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The Future Depends on Strong Youth
September 19, 2015

Osman Timbo loves politics. He wants other young people in his country of Sierra Leone to share his interest.

The 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, 28, is a youth league leader who encourages young men and women to become involved in government and business, and to advocate for human rights. During Sierra Leone’s last elections in 2012, he helped young people learn about voting. Timbo said these efforts prepare youth to steer their country toward greater development.

Sierra Leone’s president agrees, establishing a ministry of youth and appointing several young people to positions of responsibility throughout government, he added.

As part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Timbo attended the University of Minnesota this past summer. He says the experience expanded his views of leadership.

 With 24 other Mandela Washington fellows from 17 countries, Timbo visited local Minnesota groups, including Somali immigrant and Native American communities. He participated in recreational events like visiting a zoo, taking a boat cruise and seeing a baseball game so he could meet various residents of his host state. “It is leadership when you bring people together,” he said.

Osman Timbo (State Dept.)
Osman Timbo, Credit: State Dept.

“Everybody has different interests,” he added. “It is important to build relationships across geographic and cultural difference.” He said he would share that lesson of inclusiveness with his peers in Sierra Leone and others in the YALI Network.

“True leaders are selfless,” he continued. “They listen to the people who elected them.” He wants all elected officials to understand that they “are servants to these people.”

Timbo said his community service experiences in Minnesota demonstrated to him the importance of sharing. At a nonprofit called Books for Africa, he packed donated books that would eventually make their way to young girls and boys thousands of miles away. “I felt like we were contributing to the world,” Timbo said.

At Lutheran Social Services, he prepared food and blankets for people with sparse incomes. “It showed that small gestures can make a difference in people’s lives,” he added.

Timbo also learned to “zoom in” to better understand what others think of him and how to network effectively.

A lawyer, Timbo heads his government’s public-private partnership efforts. He believes that partnerships are the way to go in public-service delivery because businesses and NGOs have expertise and resources that governments often lack. He said the private sector, for example,  can be better than government at providing training to local people so they can get jobs that will help them improve their livelihoods and their communities.

Timbo is confident his improved skills will help him in the future. He wants to run for parliament in Sierra Leone. After that, when he meets his country’s minimum age requirement for president, he wants to run for that office.

“The future of our country depends on enabling a strong youth base,” he said.