Creating a safe space helps African youth take the lead

Tuesday June 23 2020

United Nations delegate Diana Chando at the

United Nations delegate Diana Chando at the Commonwealth Africa Summit. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By Mpoki Thomson

From a young age Diana Chando remembers her dad teaching her how to read the newspaper and understand what it is she was reading. “He knew what he wanted for his children without imposing his own ideals on us,” Diana says. As the last born of three children, she idolized her dad and took his lessons with pride.

Her father, unfortunately passed on while Diana was still young, but the seed of leadership was planted, one which Diana’s mom would nurture for over 20 years.

Today, Diana, 24, sits among Tanzania’s young elites who’re forging a progressive path in youth leadership as a United Nations delegate.

But she didn’t start off in leadership. Her early stages had little to no inclination that a leadership role awaited along the way.

Her journey in higher education began with a BA degree in the US. But after a year she realized she didn’t have enough passion for the course. “By then I knew what I wanted to do but I did not know the title of the course or how to get there,” she admits. Diana thus decided to pursue a degree in Human Resource at the University of Dar es Salaam. That too was short-lived; “my passion was truly not in it and for the first time my GPA reflected that I was not focused.”

After a lengthy discussion with her mum and faculty members, Diana knew that she wanted to study international relations or diplomacy of some sort, As bad luck would have it, that course was not available at the University of Dar es Salaam. This necessitated a transition, yet again, this time to a University in the UK where her career in youth leadership began. “In short, I had always known that I did not want to study something that did not let me see the world from a leadership perspective; attending summits, exchanging ideas, being a part of great debates and discussions, and above all, breaking barriers, those are the things that have enticed me for a long time,” Diana says.

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Becoming a UN delegate

Her road to becoming a United Nations ambassador started in 2017 when she was at Middlesex University in the UK. But it didn’t take until 2019 for a clear path to be laid out. “Last year, during a workshop, I became interested in leadership programmes and luckily I was directed where to go for training,” she recalls. That training happened to involve being a young ambassador and that is how Diana got started.

Today she walks boldly as a UN ambassador, a role she executes with utmost diligence. “My role requires time management and focus as well as undivided dedication to any cause I put my mind to. It is not for the faint of hearts, to be honest,” she says.

Apart from her personal ambitions fueling her desire for leadership, Diana was also driven by the need to create a safe space for youth, especially African youth, to participate in different leadership dimensions.

“There are so many factors contributing to why talented young African leaders are not progressing at the rate of other nations outside our beloved continent. Most young leaders have an abundance of patience, maturity, intelligence, and especially humility – it is taught from an early age. It is simply unfortunate that for the surplus of those characteristics and skills, the biggest lack is financial support and sometimes physical circumstances,” she says, adding; “Some young African leaders come from nations where like me, they are the only representative. It was a sad reality seeing myself as the only African female and Tanzanian representative earlier this year at a summit in Geneva. It felt bittersweet knowing that yes, I have made it, but also that I was the only representative from my country, being female was a bonus.”

Diana believes that Africa, and Tanzania in specific, has a long way to go when it comes to adequate representation in global leadership. She, however, firmly underscores that it starts with our predecessors keeping doors open, opportunities broad as well as consistent. “Times have changed and understanding that means knowing that more needs to be done to assist young African leaders the same way we are fighting to stop this coronavirus pandemic,” she adds.

Intrinsically, Diana states that leadership is dependent on having a strong character, where dedication to learning and being informed is at the cornerstone of key characteristics to have. She aptly believes that young African leaders have a plethora of such qualities. But also acknowledges other requisites such as building soft skills for communication, she considers language skills to be essential especially if you want to be a representative at any level of delegation for your community/country. She lists creativity a plus because it generally leads to innovation.

At the age of 24 Diana has already achieved more than most in her age bracket, but she believes there’s still more to be done – more learning and sharpening her leadership skills. “Growth is my goal in any career. There is nothing worse than not growing where you are and having nothing to show for where you have been,” she says.

Diana is still fairly new to the leadership podium having delved into the field roughly a year ago. She thus banks on her undivided dedication to learning and being accurately informed as traits that will help her reach the summit.

She is also a proponent for virtue as an inherent quality for success. “Unfortunately too many people forget that in any career, patience is a virtue. This is not just a philosophical phrase. I can use any organic growth analogy and you would understand what I am trying to say. Patience is a teacher right next to time; change does not occur overnight,” says Diana.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, Diana’s abilities as a young leader have come in full focus. She has used her platform, influence and voice to advocate for change and more action to be taken by youth and the government in the fight against the pandemic.

“My role with the UN as a young ambassador has definitely afforded me more reach and weight in what I have to say. For example, earlier this May I got the chance to be a part of an online panel with the World Health Organisation (WHO) attended by different UN leaders from Geneva, on discussing the pandemic. There have been discussions on the importance of social media during this time, how to keep people calm and positive when there is too much happening globally at the same time,” she says.

Diana has also been impressed by the role that other youth have played (and continue to play) in the fight against Covid-19. “A lot of young leaders, likeminded or otherwise, have seen that they can make a difference and they have utilised their skills to do so. From handing out free protective face masks to the underprivileged masses, all the way to creating awareness via social media, they’ve really stepped up to the occasion,” she points.

On the future of leadership

“What I know I would like to see from leaders of any degree within the next 5 years is true self-awareness, commitment to their causes, eagerness for learning and change, and humility,” Diana says of future leaders.

Her advice to aspiring Tanzanian leaders; “I would say from personal experience that anyone from Tanzania wishing and aspiring to be a leader must understand the weight of that title. In any field, they must respect the role, the responsibilities, and the sacrifices that come with being a leader. Furthermore, as it’s said ‘humility comes before honor’ anyone that aspires to be a Tanzanian leader must be humble.”

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