Tips for the YALI RLC Application

It is okay if you’ve applied for YALI once before and your application was unsuccessful. That’s the story of my first application, too.

The second one, though? That was a home run that gave me an opportunity to not only deepen my knowledge, but also learn from other young Africans. That’s the first thing I’d say to you; don’t disqualify yourself on the basis of a past application. You have likely grown in that time, and I truly hope you’ll allow yourself give it a second shot. Or a third.

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was launched by the United States government as an effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders that will build the continent through enterprise, participation in different arms of government and the civil society.

Below are a few tips I found helpful while working on my application;

  • Focus; don’t bring in everything you’re doing

If you’re like me and your hands are in multiple projects, it can be tempting to provide reference to different projects in the same application.

I strongly advise against it.

In my first application, in some sections, I talked about my work with IdeaCon as a Co-Founder; I talked about my work with women and girls. It was a mix and match of multiple things that didn’t always gel.

If you have 5 projects you’re running concurrently, determine which one can give you the most information for your application and focus on it.

It makes your application more cohesive and helps you tell a continuous story.

  • Use numbers

So you’re an entrepreneur in the agricultural sector and have been in business for 3 years now. Fantastic.

How has your business grown in those 3 years? If you started as a solopreneur, how many people do you currently employ?

Remember that it’s about building a value chain of people; YALI wants to invest in you, so that you can then go on and invest in other people. You have to make that connection and make it clearly with numbers.

Don’t just say things like ‘between 2013 and 2019, I did abcdefeyb’. Be specific. Is your business situated in a rural area and employs as a rule, a certain percentage of locals? Is your business conducted in a way that is environmentally friendly? What are your projections for the future and how does it serve others?

  • Make your motivation clear

Of all the things that could possibly interest you in this world, why are you interested in this one thing?

What is the human story that got you hooked and determined to pursue the solution or path that you have decided on, whether that is as an entrepreneur, a civic leader or public policy enthusiast? Your interest in YALI cannot simply be about getting an opportunity to meet other Africans; while that’s important, it’s not the core of the program.

There is a section about what your work will look like after YALI. Make it about people, about your country which will inevitably feed into our growth as a continent.

  • Don’t lie

For the love of God, don’t lie.

Use words in your service, but don’t lie about what qualification you have or don’t, what work you’ve done or not done.

None of us is perfect, but remember the program is about grooming young leaders. If you’re found to have misrepresented yourself in your application, it might lead to your being blacklisted from YALI and other programs affiliated to their sponsors and other organizations they work with.

It’s just not worth it, if you ask me.

  • Experience gained while volunteering is professional experience

There is a section that asks about your professional experience, which can seem knotty to navigate if you’re a recent graduate for example.

In this case, leverage your experience as a volunteer. That counts as professional experience, seeing as you were part of helping an organization achieve its goal. Think about specifics that relate to your role in that organization and link it to a bigger picture.

It’s about what you’re saying, as much as it is about how it is being said.

In conclusion, don’t rush through your application. You don’t have to finish it in one seating. Take a break. Ask questions. Read through your answers before making your final submission; if you were on the other side as a reviewer, would you select you? That question honestly helped in shaping my answers and telling my story.

I wish you all the best, and I hope that the next time we talk about YALI, you’ll be sharing your acceptance email with me!

PS: Registration is currently open at and will close on Sunday, the 19th of January 2020.

I create worlds with words. I think the universe is a canvass, and I want to paint it with the color of my dreams.


  • Fonkou Steve

    If there’s one thing we should learn to do, it is to tell the “how”. There is this culture, i really don’t know where it started from, once you ask someone whom you really admire how he/she got there or did something, the only response is “Na God oo”. Certainly God is involved, but we should learn to go beyond and give practical steps.
    Thanks Tawa for taking time to explain the “how” for this great fellowship.
    In addition, I will like to say that, do not be afraid of your achievements so far, tell your story! Only you know it so well. On the other hand, as said by the author, do not exaggerate and lie.
    Also, if you are not certain on how to go about it, get a mentor to help you.
    Remember these are just tips, not something conventional. There are many ways to succeed but there are also common things to do and not do to reach.
    I plead with you, if your reasons to apply for this program is not to give back to the community, and contribute to the growth of Africa, bear in mind you are hindering the potential growth of our beloved continent.
    Thank you all for a leaving a comment. We are all learning and I hope to keep learning.


    • Jade

      Thank you so much, Steve!

      May we always remember to leave the net at the shore so others can cast theirs. The goal is the same, and it will take many of us so why not?

      May our continent thrive.

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