Sierra Leone: Positioning youth at the center of decision making

In Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), with support from Plan International, has recently launched an initiative to set up the Youth Advisory Group (YAG). The aim is to ensure that decision making at all levels of the education sector happens with children and young people at the center.

April 21, 2022 by Kamanda Kamara, Plan International Sierra Leone, Signe Roeslsgaard, Plan International Sierra Leone, and Timothy Sam, Plan International Sierra Leone
4 minutes read
Mariama, student at the Freetown Secondary School for Girls in Sierra Leone. January 2019. Credit: GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli
Mariama, student at the Freetown Secondary School for Girls in Sierra Leone. January 2019.
Credit: GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli

When young people speak, Minister Dr. David Moinina Sengeh listens. So when he heard young activists at COP26 in Glasgow this past November demand to be systematically included in the education ministry’s decision making processes, he pledged to make it happen.

A few short months later with the support of Plan International Sierra Leone, the MBSSE launched the Youth Advisory Group.

In the words of Minister Sengeh:

“The Youth Advisory Group will be a pillar in supporting all major decisions being made about education in Sierra Leone and will serve as an important accountability mechanism within the ministry. The ministry is providing services to nearly 3 million people, which is close to 50% of the country’s population. It doesn’t make sense if young people are not part of the architecture of the MBSSE’s decision making. We are starting small with the Youth Advisory Group, which will be the first of its kind in the government of Sierra Leone. I am excited to legalize the YAG in the new Education Act.”

Building on young people’s experiences

Almost immediately after the partnership between MBSSE and Plan had been established, Plan’s existing Youth Advisory Panel was brought on board to make sure that the experiences of young people would inform the initiative from the outset.

“We asked them to give input to the selection criteria and the roadmap for the establishment process. They showed a lot of interest and went on to form their own coordination group so that they could advice on the entire process,” says Evariste Sindayigaya, country director at Plan International Sierra Leone. “In one of the first meetings, they even asked for a consultation meeting with the minister himself, to make sure their recommendations would be considered.”

During the consultation, the young people reminded the minister that traditional norms that ascribe greater value to the voices of elders, combined with a drive to satisfy donors focusing on youth empowerment, have often led to tokenistic youth inclusion.

“It is not enough for young people to sit at the table if they are not heard. I believe our Youth Advisory Panel is a brilliant example of how you can work with young people in a meaningful way, and we are excited to be able to show MBSSE how easy it can be to bring us into decision making,” says Mariam Samai, a Youth Advisory Panel member.

Meaningful and safe youth engagement

Establishing a Youth Advisory Group requires commitment, time, funds and buy-in from everyone involved—especially ministry staff who are not used to working directly with young people. Acknowledging and managing young people’s expectations, and discussing their role and commitment, are also important at this stage.

“When working with young people, you must be flexible in terms of how and when to engage them. Maybe they will lose income if they don’t go to work in order to attend an activity, so at a minimum, all their expenses must be reimbursed. They may also have classes to attend during the day. We dealt with that by holding some of our meetings through WhatsApp voice notes,” says Kamanda Kamara, youth engagement officer at Plan International Sierra Leone.

Finally, it is crucial to set up strong standards and procedures for safeguarding and to make sure that both staff and young people themselves know and understand how to react if young people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This is particularly important in the political space:

“We fear that children and young people might be influenced to take political sides that may affect their participation,” Mariam Samai says. “Young people can only meaningfully participate in an environment where they feel confident to express their views and safe among the people they work with, so there should be no compromise on safeguarding.”

What next?

The initiative is still in its early stages, but interest is swiftly gathering across and outside Sierra Leone, especially after Sierra Leone’s president, Dr. Julius Maada Bio, mentioned the Youth Advisory Group at the 2022 AU-EU High Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation.

In response, Minister Sengeh said:

“I hope that with all of the attention that the initiative is receiving, MBSSE can lead by example and inspire other institutions to include young people in their governance too. I also hope other countries in Africa and beyond are inspired and recognize the value of centering young people in decision-making processes that affect them directly.”

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My Name is Lossie Konneh, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of a registered youth-led community-based organization, "Young Africans Community Empowerment Initiative, Sierra Leone (YACEI-SL), Kailahun District, Eastern part of Sierra Leone.

Great move! As a leader of a youth-led organization, I am very impressed with the President of Sierra Leone and his Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education for piloting youth inclusion in national decision-making. This with much more youth inclusion mechanisms in the national decision-making and development planning processes we want to see in Sierra Leone.

However, justice must prevail. It will be good for them to consider diversification across the nation by not only concentrating on the selection of the Youth Advisory Group members in the urban centers.

There are also potential youths in the regions and districts that can adequately fit in the membership. It will be good for them to consider random selection for equitable representation of youths in the membership.

Lastly, it is good that this is a pilot. But the local governments also need to consider this in the future.

Much appreciation to President Julius Maada Bio and his Minister, Dr. David Moinina Sengeh for this move. I hope it will be a great success.

Kind regards,

Lossie Konneh,
Executive Directo,

inspiring blog indeed. Thanks to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in Sierra Leone for collaborating with Plan International Sierra Leone to deliver this. We will be missing a huge opportunity if we are not meaningfully include young people in decision-making processes.

Creating such space will give a signal on how important development is to young people, many of our society see young people as distractors and not suba minded people. Plan international has proven that wrong, so the ministry of basic education taking this lead is a great opportunity to the ministry. Because trust, the power and energy of young people will surely make the ministry reach is terget aim and objectives.
As young people we are in this together.

Kadiatu Tholley,
YAP member Port Loko district.

This is a huge mile stone of achievement so far been created by the aforesaid Ministry . Thanks to everyone especially Plan International SLE , it’s parents , and young People for their invaluable support to ensuring that the YAG initiative has come to Light. Together, we all will continue to achieve more.

I am really impressed were in the ministry of education,and plan international comes together to form this YAG

Really we the youth our voice is now going and let continue the process by his grace we are going to reach the Apex

It is so greatful for plan international and the ministry of education by joining together to put education forward especially on the efforts girl
Plan international is a great Effortal on education business by rise children indifferent communities by gaining the benefits of education especially girl
I'm applie for the ministry of education to put more effort on education business to plan international by supporting them on this school feedings program and order school materials for children...
I like to be thank you all God bless you all...
Idrissa Aloma sesay
loko city
A Formal Casual worker at plan international portloko city

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