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 www.yaliwestafrica.net/rlc and will close on Sunday, the 19th of January 2020.