Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Sustaining the Wild Coast

No Programme Necessary: Integrated, Transformative Youth Leadership Development in Rural Villages

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 5 April, 2014 - 06:00



Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) aims to promote sustainable livelihoods that conserve, rehabilitate, and protect the natural environment that provides the ecosystem services on which rural people depend. Through its existing initiatives and work with rural communities on the Wild Coast, the organisation identifies and mentors local youth leaders who have a natural talent for social entrepreneurship. These youth get together to help run community development programmes started by their own community members. There is no formal youth leadership programme; instead SWC takes a bottom-up approach to rural leadership development that is driven by individuals from the target communities. Leadership improvement is integrated into the entire development structure.


In this learning brief, we identify 5 lessons that have we learnt concerning youth leadership development in rural communities along the Wild Coast of South Africa.

  1. Young people become productive leaders in broader society after they are first given opportunities to lead within their home village.
  2. Young people grow in confidence when they feel that others trust their views, ideas, and actions.
  3. Young people often do understand their own developmental needs and can articulate them well if given space to do so. 
  4. Increasing a young leader’s capacity helps him/her build confidence.
  5. Some young people reveal their leadership abilities only once they’re given an opportunity to lead in an area of interest or passion. 


Creating leadership opportunities for young people
Most of the young leaders that we mentor have never had a leadership position before. They battle with simple leadership tasks, like speaking-up on relevant issues. For instance, they are not used to speaking with authority in front of their peers, and so we provide opportunities for public speaking. When they first start participating in our organised activities they find standing in front of the people very challenging. Some cover their faces and try to avoid the eyes of the audience, and others shake with stage fright. Now, those who have participated in our programme activities have overcome this challenge and can boldly stand in front of an audience and give a presentation or talk. During these activities, young people learn the skills of leadership in their own village, and they can grow in confidence because they feel that others trust their views and ideas.

Mentoring and support

We provide all our young leaders with mentors who believe in, listen to, and encourage them. The mentors help them identify tasks/projects in their village that they can do, which fosters responsibility and a sense of accomplishment when the task is complete. One of the mentor’s roles is simply to listen, as we believe this is important for the leader’s growth.  We have also found that the young leaders excel when given opportunities to articulate their own developmental needs and find solutions for their own challenges. The mentor’s help these leaders think of ways to start implementing solutions to these challenges in order to make their lives better.

Training and capacity building

When we help young leaders develop skills and grow their capacity to identify and solve problems, they develop self-confidence. They can then use this knowledge and confidence to share what they have learnt with the people in their community – and consequently demonstrate their leadership. The SWC helped young leaders build skills by sending them on a permaculture-training course, where they learnt about new and sustainable ways of growing crops. They could then use this knowledge to start thinking critically about their own farming methods, or they could share it with the rest of the community.

Identification of passion and areas of interest in community development

Finally, we have found that when young people can self-identify their passions and aspirations, they can begin to think in creative ways about to how reach their goals. We help give them a “space” to do so by asking them to reflect upon their views in a written monthly report, during collective meetings, and in one-on-one discussion sessions. They find this reflection process helpful in planning for their future.


In this learning brief, SWC has discussed how it promotes youth leadership without having a formal youth leadership programme. Instead, its bottom-up approach creates space for young people to become productive leaders by giving them opportunities to lead in their home village, to grow in confidence as leaders, to identify and understand their own developmental needs and articulate them, and to increase their leadership capacity and skills.

Avalon Cresent, Magaliessig

 083 653 6480

In Short

Sustaining the Wild Coast suggests a transformative way to integrate youth leadership into existing rural community development initiatives, without establishing a formal leadership programme. This learning brief lists five lessons they have learnt from employing this approach.

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