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Who is YPARD? Understanding Our Community Identity

Never doubt the power of the right question asked at the right moment.

“Who is YPARD Kenya?” asked Monica Kapiriri, a trainer with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). The question put a pause on the conversation immediately.

Here we were, the mentors and mentees, gathered in Naivasha, Kenya as part of the closing workshop of YPARD’s face-to-face pilot mentoring program which has been running for the past 12 months in Kenya.

We had asked the mentors and mentees to gather in small groups, identify and share with the rest of the group three or four key recommendations for the next phase of the mentoring program.

Great reflections were emerging and YPARD Kenya’s national representative, Emmanuel Ngore, and myself as the mentoring coordinator were responding to the questions about the next phase.

And then, Monica’s question. “Who is YPARD Kenya?”

After a moment’s pause, the answer came.

“We are all YPARD Kenya.”

In that moment, the conversation totally changed. We realised that many of the mentees were unsure about how YPARD Kenya operates and how they could get involved. This explained why mentors and mentees kept looking to Emmanuel and I for answers and permission to action ideas.

The conversation changed from an “us” and “them” conversation to a “we” conversation. Instead of Emmanuel and I responding to recommendations, we all discussed the ways in which we could share responsibility for the next phase of the mentoring program.

It was a lively and empowering discussion and I believe it represents a turning point for YPARD Kenya in terms of the way this community will be built and mobilized to help young Kenyans proactively contribute to innovative agricultural development.

Building an empowered, global, self-organizing, volunteer community is not easy especially when there are 15,000 of us spread all over the world and network challenges plague many of us, particularly those in rural areas. Compounding this is the fact that most of us, myself included, have for our whole lives, operated in hierarchical structures where some people have answers while others listen and obey (or sometimes rebel). We know this way of organizing people and making decisions is outdated but when this model is all we know, it can be hard to think another way is possible.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about organisations who are governing themselves differently (see my inspiring reading list at the bottom of this post). It has made me realize that a better way of empowering people to be their best in organisations is not only possible, but it’s already happening.

Monica’s question reminded me of some important lessons that we, as community builders, need to keep in mind to deepen bonds and trust in our network. They include;

  • Don’t be afraid to have challenging discussions and admit when things haven’t gone according to plan. If we’re not honest about the full spectrum of our achievements and challenges, we will not learn how to truly improve things in future. There’s absolutely nothing shameful about failure – I know that I have personally learned more from my failures and challenges than I have from my successes.
  • Cultivate a sense of childlike curiosity about the world. When you commit to learning and experimenting as much as you can, you’ll honestly be amazed at the growth you see in yourself and in others.
  • Listen. Actively. Listening properly is an incredibly important communication skill that we don’t often talk about or teach very well. But it will make or break the way you interact with and bond with other people. I’ve recently learnt a listening technique from Theory U and I encourage you to try it when you are next having a conversation. Step 1 is to not think of anything else while that person is talking to you. Don’t think of what question you might want to ask them once they are finished, or what piece of information or advice you want to give them, or what you are having for lunch today. Just focus on listening to what they say. Step 2 is to repeat back to them what you heard them say. 
  • Be aware of the unconscious impact that “space” has on human beings. The way we sit in a room can reinforce or dismantle hierarchy. When people are sitting at the front of the room, separated from other people (the way that Emmanuel and I were), it reinforces that they are the ones that we need to pay attention to because they have the answers. Having everyone in an open circle, where we can all see each other creates a much more equal space.

I started with a question from our friends at AWARD so I’ll finish with a statement from Pauline Bomett, another one of our friends at AWARD. During the mentoring graduation ceremony, she said: “When you light a candle with another candle, the candle doesn’t go out. The room gets brighter.”

Each of us have the ability to be the candle that lights a room full of candles. But to do that effectively, we need to constantly ask ourselves how best we can work together to achieve our vision of a world where youth proactively contribute to sustainable and innovative agricultural development. Asking the right questions at the right time, deeply listening to each other and remembering that we are all YPARD is the foundation for our future success.

This post was inspired by… (i.e. things I have been reading and talking to people about lately):

Pssstttt…the comment box is hungry for your thoughts/reflections/questions on this topic :)

Photos courtesy: Youth Edition Media