Africans Living Abroad (CYALA), a leading development organisation for young Africans aged 18 to 28. He is One to Watch.

A total of 60 of Australia’s brightest young changemakers have been selected by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) to take part in the 2017 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) program. It is Australia’s first, and only, national youth entrepreneurship incubator designed exclusively for young people leading initiatives that respond to society’s most pressing challenges. In this mini-series Pro Bono News speaks to a pioneer from each of the nine categories across the program about the differences they are hoping to make.

Nkosana is a 23-year-old African Australian changemaker from Brisbane who is passionate about advancing humanity through business.

In 2015, he founded CYALA  for young Africans who are living abroad, and are passionate about advancing Africa and its people globally, in a bid to develop African youth into borderless thinkers and future leaders.

To date, CYALA has hosted professional development workshops for more than 800 African youth in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.  

Nkosana, who moved to Australia from Zimbabwe when he was 10, is also a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and represented Australia at the 2015 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.

He has now been selected for the Young Social Pioneers program as part of the cities and placemaking stream, which is supported by Charter Hall.

Here he talks to Pro Bono News about the impact of misrepresentation, the importance of a borderless mindset and why Africa is a future frontier.

Nkosana Mafico giving a presentationWhat motivated you to start CYALA?

My main motivation was around the misrepresentation of African youth, and Africa in general, by mainstream media. So I remember about two years ago a lot of coverage on the Ebola crisis happening in Sierra Leone, and the coverage was portraying it as if the entire African continent was affected by Ebola. And I actually had a friend around the time that wanted to travel to South Africa but he let me know that he had changed his plans because of the Ebola crisis in South Africa. And I was like wait a minute? Africa is a very big continent.

And that got me thinking about the implications of that sort of portrayal and what impact it could have on the economies within Africa but also then on the flip-side, closer to home. There’s the coverage that has been going on around the Apex gang. They are labelling it the African youth gang and all that sort of stuff, rather than it being a group of isolated individuals. In any community there are good people and bad people. There is a mix in any community but it seems as if when it comes to the African community or African people in Australia, or just in general in the world, it’s always a very negative portrayal. So I started CYALA to really challenge those misconceptions and stereotypes and I wanted to really develop African youth in Australia, and the world in general, into future leaders, to become, as they say, so good that the world can’t ignore you.

How can African youth who are living abroad contribute to Africa’s development?

I look at it in the sense that Africans living abroad are in a very unique situation, blessed to sort of be able to study at some of the best universities around the world and get a really great understanding of how democracy and societies are built over time and established in well run institutions. And so, it may be you want to go back to the continent and contribute in that way, and in that case the skills and everything you learn abroad can be utilised and you can do some great work on the continent. On the flip side if you don’t want to go back, I always say to other African youth, it may be that you work for example with BHP in an African facing role, you are still contributing in that way. Because now all of a sudden the way BHP is engaged with the continent is different because you are a person of African descent, you understand the context you’re going into, you understand the history and you have the skills now, and the tools and resources, to actually create change and engage with Africa in a better way. Not to say BHP is a specific example of that but just in general.

Why is Africa a future frontier?

You have a situation now where like 60 to 70 per cent of the African continent is aged under 25 or 26. You have got a lot of young people, while the rest of the world is ageing. So then looking at that, and the wealth of the continent as well, it’s rich in natural resources but also now it is rich in human capital. So while the rest of the world is ageing and facing a lot of those different issues,  Africa has got unlimited potential. Young people who are recruited to work and given the right opportunities can do great work. And you also have natural resources as well, for different industries. So we are seeing a lot of technological innovation coming out of the continent now. Especially in Nigeria, I think Facebook and a lot of major tech companies have been making investments into Africa, and into African youth in particular around the tech space. So there are really young, confident people who are really hungry to learn, hungry for an opportunity to do great work in their country and enhance their careers and that’s really unique compared to the rest of the world. Growth rates as well, we’ve started to see democracy across the continent increasing, and Rwanda in particular, they’ve gone from strength to strength after the genocide that happened there. So you have just got a lot of the right things have become established there.

What does a borderless mindset mean to you?

So [it goes back to] the way Africa was sort of carved up during the colonial era. A borderless mindset to me, means I may be from Zimbabwe and the person I am talking to is from South Sudan, but effectively we are African people, we can relate to one another on that level. So the borderless mindset is something we are really trying to instil with the work that we do. So on the continent these regional, ethnic or tribal specific differences, get in the way of progress. But the interesting thing is when you’re living abroad, especially in Australia there are so few Africans here, that every time I see another African person I just instinctively say “hello”. If I hear an accent or something, I’ll ask “where are you from?”, and we’re just able to engage on that level, which is something special and something that we want to develop further and then actually bring that to the continent.

And that is starting to happen as well on the continent, with the African union, with the pan-African passport, and you are starting to see a lot of different things happening. Recently actually I was in Switzerland, in Geneva for a World Economic Forum conference I met 44 other young Africans from the continent from different countries, and I thought perhaps it might be contentious in the sense that one, they are from different countries but also two, I’m from Australia and I haven’t been back to Zimbabwe for 13 years and perhaps they thought “oh you’re Australian now”, and not engaging. But they treated me as one of their own and collectively they were just a family so that gave me really great hope about this borderless mindset. I believe that’s the only way Africa can move forward – together.

What work does CYALA do?

So we do two programs at the moment. One is called our Leadership Development Program, so young Africans work within CYALA for 12 to 18 months, enrolled in things such as events management or business development, finance, HR, different sort of business functions. So in that program we train them around what it’s like to actually work in a work environment. So there is quarterly performance reviews and they have sort of a team leader who manages the project and so they learn things around communication skills and project management in a work setting, time management. The majority of them are either studying at university or TAFE or something, and they are around 18, 19 or 20.  And while we’re training them, and they’re doing the work, they actually then deliver our other sort of programs to other African youth.

So the other program that we have is a professional development program. So that’s where we host our quarterly events for African youth around professional development, so public speaking, personal finance, entrepreneurship, that sort of thing. They run typically from one to three days with really active workshops and competitions built in. So they’re sort of open to African youth, you don’t have to apply for that program and for those events, but the Leadership Development Program is quite selective, and you have to go through quite a rigorous interview and selection process. So the individuals from the Leadership Development Program deliver then the professional development programs for other African youth and in general they keep CYALA running.

What are you hoping to get out of the YSP program?

The main thing, I think in this space is you don’t know what you don’t know. And I have just found that that’s more and more true as I have gone through YSP in the sense that, a lot of things around impact measurements and social return on investment, and all those things that I didn’t know. I mean [it’s hard] when you are running an organisation and doing full time study as well, but I have to be across everything. So for me YSP have been really great. And it has given me a great understanding of those different concepts and I have taken that directly and embedded that into CYALA.

So we’re now looking at how do we more rigorously measure impact. And understanding what our system is, so systems mapping, I’d never done that before. And so understanding what system we’re embedded in and can we actually achieve systems change and if not, what can we do. So going forward, it’s really helping us refine our programs and what we do, and also in general our operations. Making us ready to actually start talking to funders and different people, around what resources do we need financially and then how can we make CYALA sustainable in the future.

How do you find leading an organisation at a relatively young age?

It’s pretty difficult. This year in particular, I just finished my honours degree. And that was just insane. Honours is no joke, and with the running of CYALA, it was pretty intense. But I think, I knew it was coming and so I was able to develop leaders within our organisation to sort of take over things when I couldn’t do them.

So I find being a young person running an initiative really, really difficult. I think at any age it’s difficult, but I think particularly as a young person when you have so many competing things to do. Parents would kill for an education, so just my education in general is really, really important. But at the same time the lessons and skills I am learning at CYALA are really important, and I can see that in the long term. So balancing the two is tough but I think it has to come down to a sense of understanding who you want to be and where you want to go.  And so you know things that normal young people do I don’t partake in, I can’t remember the last time I went out clubbing or anything like that, but that is not to say that I don’t have fun in the rest of my time.

When you get down this sort of road, running an initiative and everything, your fun becomes something different to you. So for me it is reading or meditating, or doing different things, and also you just realise it is a seven day job, probably a 16 to 18 hour job. You just work when you can.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I would like to next year pursue a PhD in business management, social entrepreneurship in particular. And in the next five years I would really like to go down the academic route but still be actively engaged with CYALA, more so at a strategic level. I think my future career is really a mix of things. I’m producing really interesting research but I still plan on being embedded in sort of the practical space so my research doesn’t become too theoretical. So a range of different things, whether it be consulting, being at a board level with CYALA or just another organisation,  I really like public speaking as well, so do a bit of that. A mix of different things.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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