By Paul Ndiho

This summer, one thousand young African leaders came to study in the United States through U.S. President Barack Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship program. One of these young leaders was Alfousseni Sidibe, a native of Mali, whose mission is to empower Mali’s youth through the power of public speaking.

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After being rejected two years in a row, Alfousseni Sidibe was finally selected as one of the one-thousand participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Initiative. The fellows represent nearly 50 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2016, Sidibe founded “Live your Dream” a grassroots community development enterprise, inspired by Toastmasters International.  Alfousseni Sidibe is the founder.

“I needed to share with other people – especially because the foundation of any development is young people. So I said to myself, we need to start something and I said ‘ok, lets’ start with this organization “Live your Dream” I believe that each and every one of us has a dream and we are helping them to realize this dream.”

The 29-year-old Malian started this organization in his hometown, Bandiala, to focus on youth empowerment, entrepreneurship, public speaking, civic engagement — and business and mentoring programs.

“At some point in life, you have to define what makes you happy. My definition of happiness is when I can add value to other people, and I can only do that when I’m helping them to find their ways, what they want to become, what they want to do in the future. So once I see myself able to add value to another person, helping him to find his or her voices, helping them to find his way, this is what makes me happy.”

The African Union considers African youth as a unique resource that requires special attention, because they constitute up to 65 percent of the population. Sidibe says young people in Mali are a formidable, creative resource that can be harnessed for the countries socio-economic development.

“We say young people are the future of tomorrow, they are the future of a nation, but I say the future starts today. I believe that we Africans, we will make the change and this change starts from now, and I believe in each and every one of us. Do not sit and say ‘I don’t have something to do.’ There is always something to be done and let’s think out of the box.”

Finding opportunities for young people is a critical challenge for Mali, but Sidibe says that there are possibilities in farming and that young people should embrace going into agriculture as a profession.

“We have to value agriculture. It should start with the government providing incentive, taking measures to encourage production. For example, if you need the power to start your small business and you do not have it, it costs a lot for some people to start their farm because we have this mentality in mind that if you don’t use fertilizer. We need to sensitize people more about the easy way to do farming.”

Most exciting, perhaps, is that Alfousseni plans to continue empowering the youth with innovative programs on entrepreneurship, to tackle Mali’s high unemployment rate among youth ages 15 to 24.  Sidibe also has his sights set elsewhere in West Africa where he is already in talks with the administrators of other important youth initiatives to start “Live Your Dream satellite programs.