YALI Voices: Offline networking: How to start a local face2face group

Uzor Darlington Ikechukwu is an active YALI Network member in Nigeria. He has helped other Network members start local face2face meet-up groups throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Here, he provides advice to other members interested in creating a community of YALI Network members.

I was passionate about connecting with registered YALI Network members in Abuja and also benefiting from the knowledge I gained from taking “Servant Leadership – The Deciding Difference” and “Responsible Leadership on Transparency and Good Governance” courses, both for myself and as a way to teach others through #YALILearns events at schools.Uzor Darlington in action at an event

Initially, I had the intention to meet other Network members in person — to familiarize, connect, network, share ideas and plan together on leadership initiatives and other community projects. I was unhappy that many young leaders were not working together and that some would withhold vital information and opportunities. This led to my decision to be involved in initiatives that promote partnership and collaboration among young leaders across Africa. I envisage an Africa where young leaders work together to achieve a common goal and contribute to making Africa a better place.

During my tenure in YALI Network Abuja as the deputy and later acting coordinator, I initiated the move that led to launching YALI Network face2face groups in seven other Nigerian states. The approach we adopted at YALI Abuja is to conduct activities at no cost to participants or beneficiaries. Rather, we built partnerships and leveraged YALI resources, like the course “Community Organizing for Action,” and mobilized additional resources from like-minded individuals and organizations.

Steps for setting up an offline community

The first step is to identify key active YALI Network members who are passionate about making a change in their communities. With them taking the lead, our YALI Abuja team provides guidance and mentorship (especially Dr. Obinna Ebirim, who has been a mentor to me) for their continuous support.

Following are other steps to take:

  1. Create a WhatsApp list — the planning takes place through this messaging service — and invite other YALI Network members to join the local face2face group, using several social media platforms to attract them.
  2. Get a venue, fix the date for the launch of the group, prepare an agenda and handle other logistics.
  3. Create online flyers and banners to use for publicity.
  4. Create social media handles like an email account, Twitter and Instagram to create awareness about the group launch and for further engagement of members.
  5. Create a YALI email invitation and write the YALI Network head office to send to all registered members.

It’s a great thing to start a YALI Network group in your community. It is something you will never regret — trust me, I am a witness! We are living in an era of partnership and collaboration that is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 17 (revitalizing global partnership). Starting a YALI Network group is an opportunity to bring like-minded young leaders together in your community to meet, network, share ideas and partner in their individual and joint leadership and community projects in order to achieve more.

For me, I didn’t know many young and inspiring leaders in Abuja until we started YALI Network Abuja, and the network made it possible for me to know almost all these amazing young leaders living in Abuja and beyond. It enriched my network and increased my circle of friends, which is a huge asset for any young leader. Remember that setting up and leading YALI Network face2face groups in your state is a rich volunteer experience that demands lots of sacrifice, but it will surely enhance your leadership skills and add to your CV. Finally, anyone who wants to set up a YALI Network in any state has to also be selfless, as this is not a political show or contest — it is purely leadership service and a call to humanity. Tolerance, patience, humanity, love and transparency are very vital in this process.

Growing the group and the YALI Network

One major way we grew the network is through social media awareness creation and adequate utilization of resources on yali.state.gov. Just like in “Management Strategies for People and Resources,” we further engaged socially on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and the leadership made sacrifices in terms of time and finances. We held purposeful, monthly face2face meetings and focused on community projects that endeared us to more development-minded young persons in our community. We ensured we maintained the rules of the embassy on free events, even when executives faced challenges to get meeting venues. The meeting venue issue in Abuja was resolved when we were able to build partnership with Ventures Platform Abuja.

Now almost every state in Nigeria wants to launch YALI face2face groups. For example, when we launched YALI face2face in Abuja, Ebonyi State asked us to come and launch in their state, then Benue, Bauchi, Akwaibom State, Kogi, Lagos State and many others because of the urge for partnership, networking and collaborations among young leaders today.

Keeping track of new and existing groups

After each launch I will connect each group to the YALI Network coordinators at the U.S. Embassy via email for necessary support and follow up. Thus, I always keep track of the activities of each state chapter, guide and share experiences with them, and provide continuous mentorship to the leadership of each chapter to enable them to succeed.

A typical meet-up

A meet-up takes place in a hall with a projector, laptop, sound system and chairs, but we can still make do without the above mentioned items for those who cannot afford that. There can be a #YALILearns session, planning for or update on a community project, general discussion, a networking session, a panel discussion, talk and/or knowledge sharing. There is a photography session at the end, and members are encouraged to share on social media. All events are documented and shared with the participants and coordinators via email. The pioneer leaders for YALI Face2face Abuja — Chidinma Afoacha, Dozie Nwafor, Obinna Ebirim, Catherine Makwe, Mary Okereke and myself — were those whose efforts began and sustained most of what we achieved in Abuja.

During our meetings we talk about #YALILearns. In one meeting we had a session to plan for our school-based #YALILearns events in Abuja. After holding a #YALILearns event, members of our YALI Abuja team have used the reporting tool to give more details about their events.

Community Service,

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Networking