Evalin Karijo is the Project Director, Youth in Action, Amref Health Africa.
What does this year’s International Women’s Day theme: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, mean to you?
As a young leader, this year’s theme speaks to my leadership journey. It underpins the need for decision makers to empower and facilitate young people’s quest to take up the leadership mantle by passing the baton and investing in strengthening the capacity of young leaders. The capabilities of young people should be acknowledged and leadership, for those capable of leading, should be viewed as a right; not a privilege.
This year’s theme also amplifies the need for societies to eliminate violence against girls and women, which has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. Leaders need to tackle gender inequality and create platforms that ignite action towards strengthening women’s leadership within the health agenda.
Your rise to leadership within Amref Health Africa has been a source of inspiration to many. What inspires you?
My rise to leadership is a statement that leadership is not about age, but about capability. By the time my age was pointed out on my career journey, I had traversed different roles and departments with experts from diverse backgrounds. This challenged me in a positive way, knowing that my success – or lack of – would greatly impact how young people are viewed in leadership.
I want to change the narrative and ensure that youth in Africa are acknowledged for their ingenuity and capabilities, not just their age. I want the youth to believe in themselves, to know that with the right attitude, persistence and integrity, they can achieve anything they set out to do.
As a young woman who has dedicated her career to empowering youth, what is that one thing that stands out for you when engaging with youth hungry for change?
Africa is at its tipping point, with a growing economy and burgeoning youth population – there are about 420 million young people aged between 15–35 years (35% of the population) on the continent. Despite having the youngest population in the world, and all this potential, African youth disproportionately experience the effects of poor leadership – unemployment, poor health indicators and poverty.
Now more than ever, the youth are hungry for change and for leadership. The youth are not just waiting for opportunities to be handed to them on a silver platter; they are proactive in leadership opportunities, in governance and accountability and are contributing meaningfully to our continent’s development agenda.
What opportunities are present for young African women to meaningfully participate in Africa’s journey to UHC, from influencing policy to delivering care?
While young women and the youth in general face different challenges, it’s inspiring to see their innovation and participation in strengthening health care, not just in the development sector, but in their communities. The youth have taken to digital media to make their voices heard on youth priorities. The Youth4UHC movement recently led the social media campaign, #RoadToAHAIC, amplifying the priorities of youth in health care and mobilizing them to participate in the discourse on achieving UHC at the upcoming AHAIC 2021.
Further, we have seen young health workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response providing health care, grassroots youth-led organisations expressing themselves through art and music to create awareness on various health issues including COVID-19 preventive measures. Other youth advocates at grassroots level are innovating and designing income-generating activities within the health space during – and in spite of – the pandemic, including manufacturing personal protective equipment for their communities.
If you could equip young girls with three key skills to prepare them for leadership in health – and other fields – what skills would these be, and why?
I strongly believe that every young person can dare to dream and chart their own leadership path. The skills that I value the most and would want every young girl to have are:
- Self-awareness and appreciating one’s unique disposition – this enabled me to push myself, appreciate other people’s contributions and capabilities, and lead multiple teams simultaneously, bringing out the very best in them.
- Focusing on the bigger picture and learning to forgo short-term gratification, especially when given opportunities in a promising space.
- Lastly, the constant quest to become better through education, additional professional skills, or taking up more responsibilities in unconventional spaces. This is because opportunities are transient: we need to be ready for them.