IFES President Hosted an Exchange of Ideas at YALI Summit
U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) brings together 500 of sub-Saharan Africa’s most promising young leaders between the ages of 25 to 35. Bill Sweeney, President and CEO of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), had the opportunity to moderate a panel on Coalition Building in the Public Interest for the YALI Summit. The panel included Amb. Mark Green, President of the International Republican Institute, Dr. Christopher Fomunyah from the National Democratic Institute and Ilwad Elman, Washington Fellow and Director of Programs and Development for the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia.
The panel quickly became an exchange of ideas and knowledge with the Washington Fellows. President Sweeney used his prerogative as moderator to rearrange the chairs into a circle where the voices of all Washington Fellows could be heard. The group dynamics and the wide variety of experiences in the room led to a fluid and engaging discussion.
A large part of the conversation focused on ways to increase the participation of women and other marginalized populations in political and economic life. President Sweeney highlighted the role civil society organizations and community leaders can play in pushing for greater electoral access. He also encouraged those around the circle to apply their particular expertise and experiences to varying human rights challenges. Dr. Fomunyah underscored the importance of women’s coalitions in the Liberian civil war, noting that it was a group of women—without weapons—that had the most impact on shaping the course of modern Liberia. Elsewhere, Ms. Elman stressed some of the challenges that women in Somalia face as they seek political representation in parliament. She noted that a committee of women select a female candidate to represent them through a rigorously consultative process, but that the woman must then be approved by the male leaders of the community. Often the men deny that they are fit to participate as candidate.
The conversation included ideas for increasing access for persons with disabilities and youth, not just in the electoral process, but also to ensure people and organizations can work together to demand their voices and needs are heard. There was also interesting debate on how different groups can partner together in post-conflict and transitioning countries.
After the discussion, a number of participants said that the conversation and exchange of ideas was one of the more engaging breakout sessions they have attended thus far. IFES is proud to be able to talk to and exchange ideas with young leaders in Africa.