When former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, spoke of the African Renaissance, it was an ideal moulded by an optimistic view of Africa’s future. Mbeki’s now iconic “I am an African” speech, at the dawn of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, set the framework of what we now today think of as the African Renaissance. His words, “[Africans] are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be,” have come to define the primary strategy behind African development.

Becoming empowered Africans, through the control and determination of our own lives and the development of our continent, is the foundation for the vision of the African Renaissance. Its principles speak to the power of social cohesion, democracy, economic rebuilding and growth, and the establishment of Africa as a significant player in global political and economic affairs.

This vision can only be achieved if we first acknowledge the influence history has had on us.

African non-profit organisations have mainly arisen through a culture of economic, racial, cultural, and political oppression. They were purposely shaped into a mind-set that prioritised charity over agency, and passive engagement over active control and advocacy. In a culture defined by oppression and control, proactivity was considered high-risk. It was a threat to the establishment and all systems were designed to discourage proactive change-making.

In the new millennium, however, political goals for our future have moved from oppression to empowerment through Agenda 2063, the African Union development plan for the continent. The vision and hope of Agenda 2063 sees the realisation of the African Renaissance. An Africa filled with empowered citizens who control their own lives, their income, their bodies, and their political processes. It is an Africa that is current with global trends and is able to fully compete in world trade markets.

Agenda 2063 is a proactive strategy that focusses on designing continental solutions to our problems; solutions that are created and implemented by African citizens. The African YMCA movement has taken up this call and we are working to ensure that youth will lead us into the Africa we Want, and drive the African Renaissance we all yearn for.

Ensuring youth are at the forefront of positive change is a bold proactive move and we have seen the benefits in the last decade of engagement. Being proactive requires a move towards balance and action. A proactive non-profit takes action and controls the means of their sustainability. They find a balance between the needs of their beneficiaries and their own organisational perpetuation.

Proactive non-profits identify their weaknesses and strive for diversification and innovation by employing strategies that include:
• Alignment of programmes to government policies and aspirations
• Diversification of funding sources and operating partnerships
• Strategic partnership of private, public, and community entities
• Moving from thinking that supports “beneficiaries” to one that supports “agents of change”
• Moving to conversations as opposed to top down programme implementation
• Improved social networking to lead to more socially cohesive change implementation strategies
• Systems that support democratic principles in our organisations, communities, and government
• Increased awareness of geo-political opportunities and risks to better support adaptability to changing social contexts
• Recognition of new technologies and ways to incorporate them in outreach strategies

While transforming from a reactive to proactive way of thinking is challenging, the rewards far outweigh the temporary complications. Proactive non-profits are adaptable and positioned to be current with solutions that address the root causes of the challenges that communities face.

For the YMCA, our young people are the greatest resource we can draw from to drive our proactive strategies. Young people are highly adaptive to changing modern contexts. They are quick to adopt modern solutions, technologies, and learnings, and are able to contribute to proactive strategic planning in a way that is fresh and relevant to current community needs. Young people bring with them the innovation that is needed for us as the African YMCA movement to be at the cutting-edge as we provide the spaces and support for youth to imagine and plan the way to lead us into the future.

By Christine Davis, Communications Officer

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