Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Columba Leadership

Engaging Youth For Socially Impactful Leadership

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 19 January, 2014 - 16:00


Project context

Columba Leadership's ethos is that inner greatness exists in all young people. All that is needed is the elicitation of this potential. We strive to engage with the youth and to help them unlock their greatness.

While the heart of the Columba leadership programme is a 6-day experiential academy, facilitated by Columba staff, it is our partnership with people in schools, which ensures that youth engagement achieves traction, flourishes, and is sustained. Routine and periodic monitoring of all Columba groups has shown that while some groups make remarkable progress, the progress of others is more erratic. It is therefore important to identify constraints limiting progress but also to identify what factors enable youth engagement and encourage progress. This learning brief starts to ask and answer the following questions: What engages youth? What enables socially impactful youth action? What can sustain this in a school context?

The Learning Experience

In this learning brief we focus on our work at Manyangana High School, a rural school in Utah, Mpumalanga. Columba’s engagement with the school started at the end of 2011 and the residential academy took place in January 2012. By the end of 2012 significant changes had been made at the school as a result of the youth engagement efforts and effective youth-adult partnerships. Apart from qualitative changes in the learners’ attitudes we saw quantifiable indicators of the success of our programme. For instance, the matric pass rate in the school went from 32% to 91% with 45 distinctions (5 in Mathematics); teenage pregnancy and school absenteeism decreased; and the school community was brimming with pride. This last factor was echoed by an external stakeholder’s report 18 months after the leadership academy had been completed, which stated that the strong school spirit had spread into the community at large and was a noticeably positive outcome.

Several critical factors contributed to the success of our programme at Manyangana High School. These include:

  • The visionary stance of the Principal coupled with his willingness to engage youth as partners for change;
  • Sustained and integrated youth action aligned to the larger school vision rather than once-off initiatives of limited scope and impact;
  • Service-based youth action and its role in winning over sceptics;
  • Mobilising and engaging all youth in a school (older and younger than themselves) through encouragement and support;
  • Young speaking, demonstrating, and promoting values in the school context as a way to engage other youth and build their own resilience;
  • The centrality of sustained adult interest and involvement (within and from external stakeholders) that is interpreted by young people as a sign of care and love, and a signal of their significance.

The Implications for Columba

We have been prompted to reflect more deeply on what is required to support all school groups to achieve the same depth and breadth of impact achieved by Manyangana. We have long known that the care and respect young people experience at a Columba academy is deeply meaningful to them, and a catalyst for their continued engagement. The Manyangana story has underscored the importance of this care and respect being sustained in the school environment between adults and learners, and learners and their peers. We have also become aware that respect can be shown when adults take young people seriously; trust them to support the achievement of a bold and significant vision; open up space to make a meaningful, rather than a token, contribution; and support them by being interested in their actions. The achievement of this kind of youth engagement can be supported through building the understanding and know-how of adults in the youth-adult partnerships, by drawing on success stories, and by equipping them with the necessary aids.

Possible Implications for Others

  • Youth engagement requires the involvement of adults who not only understand its rationale but who are also empowered to offer support, and with knowledge of how to embed youth engagement into the school context.
  • Facilitating deep sharing and eye-to-eye engagement between adults in schools and young people can play a major role in building relationships of care and respect that have far-ranging implications in terms of the behaviour of young people and their assumption of shared leadership responsibility in schools.

Future Plans

Columba has embarked upon programme strengthening through the incorporation of additional components in its pre-residential engagement with school leadership teams to ensure a full understanding of the potential power of effective youth engagement and youth-adult partnerships. Additional toolkits are also being developed to ensure that principals and educators are equipped with processes and tools that can help maximize the health and effectiveness of Columba groups to engage others in the school and contribute to meaningful change in the school context. A concerted effort is also being made to ensure that the success stories from various Columba schools are shared to inspire and guide others towards similar success in their contexts. Finally this case study has helped direct us towards the establishment of strategic partnerships, which we believe can help strengthen the depth and breadth of impact of Columba groups by building on their initiatives.

Columba Leadership

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In Short

The Columba Leadership Development model is a success because its core focus is youth engagement and building effective youth-adult partnerships in schools. This learning brief underscores the importance of fostering caring and respectful relationships between teens and adults, working in vision-centred school environments, and taking learners views and contributions seriously in order to establish greater community engagement and leadership.

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