This piece was written by Hh Zaizay, Executive Director, PYPP Liberia. For more like this, see our spotlight on public service leadership in Africa.
A public service career is simply not attractive for many young people in Africa. It pays too little and lacks prestige. Beyond these pragmatic concerns, young people might question their ability to make a difference in government bureaucracies, where things might not move as quickly as they desire. In short, prospects for career fulfilment and growth appear bleak in public sector roles.
But that’s only part of the story. Public service is essential: for national development goals and for creating a prosperous Africa that works for people. To find answers to the continent’s myriad challenges, we need effective governments with the capacity to deliver services and to formulate, implement and evaluate policies that advance development goals.
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I have spent the last 10 years of my life challenging the perception that government service is of no value, demonstrating instead that it is possible for young people to lead meaningful, impactful careers in the public sector.
I have spent the last 10 years of my life challenging the perception that government service is of no value
In Liberia, I lead an initiative called the President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP), a public service fellowship that provides young, highly skilled Liberians a chance to play integral roles in core government operations. Fellows serve two-year terms across key government agencies and ministries, and they receive training as well as ongoing mentorship needed to thrive in their assignments and grow professionally beyond them.
Over the last decade, PYPP has emerged as Liberia’s flagship leadership development opportunity for young people to begin impactful public service careers — a journey I started with its first cohort.
The fellowship runs in partnership with government, and the program’s apolitical design allows it to span across past and current administrations, thereby supporting political transitions, advancing national policy goals and providing stability in times of change.
And, the program works.
Of the 140 fellows we have recruited in Liberia, 90% have remained in government service
Of the 140 fellows we have recruited in Liberia, 90% have remained in government service. Senior civil servants and ministers identify President’s Young Professionals (PYPs) as top performers in their units. More than 80% of fellows have been promoted, with some attaining director and even assistant ministerial posts. Such rapid career progression for early-career professionals within government was inconceivable prior to the existence of the fellowship.
These young people, our fellows, are really making a difference. PYPs were at the frontlines of the response to the Ebola crisis that grounded government activities to a halt and worsened capacity gaps. Drawing upon the fellowship network and training, PYPP fellows developed authentic, locally owned approaches to raise awareness about and curb Ebola.
The fourth class of fellows helped pass the national budget on time for the first time in 20 years.
Today, PYPs fill capacity gaps in the government, playing vital roles in driving improvements in government efficiency and the quality of public service delivery.
My own professional journey gives me a good sense of why PYPP matters for the fellows’ public service walk. I recently joined the inaugural class of the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa Program, a leadership development initiative that brings emerging public, private and third sector leaders across Africa together to combine our creativity and expertise to address the urgent challenges facing our communities and the continent at large.
What’s clear to me is that an identical vision underpins both President Obama’s Africa program and PYPP in Liberia — building a cadre of young leaders who will serve as change agents in transforming Africa.
Young people can play a key role in strengthening the public service capacity for effective service delivery
The Obama program deepens my appreciation of the role young people can play in strengthening the public service capacity for effective service delivery. It’s a validation of PYPP’s vision of building the next generation of Liberia’s civil service leaders.
One of the things that makes my work most rewarding is having the unique opportunity to get to know the fellows well and contribute to their public service journey. What inspires me the most, beyond their performance, is the commitment, energy and passion they bring with them. For the fellows, their placement is more than just a job. It is about purpose.
The genuine desire to serve their country and make an impact on the Liberian people is the thread that ties these experiences and stories together. Liberia’s PYPs give me so much hope about what’s possible in our country’s future. — Hh Zaizay
(Picture credit: Flickr/Visual Communications)